Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Henry Murger and Scenes de La Boheme


   Cafe Culture

   Daily Life







La Boheme
London 1900's
Beat Culture
Hippie Culture

Works Cited

Henry Murger is often considered the first Bohemian for several reasons:

  • Like many Bohemians, Murger passed up the opportunity for a stable lifestyle and job in order to pursue a career in the arts
  • He lived among others like himself, taking over the cafes and housing of the Latin Quarter
  • He put his experiences down on paper to create his seminal work, Scenes de la Boheme

Murger had a pretty difficult life. He was never really a great writer and he was not a very attractive youth, was bald in his twenties, and was afflicted with a disease called Purpora which made him look sickly and probably helped cause his death at age 38.

Murger originally wanted to be an artist, and he persisted with it until a friend finally convinced him that he really wasn't good enough to be successful. So he turned to literature and dove head-on into the life that would later be dubbed "bohemian."

He began associating with a group of friends who would later become the characters of his definitive work, Scenes de la Vie Boheme, and the group began to call itself "The Water Drinkers" because that was usually all they could afford.

This group spent its time in Parisian Cafes, especially Cafe Momus, a spot that Murger discovered which soon became a prime meeting place for the bohemian community.

Murger was unsuccessful for awhile, but he was determined to move out of his bohemian lifestyle and into the realms of the bourgeoisie. To him, bohemianism was a means to an end, and by no means a permanent condition.

The turning point came when a journal called the Corsaire-Satan agreed to publish some of Murger's short sketches. Some of these sketches were about bohemian life, but it wasn't until the 4th installment that Murger used that now famous title, Scenes de la Boheme. It is important to note that Murger was not the first to use the term, only the first to popularize it. He published 2-dozen episodes based on his bohemian life, but what really established bohemia in the public eye was the production in 1849 of a musical play version and the published collection of the tales in 1851. Still later productions like Puccini's opera La Boheme and the hit Broadway Musical Rent would continue Bohemia's popularity.

But for the meantime, interest in bohemia by the mainstream culture was sparked, and Murger came into renown and got the success he had worked for for so long. However, he never stopped insisting that Bohemian living should always be viewed as a temporary existence. People who were unable to see beyond it and move into the next stage of life would destroy themselves.