literature, the daily activities of bohemians tended to reflect
their stereotypical idleness; not because they did nothing worthwhile,
but because they lived for the moment and did nothing that afforded
them no personal enjoyment or fulfillment. From literary representations,
a typical day in a bohemian life can be summarized as follows:
- They enjoyed
the pleasures of the heart and intellect by day.
- They enjoyed
the pleasures of the flesh by night.
Murger glorified the lives of bohemians in his famous
Scenes de La Vie de Boheme. Although his stories were
dramatizations and his characters were romanticized, his description
of daily bohemian life is very similar to that described in
the memoirs of his friend, Arsene Houssaye.
Houssaye lived as a bohemian in his twenties, around the 1830's.
He was middle class in origin, and as a bohemian he was a
struggling novelist and poet. He befriended several other
bohemians and began a life with them in a small flat:
courtesy of www.viewimages.com
Photo by Tony McGrath
scene from La Boheme
(performed in Covent Garden) shows the bohemian
poet Rodolfo and his friends in their seedy apartment
in the Latin Quarter. Rodolfo
has obviously been sitting down, working on his poetry,
(the white bundle on the table is probably manuscript
paper) and is now gaily interacting with his comrades.
This combination of work and fun characterizes a typical
day in the bohemian life.
would be up by seven or eight in the morning to begin "work"
on art, poetry, literature, or whatever was their passion.
As Houssaye commented, "Inspiration is a goddess who
keeps early hours." (Knepler,
33) Sometimes they would try to help inspiration along
with opium or hashish, but usually cigars or cigarettes served
The way in which
Houssaye described a typical working day is now a classic
image of bohemia: several men crowded into one room, laboring
over what he hoped would be a future masterpiece. "One
was writing by the fireplace, the other sitting in a hammock;
Theo, always caressing his cats, wrote his chapters lying
on his belly; Gerard, always elusive, came and went with the
vague unrest of someone who is looking for something without
finding it. Beauvoir appeared now and then with his burning
rhymes." (Knepler, 30)
Some of Houssaye's friends spent their days painting, and
one would set sonnets to music.
work periods were not designed to be productive; bohemians
who were living together seemed to spend much of their day
interacting and enjoying one another's company. Houssaye describes
these sessions as being joyful and happy, for he was doing
what he loved with people he considered dear friends. "Everyday
was a real feast for heart and mind. It was a gay harmony
of men at work." (Knepler,
nights were reserved for pure amusement. As Houssaye described,
"In the evening we did not fall asleep at our books.
We went all over Paris, the old Paris and the new."
(Knepler, 31) They would make
their way to the cafes were
they would converse, dance, and more than likely seek out
the company of women. Men would socialize with women, often
grisettes, but their ultimate
goal was often casual sexual encounters.
their night activities were slightly more innocent. As Houssaye
described, "We never dined at home. Like a flock of
birds of prey we descended upon the Palais-Royal, or the cabarets
in the Rue de Valois, or the various restaurants in the arcades,
according to our whim. After that we went to the theater if
Hugo or Dumas were being played." (Knepler,
were usually wild and lasted until the small hours of the
morning. Despite this, Houssaye and his friends tried to be
up by seven or eight the very next day to return to their
Although many bohemians
may not have considered themselves idle, they certainly would
have seemed so to the bourgeoisie. To them the purpose of
work was to make money. Thus by devoting their lives to enjoyment,
bohemians undermined and rejected this facet of the bourgeoisie