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Bohemian
Bohemian

Bohemianism
is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits, with few permanent ties. Bohemians can be wanderers, adventurers, graduate students, or vagabonds.

The term bohemian, of French origin, was first used in the English language in the nineteenth century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which were often expressed through free love, frugality, and/or voluntary poverty.

The term emerged in France in the early 19th century when artists and creators began to concentrate in the lower-rent, lower class gypsy neighborhoods. The term bohémien was a common term for the Romani people of France, who had reached Western Europe via Bohemia.

Literary Bohemians were associated in the French imagination with roving Gypsies (called bohemians because they were believed to have arrived from Bohemia), outsiders apart from conventional society and untroubled by its disapproval. The term carries a connotation of arcane enlightenment (the opposite of Philistines), and also carries a less frequently intended, pejorative connotation of carelessness about personal hygiene and marital fidelity. The Spanish gypsy in the French opera Carmen set in Seville, is referred to as a bohémienne in Meilhac and Halévy's libretto (1875).

* "The term 'Bohemian' has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gypsy, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art." (Westminster Review, 1862)

Henri Murger's collection of short stories Scènes de la Vie de Bohème (Scenes of Bohemian Life), published in 1845, was written to glorify and legitimize Bohemia. Murger's collection formed the basis of Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème (1896). (Puccini's work, in turn, became Jonathan Larson's source material for the musical Rent, later a feature film of the same name. Like Puccini, Larson explores a Bohemian enclave in a dense urban area, in this case, New York City at the end of the 20th century. The show features a song, "La Vie Boheme," which celebrates postmodern Bohemian culture.)

In English, Bohemian in this sense was initially popularized in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair, published in 1848. Public perceptions of the alternative life-styles supposedly led by artists were further molded by George du Maurier's highly romanticized best-selling novel of Bohemian culture Trilby (1894). The novel outlines the fortunes of three expatriate English artists, their Irish model, and two very colorful Eastern European musicians, in the artists' quarter of Paris.

In Spanish literature, the Bohemian impulse can be seen in Ramón del Valle-Inclán's play Luces de Bohemia (Bohemian Lights), published in 1920.

In 1845, Bohemian nationals began to emigrate to the United States, and from 1848 the wave included some of the radicals and ex-priests who had wanted a constitutional government. In New York City in 1857, a group of some 15–20 young, cultured journalists flourished as self-described "Bohemians" until the American Civil War began in 1860. Similar groups in other cities were broken up as well—reporters spread out to report on the conflict. During the war, correspondents began to assume the title "Bohemian," and newspapermen in general took up the moniker. "Bohemian" became synonymous with "newspaper writer". In 1866, war correspondent Junius Henri Browne who wrote for the New York Tribune and Harper's Magazine described as "Bohemian" journalists such as himself as well as the few carefree women and lighthearted men he encountered during the war years.

San Francisco journalist Bret Harte first wrote as "The Bohemian" in The Golden Era in 1861, with this persona taking part in many satirical doings, the lot published in his book Bohemian Papers in 1867. Harte wrote "Bohemia has never been located geographically, but any clear day when the sun is going down, if you mount Telegraph Hill, you shall see its pleasant valleys and cloud-capped hills glittering in the West..." Mark Twain included himself and Charles Warren Stoddard in the Bohemian category in 1867. By 1872, when a group of journalists and artists who gathered regularly for cultural pursuits in San Francisco were casting about for a name, the term "Bohemian" became the main choice, and the Bohemian Club was born. Club members who were established and successful, pillars of their community, respectable family men, redefined their own form of bohemianism to include people who were bons vivants, sportsmen, and appreciators of the fine arts. Club member and poet George Sterling responded to this redefinition:

* "Any good mixer of convivial habits considers he has a right to be called a Bohemian. But that is not a valid claim. There are two elements, at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts; the other is poverty. Other factors suggest themselves: for instance, I like to think of my Bohemians as young, as radical in their outlook on art and life; as unconventional, and, though this is debatable, as dwellers in a city large enough to have the somewhat cruel atmosphere of all great cities."

Despite his views, Sterling associated very closely with the Bohemian Club, and caroused with artist and industrialist alike at the Bohemian Grove.

The term has become associated with various artistic or academic communities and is used as a generalized adjective describing such people, environs, or situations: bohemian (boho—informal) is defined in The American College Dictionary as "a person with artistic or intellectual tendencies, who lives and acts with no regard for conventional rules of behavior."

Many prominent European and American figures of the last 150 years belonged to the bohemian counterculture, and any comprehensive 'list of bohemians' would be tediously long. Bohemianism has been approved of by some bourgeois writers such as Honoré de Balzac, but most conservative cultural critics do not condone bohemian lifestyles.


The New York Times columnist David Brooks contends that much of the cultural ethos of upper-class Americans is Bohemian-derived, coining the paradoxical term "Bourgeois Bohemians" or "Bobos."

In the United States, the bohemian impulse can be seen in the 1960s hippie counterculture (which was in turn informed by the Beat generation via writers such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac).

Rainbow Gatherings may be seen as another contemporary worldwide expression of the bohemian impulse.

Reflecting on the fashion style of "boho-chic" in the early years of the 21st century, the Sunday Times thought it ironic that "fashionable girls wore ruffly floral skirts in the hope of looking bohemian, nomadic, spirited and non-bourgeois", whereas "gypsy girls themselves ... are sexy and delightful precisely because they do not give a hoot for fashion". By contrast, in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th, aspects of Bohemian fashion reflected the lifestyle itself.

What most people tend to see as Bohemian fashion, and by extension music, are actually new-age, aquamarine, gypsy-chic, folk, boho-chic or hippie. Bohemians don't give a damn about that stuff, although usually their clothes are unusual, and colorful and, yes sometimes rather hippie-ish. But that isn't always the case; they just wear what suits them. And what they can afford, as bohemians are often rather lacking in funds. As far as music goes, Folk songs, Queen's "bohemian Rhapsody", and the songs from Rent (a musical based on La Boheme) are all associated, perhaps stereotypically, with bohemianism.

Confused? A bohemian is the one who can't pay for dental work so offers to draw caricatures at the dentist's son's birthday party.

Bohemians, like goths, can be jut 'bohemian' -and who wouldn't want to be?- but can also be split into a few smaller groups: Gypsy bohemians, Beat bohemians, colorful bohemians, noveau bohemians, and dandy bohemians.

Image from Deviantart, info mostly from wikipedia, last three paragraphs by me.

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