Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Marius As A Bohemian


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La Boheme
London 1900's
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Marius, a character in Hugo's Les Miserables, represents part of the bohemian population that does not fall under the stereotypical "artist" or "writer;" he was simply a young student. Although he is highly romanticized, by rejecting the bourgeois he still represents the bohemian idea. He spent his youth rejecting the bourgeois by:

  • renouncing his bourgeois origin and title.
  • giving up a comfortable lifestyle to live in poverty.
  • giving up productive labor to devote himself fully to the intellect.


Youthful Rebellion: Marius grew up with his wealthy, royalist grandfather, M. Gillenormand. His father was a war hero who fought under Napoleon. Subsequent to his father's death, Marius renounced his guardian's royalist views and became a bonapartist democrat, a more leftist view which with bohemians tended to sympathize. He left his grandfather's home and adopted his father's name, Pontmercy. This further broke the ties between Marius and his bourgeois relatives. He became a student of law, impassioned with learning about his father's political views. He renounced his legal guardianship and his bourgeois childhood.


Poverty: Marius leaves his grandfather's large, comfortable home and sets out on his own:

"Marius went away without saying where he was going, and without knowing where he was going, with thirty francs, his watch, and a few clothes in a carpet-bag. He hired a cabriolet by the hour, jumped in, and drove at random towards the Latin quarter. What was Marius to do?" (Hugo, 560)

Marius moved into a seedy building owned with his few belongings. He began living a miserable existence, but he gradually became accustomed to it. He was independent and free; he even refused the money his Aunt sent to aid him.


This image shows Marius in his old, unkempt room. The poor living conditions are obvious from the hard, stone floor, the rotting furniture and the dirty walls. His suit is ragged (probably from wearing it everyday), and his books are strewn about the floor, for there is no bookshelf on which to put them. The only furniture is the table, chair and the bed.

This image also seems to show Marius' devotion to his studies. He has his quill in his hand, his books are nearby, and he has a large quantity of manuscript paper at hand ready to be used.

This Image appeared in the illustrated version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, 1862


Renunciation of Labor:

"He [Marius] had put the problem of his life thus: to work as little as possible at material labour, that his might work as much as possible at impalpable labour; in other words, to give a few hours to real life, and to cast the rest into the infinite." (Hugo, 594)

Marius largely gave up productive labor in order to devote his energy to thought, or to the intellect. This was part of the bohemian mentality: to reject the bourgeois idea of working for material wealth and physical well being in order to immerse themselves fully in their creativity and imagination. This was the mentality that Marius adopted.


This phase of Marius' life did not last forever; he was able to do what the bohemian ultimately wished to do: pull out of bohemia and claim a stable position in society. However, his time as a young student in the margins of society was clearly a rebellion against the bourgeois.