Bohemianism and Counter-Culture



   Cafe Culture

   Daily Life







La Boheme
London 1900's
Beat Culture
Hippie Culture

Works Cited

How Bohemians Lived

Although the bohemian population was diverse, one particular aspect of how they lived served as a unifying factor: the rejection of bourgeois values. The values they typically rejected and how are as follows:

  • They rejected private property and materialism by having no permanent residence anywhere and by surviving on little material wealth.
  • They rejected strict moral values by living carefree lives of alcohol and drug use, as well as open sexual freedom.
  • They rejected the pursuit of wealth by living solely for art and literature's sake, pursuing their passions regardless of whether they gained an income, which they usually did not.

Image courtesy of

This image illustrates several aspects of the bohemians lifestyle; the patrons' boisterousness and the apparently shocked waiter shows the bohemian disregard for protocol. Their relaxed postures show their idleness.


Private Property and Materialism: One of the values that bohemians renounced was private property. They rarely had any permanent dwellings or furniture to go in them. They lived and worked in the cafes, streets, libraries and other public spaces of Paris. Bohemians possessed few worldly belongings at all. Schunard, one of Murger's characters, carried all of his belongings inside gigantic pockets in his clothing. Members of Bohemia often adopted a communal lifestyle, sharing lodging with other Bohemian companions. They often carried around a few luxury or decorative items that served to spruce up a drab living space for a night of celebration; to "set up for the occasion as one might pitch a tent." If an artist found a living space he might decorate the walls with his paintings.


Strict Moral Values: The bohemian life was carefree. As part of their rebellion against "genteel" society, bohemians felt no reason to exhibit moral or socially acceptable behavior. One participant, Houssaye, printed in his memoirs, "We were afraid of nothing and thumbed our noses at public opinion. . .The most outstanding characteristic of our Bohemian existence was our open revolt against all prejudices, I might say against all laws. We lived as if entrenched in a fortress from which we made belligerent sallies ridiculing everything." (Knepler, 31,32)

Bohemians tended to indulge in alcohol as well as drug experimentation. In fact, drugs were used by many to supposedly help with inspiration. Bohemians were also overtly promiscuous, in contrast to how the bourgeois obscured this facet of their lives. Houssaye records one of his friends saying, "I would give my French citizenship for a view of Julia Grisi emerging from her bath." (Knepler, 32) Bohemian men made as many conquests as they could. Schunard had a collection of sixty locks of hair, exemplifying this pleasure-seeking way of life.

Pursuit of Wealth: In contrast to the Bourgeois preoccupation with obtaining wealth and status, the bohemian life was characteristically idle; idle in the sense that they did nothing that yielded material wealth. A friend of Houssaye said, "I don't do any work, on the pretext of writing a poem; and I write a poem to have an excuse for not doing anything." (Knepler, 33) A bohemian's "job" was the perfection of his literature or art. If a bohemian wished to gain higher status it was ideally through the pursuit of his passion. Houssaye himself observed, "Our lives seemed to pass in the serious service of art, and the light-hearted service of love. Beyond heart and intellect we refused to go." (Knepler, 32) Murger's Scenes de La Vie de Boheme illustrate how this ideal played out in day to day life. In one scene Schunard wakes up to find that his rent is due that day, only to ignore this trivial issue, sit down at his piano, and wait for musical inspiration.


Bohemians felt the need to express and assert themselves, being at such a social and economic disadvantage. It was almost as if they flaunted their marginality; by practicing an alternative and contrasting lifestyle, bohemians undermined the bourgeois.