Bohemianism

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For other uses, see Bohemian (disambiguation).
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian), 1868, oil on canvas, Berlin, Germany: Alte Nationalgalerie

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.

This use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the nineteenth century[1] to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which often were expressed through free love, frugality, and—in some cases—voluntary poverty. A wealthy and privileged, even aristocratic, bohemian circle is sometimes referred to as the haute bohème[2] ("high bohemians").[3]

The term Bohemianism emerged in France in the early nineteenth century when artists and creators began to concentrate in the lower-rent, lower class, gypsy neighborhoods. Bohémien was a common term for the Romani people of France, who had been wrongly considered to reach France during the 15th century via Bohemia,[4] at that time the only protestant and therefore heretic country among Western Christians.

Origins[edit]

European bohemianism[edit]

Literary "Bohemians" were associated in the French imagination with roving Romani people (called "bohemians" because they were believed to have arrived from Bohemia[5][6]), outsiders apart from conventional society and untroubled by its disapproval. The term carries a connotation of arcane enlightenment (the opposite of Philistines), and also carries a less frequently intended, pejorative connotation of carelessness about personal hygiene and marital fidelity. The Spanish Gypsy in the French opera "Carmen" set in Seville, is referred to as a "bohémienne" in Meilhac and Halévy's libretto (1875).

The term Bohemian has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gypsy, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or "littérateur" who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art. (Westminster Review, 1862 [4])

Henri Murger's collection of short stories "Scènes de la Vie de Bohème" ("Scenes of Bohemian Life"), published in 1845, was written to glorify and legitimize Bohemia.[7] Murger's collection formed the basis of Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème (1896). Puccini's work, in turn, became source material for Jonathan Larson's musical Rent. Like Puccini, Larson explores a Bohemian enclave in a dense urban area, in this case New York City at the end of the twentieth century. The show features a song, "La Vie Boheme", which celebrates postmodern Bohemian culture.

In England, Bohemian in this sense initially was popularized in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair, published in 1848. Public perceptions of the alternative lifestyles supposedly led by artists were further molded by George du Maurier's highly romanticized best-selling novel of Bohemian culture Trilby (1894). The novel outlines the fortunes of three expatriate English artists, their Irish model, and two very colorful Central European musicians, in the artist quarter of Paris.

In Spanish literature, the Bohemian impulse can be seen in Ramón del Valle-Inclán's play Luces de Bohemia (Bohemian Lights), published in 1920.

In his song La Bohème, Charles Aznavour described the Bohemian lifestyle in Montmartre. The film Moulin Rouge! (2001) also reflects the Bohemian lifestyle in Montmartre at the turn of the 20th century.

American bohemianism[edit]

Bohemian Grove during the summer Hi-Jinks, circa 1911–1916

In 1845, Bohemian nationals began to emigrate to the United States, and from 1848 the wave included some of the radicals and ex-priests who had wanted a constitutional government. In New York City in 1857, a group of some 15–20 young, cultured journalists flourished as self-described "Bohemians" until the American Civil War began in 1861.[8] Similar groups in other cities were broken up as well; reporters spread out to report on the conflict. During the war, correspondents began to assume the title "Bohemian", and newspapermen in general took up the moniker. Bohemian became synonymous with newspaper writer.[8] In 1866, war correspondent Junius Henri Browne, who wrote for the New York Tribune and Harper's Magazine, described "Bohemian" journalists such as he was, as well as the few carefree women and lighthearted men he encountered during the war years.[9]

San Francisco journalist Bret Harte first wrote as "The Bohemian" in The Golden Era in 1861, with this persona taking part in many satirical doings, the lot published in his book Bohemian Papers in 1867. Harte wrote, "Bohemia has never been located geographically, but any clear day when the sun is going down, if you mount Telegraph Hill, you shall see its pleasant valleys and cloud-capped hills glittering in the West..."[10]

Mark Twain included himself and Charles Warren Stoddard in the Bohemian category in 1867.[8] By 1872, when a group of journalists and artists who gathered regularly for cultural pursuits in San Francisco were casting about for a name, the term Bohemian became the main choice, and the Bohemian Club was born.[11] Club members who were established and successful, pillars of their community, respectable family men, redefined their own form of bohemianism to include people like them who were bons vivants, sportsmen, and appreciators of the fine arts.[10] Club member and poet George Sterling responded to this redefinition:

Any good mixer of convivial habits considers he has a right to be called a Bohemian. But that is not a valid claim. There are two elements, at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts; the other is poverty. Other factors suggest themselves: for instance, I like to think of my Bohemians as young, as radical in their outlook on art and life; as unconventional, and, though this is debatable, as dwellers in a city large enough to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere of all great cities (Parry, 2005[12]).

