Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

Henry Murger

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 Henry Murger was the author of the work that for many people defines Bohemianism, but in his personal life he left the Bohemian life for bourgeois stability and wealth.

Murger, born in 1822 in Paris to a tailor and his wife, began as a poet but gradually shifted to writing prose. As a youth he lived with friends in extreme poverty in an attic apartment; the group called themselves the Water-Drinkers because they couldn't afford any other beverages (Easton 112). Like Rodolphe in Scenes de la Vie de Boheme, he edited a magazine about the hat-making industry before joining the literary magazine Corsaire, in which he published a series of character sketches romanticizing the Water-Drinkers' lives. These began to be published in 1846.

Henry Murger, glorifier of Bohemian life, in this sketch by Montader.

Though the character sketches received little notice, a playwright, Theodore Barriere, approached Murger about turning them into a stage play. The two co-authored the new work, entitled La Vie de Boheme, which premiered at the Varietes at the end of 1849. It produced a sensation; suddenly Murger was quite famous and wealthy. He moved out of the Latin Quarter to a cottage on the outskirts of the city and continued to produce works based on his Bohemian friends until his death in 1861. One of these was a collection of the newspaper columns, revised to give greater unity: Scenes de la Vie de Boheme, published in 1851 and immidiately followed by a sequel called Scenes de la Vie de Jeunesse.

Murger published several more books, but never again met with the same popular acclaim. He died only 10 years after the publication of Scenes; his dying words were "No more music! No more alarums! No more Bohemia!" (Easton 152).