Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Bohemia: A Day In The Life


   Cafe Culture

   Daily Life







La Boheme
London 1900's
Beat Culture
Hippie Culture

Works Cited

In 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.


Henry 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.

Arsene 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:


Image courtesy of Photo by Tony McGrath

This 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.


Daytime: Everyone 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 well enough.

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.

These 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, 29)


Nighttime: The 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.

Many of 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, 34)

Nights 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 "work."


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 lifestyle.