Despite his views, Sterling associated very closely with the Bohemian Club, and caroused with artist and industrialist alike at the Bohemian Grove.[12]

Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann and George Frederick Cameron wrote the song "The Bohemian" in the 1889 opera Leo, the Royal Cadet[13]

The impish American writer and Bohemian Club member, Gelett Burgess, who coined the word blurb among other things, supplied this description of the amorphous place called Bohemia:

Gelett Burgess drew this fanciful "Map of Bohemia" for The Lark, March 1, 1896

To take the world as one finds it, the bad with the good, making the best of the present moment—to laugh at Fortune alike whether she be generous or unkind—to spend freely when one has money, and to hope gaily when one has none—to fleet the time carelessly, living for love and art—this is the temper and spirit of the modern Bohemian in his outward and visible aspect. It is a light and graceful philosophy, but it is the Gospel of the Moment, this exoteric phase of the Bohemian religion; and if, in some noble natures, it rises to a bold simplicity and naturalness, it may also lend its butterfly precepts to some very pretty vices and lovable faults, for in Bohemia one may find almost every sin save that of Hypocrisy. ...

His faults are more commonly those of self-indulgence, thoughtlessness, vanity and procrastination, and these usually go hand-in-hand with generosity, love and charity; for it is not enough to be one’s self in Bohemia, one must allow others to be themselves, as well. ...

What, then, is it that makes this mystical empire of Bohemia unique, and what is the charm of its mental fairyland? It is this: there are no roads in all Bohemia! One must choose and find one’s own path, be one’s own self, live one’s own life. (Ayloh, 1902[14])

In New York City, an organization of musicians was formed in 1907 by pianist Rafael Joseffy with friends such as Rubin Goldmark, called "The Bohemians (New York Musicians' Club)".[15] Near Times Square Joel Renaldo presided over "Joel’s Bohemian Refreshery" where the Bohemian crowd gathered from before the turn of the twentieth century until Prohibition began to bite.[16][17][18][19]

In May 2014, a story on NPR suggested that positive attitudes towards living in poverty for the sake of art are becoming less common among young American artists, and quoted one recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design as saying "her classmates showed little interest in living in garrets and eating ramen noodles." [20]

People[edit]

The term has become associated with various artistic or academic communities and is used as a generalized adjective describing such people, environs, or situations: bohemian (boho—informal) is defined in The American College Dictionary as "a person with artistic or intellectual tendencies, who lives and acts with no regard for conventional rules of behavior."

Many prominent European and American figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries belonged to the bohemian subculture, and any comprehensive "list of bohemians" would be tediously long. Bohemianism has been approved of by some bourgeois writers such as Honoré de Balzac, but most conservative cultural critics do not condone bohemian lifestyles.

Laren Stover, the author of The Bombshell Manual of Style, breaks down the Bohemian into five distinct mind-sets or styles in Bohemian Manifesto: a Field Guide to Living on the Edge. The Bohemian is "not easily classified like species of birds," writes Stover, noting that there are crossovers and hybrids. The five types devised by Stover are:

  • Nouveau: bohemians with money who attempt to join traditional bohemianism with contemporary culture
  • Gypsy [Wayward]: the expatriate types, they create their own Gypsy ideal of nirvana wherever they go
  • Beat: also drifters, but non-materialist and art-focused
  • Zen: "post-beat," focus on spirituality rather than art
  • Dandy: no money, but try to appear as if they have it by buying and displaying expensive or rare items – such as brands of alcohol [21]

Maxwell Bodenheim, an American poet and novelist, was known as the King of Greenwich Village Bohemians during the 1920s and his writing brought him international fame during the Jazz Age.

In the twentieth century United States, the bohemian impulse was famously seen in the 1940s hipsters, the 1950s Beat generation (exemplified by writers such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti), the much more widespread 1960s counterculture, and 1960s and 1970s hippies.

Rainbow Gatherings may be seen as another contemporary worldwide expression of the bohemian impulse.[22] An American example is Burning Man, an annual participatory arts festival held in the Nevada desert.

In 2001, political and cultural commentator David Brooks contended that much of the cultural ethos of well-to-do middle-class Americans is Bohemian-derived, coining the paradoxical term "Bourgeois Bohemians" or "Bobos".[23]

Former bohemian communities[edit]

By extension, Bohemia meant any place where one could live and work cheaply, and behave unconventionally; a community of free souls beyond the pale of respectable society. Several cities and neighborhoods came to be associated with bohemianism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:

