Last week I told you all about some frustrations regarding my bachelor thesis. This Friday, I finally submitted it, so I can finally tell you all the details about my work!
My bachelor thesis was on the representation of the bohemian in literature from the nineteenth century. We all know the bohemian: the artsy-fartsy kind of person who dresses way too good. This stereotype first appeared in the nineteenth century in Paris, referring to a group of artists. For my thesis, I analysed how this persona is represented in three books: Trilby by George du Maurier, Bohemians of the Latin Quarter by Henri Murger and Artiest by Marcellus Emants. The bohemians really tried to build their own identities, and I looked into this process.
For example, they used quite a lot of cultural appropriation! Trying to distance themselves from the bourgeoisie, they used other cultures to make themselves seem more different. They didn’t really care about giving an honest representation of the other culture either. The following scene from Trilby is a good example:
I may as well state here that the Laird’s toreador pictures, which had had quite a vogue in Scotland as long as he had been content to paint them in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, quite ceased to please (or sell) after he had been to Seville and Madrid; so he took to painting Roman cardinals an Neapolitan pifferari form the depths of his consciousness – and was so successful that he made up his mind never to spoil his market by going to Italy! (176)
One of the characters, a painter, makes pictures of cultural personas which he has never seen before. But when he learns more about them, his paintings stop selling! Caring more about selling his paintings rather than giving a good representation of another culture, he decides to switch to another subject he knows nothing about.
Another important aspect of the representation of the bohemian, is the Parisian borough of Quartier Latin. This is the place where they all come together. You can still get this vibe when you visit Paris: there are lots of fun artsy bookshops in this neighbourhood. Paris was the ideal place for the bohemian to live. According to Elizabeth Wilson, Paris’ artistic and political climate was the most centralised and thus the perfect breeding ground for an artistic counterculture (Bohemians 28). I really love Paris, so I can’t blame them!
But although the bohemians were constantly trying to build their own identities and to get away from the bourgeoisie, most of them failed. To most bohemians, it was just a phase before they settled down and got married and lived a very bourgeois life. This is why I chose this quote from the French journalist Félix Pyat as the title of my thesis: “Scratch a bohemian, find a bourgeois”!
Interested in the subject? Here are some of the sources I used for my thesis!
Bell-Villada, Gene H. Art for Art’s Sake and Literary Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
Du Maurier, George. Trilby. Everyman’s Library, 1894.
Emants, Marcellus. Artiest. Van Holkema & Warendorf, 1895.
Gluck, Mary. “Theorizing the Cultural Roots of the Bohemian Artist.” Modernism/modernity, vol. 7, no. 3, 2000, pp. 351-378.
Gluck, Mary. “The Flâneur and the Aesthetic Appropriation of Urban Culture in Mid-19th-century
Paris.” Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 20, no. 5, 2003, pp. 53-80.
Martin-Fugier, Anne. Les Romantiques. Hachette Littératures, 1998.
Murger, Henri. Bohemians of the Latin Quarter. 1859. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
Purcell, L. Edward. “Trilby and Trilby-Mania, The Beginning of the Bestseller System.” Journal of Popular Cultures, vol. 11, no. 1, 1977, pp. 62-76.
Seigel, Jerrold. Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics and the Bounderies of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930.
John Hopkins University Press, 1986.
Shaya, Gregory. “The Flaneur, the Badaud, and the Making of a Mass Public in France, circa 1860-1910.” The American Historical Review, vol. 109, no. 1, 2004, pp. 41-77.
Wilson, Elizabeth. “The bohemianization of mass culture.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 1999, pp. 11-32.
Wilson, Elizabeth. Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts. Rutgers University Press, 2000.