Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Petrus Borel: The "Lycanthrope"


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"To console ourselves for all those things, happily we still have adultery! Maryland tobacco! And Spanish cigarette paper!"

from Borel's Rhapsodies, c. 1850

"The Lycanthrope," as Borel called himself, means "the man-wolf," and though he did not call himself a Bohemian - he and his circle had another name for themselves - he certainly lived the lifestyle. Below Hugo, Borel was a leader of the youth of the Romantic movement, and an integral part of the success of the Battle of Hernani.

Though he was neither Bohemian nor Dandy, Borel and his followers were connected to them in several ways:

  • Like many Bohemians, Borel left behind the career originally chosen for him (architecture) when he realized that poetry was his true calling (Starkie 24)
  • He lived an impoverished lifestyle, sharing poorly furnished housing with his circle of friends and followers
  • He and his circle rebelled against the mainstream culture, despising all that was Bourgeois, materialistic, and Classical

Poet and Romantic

Borel was born into a large family and his father was an ironmonger who worked hard to put all his sons through a decent education. Borel was apprenticed to an architect, but during those years he came to realize his interest was really in literature. It wasn't long before he had taken the leadership position among an eccentric and wild group of students who dedicated themselves to the fight against Classicism, this group called themselves 'Le Petit Cénacle' (Starkie 26). One of this group was poet Théophile Gautier, and Borel's charisma is evident in what Gautier had to say about him: he was "the living incarnation of the spirit of poetry, not an ordinary mortal" (Starkie 28).

A Bohemian Lifestyle

Like so many Bohemians, Borel's lodgings were less than magnificent. In 1831, he and his followers moved from the Latin Quarter to Rochechouart, and since they could not afford an entire house, they rented a room which opened into a garden.

This was one of the frescoes painted on Gautier's wall to help spruce up his room.
This group was the former members of Le Petit Cenacle, but "they were soon however to change their name to Les Jeunes France, intending to indicate that they were the youngest, most advanced and adventurous spirits in France. They declared that they were pledged to fight against philistinism in all its aspects, and against the new order of Louis Philippe" (Starkie 89). In these new lodgings, there was a gaping absence of furniture, but the members of this Les Jeunes France made up for it by using their artistic instincts. Some painted the walls with murals, others added sculptures, and the vases of the room were always filled with flowers. (89).

Borel and Hernani

As Borel had made something of a name for himself among Romantic circles as the leader of a younger, less experienced group of Classical rebels, Hugo naturally turned to him when building his "Romantic Army." It was Borel's job to hand out the infamous tickets to his young acquaintances, and to school the rebels in the text of the script, so they would all know the proper times to "boo" and when to cheer. It was Borel and his group who provided some of the most outlandish costumes at the Battle of Hernani.

Borel's friend Theophile Gautier at Hernani. Note his fluffy hair, a far cry from the mainstream fashion of the day.
Borel was an important part of the Romantic movement and an interesting link between Bohemia and Romanticism. He and his circle made a big impact on the arts of the time, showing the true power of the exhilaration of youth.


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