Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Beliefs and Philosophies

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Life is short and we must enjoy ourselves whilst we can ---Schaunard in Murger's Scenes de la Vie de Boheme (26.)

Worship of the Diety of Art

The Romantic ideal, the image of the starving artist in his empty garret who sacrificed everything he had for his art which has gone unappreciated-What made him give up his comfortable bourgeois lifestyle? There are two theories about this movement of the youth.

First, the Bourgeois saved a Christian ethic, which had been attacked during the revolution. They changed it to suit their own needs, as Miller says "Salvation through success in the communion of nationalism." However, the youth, always a more radical segment of society than those with families, saw this as a hypocrisy, which meant that Christianity and middle-class values no longer had all, or even most, of the answers.

   Secondly, while France did not undergo a rapid change into industrialism, it did begin to build up its factories, especially in Paris. The youth movement that later became the bohemians, felt that this was a destruction of natural beauty and that the bourgeois, in general, were a plague upon the earth, feeding upon what was good and natural.

In retaliation, the bohemians split themselves away, disassociating themselves from the hated bourgeois, even when they were merely sons of bourgeois families that they would later rejoin.

 To develop freely every intellectual fancy, whether or not it shocks taste, conventions, and rules; to hate and repulse to the utmost...'shopkeepers', 'Philistines', or 'bourgeois'; to celebrate the pleasures of love with a passion capable of scorching the paper on which we record them, insisting upon love as the sole end and sole means of happiness;' and to sanctify and deify Art, regarded as second Creator: such are the underlying ideas of the programme which each one of us, according to his strength, tries to practise- the ideal and secret ordinances of Romantic Youth.

(Gautier in Easton, 70.)


 Theophile Gautier (Gautier website)

Gautier himself was within Hugo's circle of influence, the early days of the Romantic Movement. That circle "insisted on the freedom of the artist and the autonomy of art as the first principles of their faith." (Easton 59) The faith continued on, though Hugo's circle broke up.

In an effort to be different from the bourgeois, and as an effect of many of the bohemians actually being relatively poor, a 'seize the day' attitude ran rampant. While the bourgeois began to accept the students and artists as eccentric, but tolerable as they were only young once, the bohemians saw the carpe diem attitude as necessary.

Tomorrow is an absurdity of the almanac, it is a daily pretext that men have invented in order to put off their business today. Tomorrow may be an earthquake. Today, at any rate, we are on solid ground (261) --Musette in Scenes de la Vie de Boheme