AskDefine | Define Bohemianism

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  1. a Bohemian lifestyle

Extensive Definition

The term bohemian, of French origin, was first used in the English language in the nineteenth century to describe the untraditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or antiestablishment political or social viewpoints, which were often expressed through non-marital sexual relations, frugality, and/or "voluntary poverty".
The term emerged in France in the 1800s when artists and creators began to concentrate in the lower-rent, lower class gypsy neighbourhoods. The term "Bohemian" reflects a belief, widely held in France at the time, that the Gypsies had come from Bohemia.

Origin of term

Literary Bohemians were associated in the French imagination with roving Gypsies (called bohemians because they were falsely believed to originate 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 orthodoxy. 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 legitimise Bohemia. Ideas from Murger's collection formed the theme of Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème (1896). Puccini's work, in turn, became Jonathan Larson's source material for the musical he created, 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 Bohème, 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, although public perceptions of the alternative life-styles supposedly led by artists were chiefly moulded by George du Maurier's highly romanticised best-selling novel of Bohemian culture Trilby (1894). The novel purports to outline the fortunes of three expatriate English artists, their Irish model, and two very colourful Eastern European musicians, in the artist's quarter of Paris.
Academics and theorists have been slow to diagnose Bohemianism as against the more abrasive, and politically non-conformist Avant-gardism. The most serious study of the tendency has been Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900–1939 (2002) by the English writer Virginia Nicholson (granddaughter of the Bloomsbury aesthete Clive Bell and his wife, the English painter Vanessa Bell). Her work systematically analysed the Bohemian lifestyle led by a broad and diverse wave of artists, writers and musicians over the early- to mid-twentieth century, showing that they were indeed unified via a set of commonly-held attitudes towards money, sex and relationships, child-rearing, beauty, clothing and personal presentation, cuisine, personal cleanliness, travel, and social mores.


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. Ironically enough, bohemianism by definition can only exist within a framework of conservative values.
Noted 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."
The Bombshell Manual of Style author, Laren Stover, breaks down the Bohemian into five distinct mind-sets/styles in Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge. The Bohemian is "not easily classified like species of birds," writes Stover, noting that there are crossovers and hybrids. The five types are: Nouveau, Gypsy, Beat, Zen and Dandy.
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 Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac).
Rainbow Gatherings may be seen as another contemporary worldwide expression of the bohemian impulse.

Bohemian communities in the past

By extension, Bohemia meant any place where one could live and work cheaply, and behave unconventionally; a community of free souls beyond the pale of respectable society. Several cities and neighborhoods came to be associated with bohemianism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:
One of the ironies of these once bohemian communities in the United States is their tendency towards rapid gentrification and the commercialization and decay of the bohemian culture that provided the initial attractive character of the community.




  • Malcolm Easton, Artists and Writers in Paris. The Bohemian Idea, 1803–1867 (London: Arnold), 1964, ASIN B0016A7CJA
  • César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois: French Society and the French Man of Letters in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Basic Books), 1964, ISBN 0465007368
  • Elizabeth Wilson, Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2002, ISBN 1860647820
  • Christine Stansell, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century, Henry Holt & Company, 2000, ISBN-10: 0805048472
Bohemianism in Arabic: بوهيمية
Bohemianism in Bulgarian: Бохемство
Bohemianism in Czech: Bohémství
Bohemianism in German: Bohème
Bohemianism in Estonian: Boheemlane
Bohemianism in Modern Greek (1453-): Μποέμ
Bohemianism in Spanish: Bohemia (cultura)
Bohemianism in French: Bohème
Bohemianism in Italian: Bohème (movimento artistico)
Bohemianism in Hebrew: בוהמה
Bohemianism in Dutch: Bohemien
Bohemianism in Japanese: ボヘミアニズム
Bohemianism in Norwegian: Bohem
Bohemianism in Polish: Bohema
Bohemianism in Russian: Богема
Bohemianism in Simple English: Bohemianism
Bohemianism in Serbian: Боем
Bohemianism in Finnish: Boheemi
Bohemianism in Swedish: Bohem
Bohemianism in Chinese: 波希米亞主義
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