Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

The Luxembourg Gardens

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Because the Bohemians often lived in shabby housing, they enjoyed the opportunity to be outdoors. A valued green space in the middle of the Latin Quarter were the Luxembourg Gardens, pictured below. The gardens had been a public park for years by the time the Bohemians frequented it, although it was originally the grounds of the Luxembourg Palace.


 John Singer Sargent, In the Luxembourg Gardens, 1879, oil on canvas.

In Les Miserables, Marius meets Cosette in the Gardens; he watches her as she walks with her "father" (actually Jean Valjean, her guardian). Though there were numerous pathways in the gardens, Marius and Cosette & Valjean always promenaded on the same one. At first Marius took little notice of Cosette, but one day he found that she had suddenly matured and become very beautiful. "One day the air was mild, the Luxembourg was flooded with sunshine and shadow, the sky was as clear as if the angels had washed it in the morning, the sparrows were twittering in the depths of the chestnut trees, Marius had opened his whole soul to nature, he was thinking of nothing, he was living and breathing, he passed near this seat, the young girl raised her eyes, their glances met" (609). It is a fateful moment, and Hugo's romantic sensibilities mandated that falling in love should occur as near to nature as one can be in the middle of a city.

The gardens also appear as a site for romance in Murger's Scenes de la Vie de Boheme, in which Rodolphe wanders into them on a moonlit night looking for romance:

"In a short time he was wholly under the spell of a feverish hallucination. It seemed to him that the gods and heroes in marble who peopled the garden were quitting their pedestals to make love to the goddesses and heroines, their neighbors, and he distinctly heard the great Hercules recite a madrigal to the Velleda, whose tunic appeared to him to have grown singularly short" (47).