"The indiscretion of partition walls allowed all the
secrets of Bohemian family life to transpire, and initiated them,
in spite of themselves, to all its mysteries" (186).
(Scenes de la Vie)
of their poverty, Bohemian students and painters usually lived
in apartments in the top floors of buildings. The first floors
usually housed bourgeois families who rented out their attics
as lodgings. The higher the floor, the less expensive the rent.
When Murger described his time as a bohemian, he wrote that he
lived on the sixth floor "because there was no seventh;"
the narrator in George Sand's Horace said there were "ninety-two
stairs that separated our apartment from the ground" (70). Often the contrast between the
lifestyle of those at the top and bottom floors would be remarkable.
The illustration at right demonstrates
this. The fashionable lady and gentlemen relax in their chandeliered
parlor, seemingly oblivious to the merrily dancing artists in
their attic. But the artists are not the only ones in the attic
- and not everyone can maintain optimism and insouciance in the
face of poverty, as shown by the weeping mother on the other
side of the wall.
(Click on the image on the right
to see a close up view of the typical lodgings of a bohemian
Parisian House, about
Furnishings for the lodgings, as shown
in the quote below from Champfleury, a friend of Murger, were
"We rented a small apartment
in the Rue Vaugirand, which cost us three hundred francs a year.
You brought in six plates, a Shakespeare, the works of Victor
Hugo, a bureau of incalculable age, and a Phrygian cap. By
a strange chance I was the owner of two mattresses, a bedstead,
one hundred and eighty volumes, two small chairs, a table, and
a human skull. We seldom went out, we smoked continually, and
worked a great deal."
Some furnished their apartments with antiques,
which were not yet in fashion for the bourgeois.
The poorest of the Bohemians, especially
those who were not supported by families at home, had to make
do with far less comfortable accomodations. Before his success
in bringing Trilby to the stage, Svengali, the antagonist in
George du Maurier's novel Trilby,
"occupied a roomy dilapidated garret, au sixieme, in the
Rue Tire-Laird, with a truckle-bed and a pianoforte for furniture,
and very little else" (39).
Many artists did use their lodgings as
studios. Murger was inspired by the flowerpots on his windowsill;
many visual artists painted in their rooms. Arsene Houssaye,
a youth who had come to the city seeking "excitement and
literary fortune" rented a suite of rooms with three other
young men. Together, the four, like the characters in Scenes
de la Vie de Boheme, created an artistic environment where
everyone could inspire each other:
"One wrote by the corner
of the fire, another rhymed in a hammock; Theo, all the while
stroking cats, calligraphed admirable chapters, lying on his
stomach; Gerard, always inscrutable, came and went with the vague
anxiety of a seeker who doesn't find."