Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

William Makepeace Thackeray


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La Boheme
London 1900's
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Works Cited


Although William Makepeace Thackeray was born to a British family, educated in England, and is most well-known for his novels, he contributed to the bohemian ideal by

  • living a life of poverty
  • sketching satirical cartoons of the French aristocracy
  • including sketches of bohemians in some of his major works

A Life of Poverty

William Thackeray was born in 1811 to a British family. He attended English boarding school, where he picked up the habits of novel-reading and sketching. Thackeray lived in constant poverty throughout his life, and sold sketches to support himself and his family. In 1834, Thackeray moved to Paris, where he encountered a group of people later known as the bohemians. Thackeray lived the life of a bohemian, scraping by on his small income from selling his novels and sketches.

Thackeray, published 1875

Thackeray enjoyed his life studying art and living in Paris. In his Paris Sketchbook he writes about the lives of painters and bohemians. This picture shows a group of bohemian painters, all dressed in unfashionable clothes and with wild hair and beards. Thackeray's painting gives an idea of the sometimes humorous and carefree life of a bohemian artist.


Satires of the French Aristocracy

Thackeray, like many other bohemians, mocked the French aristocracy. However, unlike Courbet and Millet, Thackeray did not use subtlety in his works. Rather, he chose to draw satirical sketches of the French aristocray to express his feelings about the wealthy upper classes.

In this sketch, titled "A Royal Banquet," Thackeray is clearly mocking royalty and the upper classes. A fat king chockes on his food while helpless aristocrats and other members of the royalty sit by and watch. Only a servant is able to help the king. All the charactes in this sketch have ridiculous expressions and are almost cartoonish, giving the entire picture a comical air.


Bohemian Sketches

Thackeray included his own sketches in many of his novels. Some of these sketches were of bohemians, and Thackeray drew them firsthand.

Although this sketch of a bohemian does have some humorous qualities, it is much less satirical than the above picture of the royal banquet. This man is dressed in somewhat shabby clothes, and is probably sitting in a Parisian cafe pondering the meaning of life while watching the bourgeoisie stroll by.


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