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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian), 1868, oil on canvas, Berlin, Germany: Alte Nationalgalerie

The term bohemian, of French origin, was first used in the English language in the nineteenth century[1] to describe the untraditional lifestyles of marginalised and impoverished artists, writers, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or antiestablishment political or social viewpoints, which were often expressed through free love, frugality, and/or voluntary poverty.

The term emerged in France in the early 19th century when artists and creators began to concentrate in the lower-rent, lower class gypsy neighbourhoods. The term bohémien was a common term for the Romani people of France, who had reached Western Europe via Bohemia.[2]


[edit] Origin of term

Literary Bohemians were associated in the French imagination with roving Gypsies (called bohemians because they were believed to have arrived from Bohemia[3][4]), 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[2])

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 legitimise Bohemia.[5] Murger's collection formed the basis of Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème (1896). Puccini's work, in turn, became Jonathan Larson's source material for the musical Rent, later a feature film of the same name. Like Puccini, Larson explores a Bohemian enclave in a dense urban area, in this case, New York City at the end of the 20th century. The show features a song, "La Vie Boheme," which celebrates postmodern Bohemian culture.

In English, Bohemian in this sense was initially popularised in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair, published in 1848, although public perceptions of the alternative life-styles supposedly led by artists were chiefly moulded by George du Maurier's highly romanticised best-selling novel of Bohemian culture Trilby (1894). The novel outlines the fortunes of three expatriate English artists, their Irish model, and two very colourful Eastern European musicians, in the artists' 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.

[edit] People

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 last 150 years belonged to the bohemian counterculture, 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.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks contends that much of the cultural ethos of upper-class Americans is Bohemian-derived, coining the paradoxical term "Bourgeois Bohemians" or "Bobos."[6]

The Bombshell Manual of Style author, Laren Stover, breaks down the Bohemian into five distinct mind-sets/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 are:

  • Nouveau:- bohemians with money who attempt to join traditional bohemianism with contemporary culture
  • Gypsy:- drifters, neo-hippies, and others with nostalgia for previous, romanticized eras
  • 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 expensive or rare items - such as brands of alcohol[7]

In the United States, the bohemian impulse can be seen in the 1960s hippie counterculture (which was in turn informed by the Beat generation via writers such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac).

Rainbow Gatherings may be seen as another contemporary worldwide expression of the bohemian impulse.[8]

[edit] Bohemian communities in the past

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 neighbourhoods came to be associated with bohemianism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:

In Europe: Montmartre and Montparnasse in Paris; Chelsea, Bedford Park, Camden Town, Fitzrovia and Soho in London; Stroud in Britain; Schwabing in Munich; Skadarlija in Belgrade; Lavapiés in Madrid; Isola and Colonne di San Lorenzo in Milan.

In Australia: Potts Point, Sydney.[9]

In South Africa: Yeoville, Johannesburg (before 1984; soon declined into a slum thereafter) Source: Byron Dean Griffin.

In the Americas: Greenwich Village, the East Village and Chelsea in New York City; Provincetown, Massachusetts; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and Venice Beach and Silver Lake, Los Angeles; North Beach, Haight-Ashbury, and the Mission District in San Francisco; the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle; Logan Square and Wicker Park in Chicago; the French Quarter in New Orleans; Austin, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lapa, Ipanema and Leblon in Rio de Janeiro; Kensington Market in Toronto[10]; East Van in Vancouver; Coyoacán and Condesa in Mexico City.

One of the ironies of these once bohemian communities in the United States is their tendency towards rapid gentrification and the commercialisation and decay of the bohemian culture that provided the initial attractive character of the community.[11][12][13]

[edit] See also

Related terms
Related cultures or movements

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ First occurrence in this sense in English, 1848 (OED).
  2. ^ a b Harper, Douglas (November 2001). "Bohemian etymology". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved on 2008-12-27. 
  3. ^ Bohemian at "Online Etymology Dictionary".  It also mentions another possibility: the term may be related to Bohemia via Bohemian religious heretics.
  4. ^ Bohemian in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  5. ^ "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme". Retrieved on 2008-04-22. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Stover, Laren. Bohemian Manifesto: a Field Guide to Living on the Edge. Bulfinch Press=2004. ISBN 0-8212-2890-0. 
  8. ^ Niman, Michael I. (1997). People of the Rainbow: a Nomadic Utopia. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 0-87049-988-2. 
  9. ^ Bonner, Raymond (23 September 2007). "Australia’s Bohemian Heart". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Scowen, Peter. "At the intersection of immigrant and hippie", The Globe and Mail, 10 November 2007. {{cite web|url= title=Full text of article]
  11. ^ Mele, Christopher (2000). Selling the Lower East Side. Univ of Minnesota. ISBN 0-8166-3182-4. 
  12. ^ Lloyd, Richard (2006). Neo-Bohemia. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-95182-8. 
  13. ^ Cash, Stephanie. "“Landlords put a squeeze on Brooklyn artists.”". Art in America 89 (3): 39–40. 

[edit] Bibliography

  • 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 0465007368. 
  • Stansell, Christine (2000). American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century. Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 0805048472. 
  • Wilson, Elizabeth (2002). Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts. Tauris Parke Paperbacks. ISBN 1860647820. 

[edit] Further reading

  • Siegel, Jerrold (1999). Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801860638. 

[edit] External links

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