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Bohemians: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Bohemians: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

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Publication Date: May 30th, 2023
Oxford University Press, USA
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The Romantic myth of Bohemia originated in the early nineteenth century as a way of describing the new conditions faced by artists and writers when the previous system of aristocratic patronage collapsed in the wake of the Age of Revolution. Without the patron system, the artist was free to move around, to seek an audience wherever fortune beckoned. This marketing model likening the artist's vagabond career to the "gypsy" life helps to explain part of the bohemian myth, but not all of it. Most bohemians have scant interest in commercial gain and are not so itinerant after all, confining their movements to down-market urban neighbourhoods where the rent is cheap and the morals are loose.

This Very Short Introduction traces the myth of Bohemia through its various fictional manifestations, from Henry Murger's novel Scenes of Bohemian Life (1851) and Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boh me (1896) to Aki Kaurism ki's film La vie de Boh me (1992), and Jonathan Larson's musical Rent (1996). It goes on to examine the history of different bohemian communities, including those in the Latin Quarter of Paris, the Schwabing section of Munich, and the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York. David Weir also considers the politics of Bohemia and traces the careers of the artists Gustave Courbet and Pablo Picasso and the great chanteuses Yvette Guilbert, Fr hel, and Edith Piaf in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, where a rich tradition of popular culture indebted to Bohemia also developed. Weir concludes with a discussion of the legacy of Bohemia today as something outworn and dying, an exhausted tradition that somehow continues.

About the Author

David Weir is Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Cooper Union in New York City. He has published ten books, two on film directors (Jean Vigo and Ernst Lubitsch), two on James Joyce, and several on such topics as orientalism, anarchism, and decadence, including Decadence: A Very Short Introduction. He also co-edited, with Jane Desmarais, Decadence and Literature and The Oxford Handbook of Decadence.