The Bohemian Way of Life
Bohemians, as depicted in most popular forms of entertainment,
including within the pages of Victor
Hugo's immense work Les
Miserables, are care-free, poor and worshipful of their
Stead, the legendary writer from New Zealand wrote: "They
had the insecurity of the rich who are poor, not of the poor
who are poor."
The tradition of Bohemian "experiments in living"
flourished in Britain from 1900-1950. The group of artists
was part of the tradition, some of whose lives ended in suicide,
fatal illness, alcoholism, drug addiction or the despair of
late middle age, fates that befell poets, painters and writers.
The term Bohemian,
as it refers to lifestyle, seems to have begun in France with
the term La Boheme. It started as a way of describing bands
of carefree 'gypsys' that came from Romania; possibly originating
in India. As they traveled through Bohemia (now the Czech
Republic), the reigning royalty gave them letters of safe
passage. These letters indicated that the Bohemian royalty
condoned their practices and lifestyle, which afforded them
a sense of prestige in western Europe at the time.
Henry Murger's Scènes
de la Vie de Bohème first brought blushes to British
readers in 1845. But in the 1890s Puccini
seized upon its tales of free-loving, carousing students burning
furniture to keep warm amid poverty in the cause of art.
Today, Bohemian is used to describe free-thinking, free-living
people - usually artists. Its modern roots are with the Beatniks
of the 1950s. Their poets now stand as icons of progressive
Being Bohemian is all about living in an alternative space.
Bohemians express themselves without regard for social convention.
They attempt to experience the mysteries of life through their
Many of our present assumptions about life have originated
from people who, sometimes in very small ways but motivated
by revolutionary ideals, hope and defiance of convention,
challenged the establishment 100 years ago.
In a way, we're all Bohemians now. We can conduct relationships
with people from any social class without fear of ostracism,
while deploring oppressive, stratified societies.
Our choice of friendships and love affairs is our own. The
idea of chaperonage makes us laugh; women are independent.
We recognise that children have potential which must not be
We take it for granted that society is fluid, that informality
will prevail. We do not expect to behave like marionettes
at any social gathering. We are hatless, relaxed and on first
name terms with people we barely know.
We live in a society that most people's grandparents would
It is this intensity - the friendship, fun, colour, above
all the freedom of that life - which despite all the hardship
make our lives worthwhile.
The Bohemians have a very strong psychic distaste for money,
for lucre. When they have it, they spent or give it away.
Today's life has lost some good qualities, partly through
the influence of Bohemianism, graciousness and sobriety perhaps,
and the measured graduation from formality to intimacy in
human relationships. Sex often precedes friendship rather
than the other way round.