Europe
United States
Canada
Australia
New Zealand

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ First occurrence in this sense in English, 1848 (OED).
  2. ^ "SeaDict Online Dictionary". Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Turque, Bill (17 February 2013). "Montgomery County looks to get hip". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Harper, Douglas (November 2001). "Bohemian etymology". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  5. ^ Bohemian at "Online Etymology Dictionary".  It also mentions another possibility: the term may be related to Bohemia via Hussites, Bohemian religious protestant heretics.
  6. ^ Bohemian in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  7. ^ "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme". www.mtholyoke.edu. Retrieved 2008-04-22. 
  8. ^ a b c The Mark Twain Project. Explanatory Notes regarding the letter from Samuel Langhorne Clemens to Charles Warren Stoddard, 23 Apr 1867. Retrieved on July 26, 2009.
  9. ^ Brown, Junius Henri. Four Years in Secessia, O.D. Case and Co., 1866
  10. ^ a b Ogden, Dunbar H.; Douglas McDermott; Robert Károly Sarlós Theatre West: Image and Impact, Rodopi, 1990, pp. 17–42. ISBN 90-5183-125-0
  11. ^ Bohemian Club. Constitution, By-laws, and Rules, Officers, Committees, and Members, Bohemian Club, 1904, p. 11. Semi-centennial high jinks in the Grove, 1922, Bohemian Club, 1922, pp. 11–22.
  12. ^ a b Parry, 2005, p. 238.
  13. ^ "Leo, the Royal cadet [microform] : Cameron, George Frederick, 1854-1885 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. 2001-03-10. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  14. ^ Burgess, Gelett. "Where is Bohemia?" collected in The Romance of the Commonplace. San Francisco: Ayloh, 1902. pp. 127–28
  15. ^ Krehbiel, Henry Edward. The Bohemians (New York Musicians' Club) A historical narrative and record. Written and compiled for the celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the foundation of the Club (1921), pp. 7–11.
  16. ^ "SEIZE $75,000 LIQUOR IN BIG 'DRY' DRIVE". The New York Times. September 2, 1920. Retrieved March 26, 2011. 
  17. ^ "You Mustn't Crack Up the Darwinian Theory at Joe's". The New York Times. November 2, 1913. Retrieved March 26, 2011. 
  18. ^ Peters, Lisa N. (February 18, 2011). "Max Weber’s Joel’s Café: A Forgotten New York Establishment Comes to Light". Spanierman Modern Contemporary and Modern Art Blog. Retrieved March 26, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Joel’s bohemian refreshery" Restaurant-ing through history
  20. ^ Neda Ulaby (Director) (2014-05-15). "In Pricey Cities, Being A Bohemian Starving Artist Gets Old Fast". NPR. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/15/312779821/in-pricey-cities-being-a-bohemian-starving-artist-gets-old-fast. Retrieved 2014-05-31.
  21. ^ Stover, Laren (2004). Bohemian Manifesto: a Field Guide to Living on the Edge. Bulfinch Press=2004. ISBN 0-8212-2890-0. 
  22. ^ Niman, Michael I. (1997). People of the Rainbow: a Nomadic Utopia. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 0-87049-988-2. 
  23. ^ Brooks, David (2001). Bobos in Paradise: the New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York NY: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-85378-7. 
  24. ^ Gair, Christopher. "The American Counterculture". Edinburgh University Press, 2007, p.25
  25. ^ Goldfield, David. "Encyclopedia of American Urban History". Sage Publications, 2006, p. 85.
  26. ^ Gair, Christopher. "The American Counterculture". Edinburgh University Press, 2007, p.30
  27. ^ Lindsley, Stephen. "Carmel Bohemians". Retrieved August 10, 2012. 
  28. ^ "Tiburon". About Marin County. Marin Convention & Visitors Bureau. Retrieved March 9, 2010. Main Street is known as "Ark Row" because of the 1890s recreational houseboat lifestyle enjoyed in Belvedere Cove by sea captains, Bohemian artists, and summer residents from San Francisco. In winter, the arks anchored in the lagoon. After 1900, the craze for arks waned. 
  29. ^ Perry, Douglas (2010). The Girls of Murder City. New York: Penguin Group /Viking Press. pp. 138–141. ISBN 978-0-670-02197-0. 
  30. ^ Ashworth, Susie (2004). Western Australia. Lonely Planet. 
  31. ^ Loudon, Annette (1 January 2007). "Indie Sydney". Rightround. 
  32. ^ Bonner, Raymond (23 September 2007). "Australia’s Bohemian Heart". The New York Times. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Easton, Malcolm (1964). Artists and Writers in Paris. The Bohemian Idea, 1803–1867 (ASIN B0016A7CJA ed.). London: Arnold. 
  • Graña, César (1964). Bohemian versus Bourgeois: French Society and the French Man of Letters in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00736-8. 
  • Parry, Albert. (2005.) Garretts & Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America, Cosimo, Inc. ISBN 1-59605-090-X
  • Stansell, Christine (2000). American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century. Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 0-8050-4847-2. 
  • Wilson, Elizabeth (2002). Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts. Tauris Parke Paperbacks. ISBN 1-86064-782-0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Levin, Joanna (2010). Bohemia in America, 1858–1920. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-6083-6. 
  • Siegel, Jerrold (1999). Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830–1930. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-6063-8. 

External links[edit]