Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Generations of Parisian Bohemia

Welcome

Identity
Geography
   Cafe Culture

Lifestyle
   Daily Life
Fashion
Dandyism

Participants
Writers
   Hugo
       Hernani

   Murger

   Baudelaire
   Borel

Women
   Grisettes

Artists
   Courbet
   Millet
   Thackeray

Students/Youth
   Marius

Evolution
Generations
La Boheme
London 1900's
Beat Culture
Hippie Culture
Rent

Works Cited

Every era in history has its own counter-culture movement, and these movements tend to come in waves. The Bohemian "movement" of 19th Century Paris had two generations before it died off with the onset of World War I. Bohemia, like any other counter-culture movement, is an important ingredient for historical change over time.

1st Generation Bohemia: Bohemia first began with Henry Murger and the Water Drinkers, in the cafe he discovered, the Cafe Momus (pictured at right). For many of these bohemians, the lifestyle was merely a stepping stone and not a full-blown profession. Murger himself always insisted that living in the world of bohemia without the ambition to leave it would destroy a person.

2nd Generation Bohemia: As with most counter-culture movements throughout history, as the 1st Generation of the bohemian movement came to be known by the wider public, many members of that public found it mysterious and intriguing, and willingly descended into its ranks. Many second generation bohemians did not see bohemia as a means to an end, however, and so the movement began to degrade.

"In his survey Le Boheme, in 1868, Gabriel Guillemot had pointed out that the word 'Bohemian' had dated. Bohemian, as he explained, was a word in the current vocabulary of 1840: it had meant the artist or student, gay and carefree, idle and boisterous, the characters whom Murger had painted in bright, attractive colours. But that Bohemia, wrote Guillemot, 'which one might call the Bohemia of legend, is well and truly dead'" (from bohemiabooks.com, whose info was taken from Joanna Richardson's The Bohemians).

Guillemot gave a harsh reading of 2nd Generation bohemia, but much he argued was true, such as "few men of talent, let alone men of genius, remained Bohemian throughout their lives. The vast majority of those who did were men who lacked the talent to make a lasting reputation, and men who lacked the moral fibre, the sense of responsibility, to lead a satisfactory adult life" (also bohemiabooks.com).

One member of 2nd generation bohemia was Paul Verlaine, pictured left, (1844-1896), a poet who embraced the bohemian lifestyle all too heartily, and it caused many tragedies in his life. Heavily addicted to absinthe, Verlaine spent much time in the hospital or the tavern.

Originally married, Verlaine had a long, torrid affair with another well-known poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud was ten years younger, and he encouraged Verlaine's drinking and violent temper to such an extent that Verlaine's other bohemian friends refused to spend time with him when he was with Rimbaud. Their relationship ended tragically when Verlaine shot and killed Rimbaud and was imprisoned. Even after his imprisonment, Verlaine's life was full of alcohol, poverty, and indiscretions. (info from bartleby.com)

Though his poetry has become a respected part of the literary canon, Verlaine is an example of how bohemia began to degrade in later years, and lost some of the purity of purpose that Murger had always tried to emphasize.

Not everything about bohemia began to degrade, of course. In general there was a change from a world of Murger, Romanticism, and the Cafe Momus to artists like Courbet, Realism, and the Brasserie Andler (which was "conveniently situated on the ground floor of Courbet's house in the Rue Hautefeuille") (Easton 137). The group which had made up the original Water Drinkers was breaking up, many members were either dead or "like Murger and Champfleury themselves, had forced their way into the larger world of journalism and the theatre" (Easton 137).

Bohemia as a whole in Paris ended in 1914, with the onset of World War I. Such a carefree lifestyle was intolerable with France being thrown into a flurry of war campaigns. It was time to get serious, fight for one's country, and leave art and music behind, at least for a while.