chapter  2
16 Pages

The Parisian Prototype: 19th-Century Bohemia

The fi rst modern generation of bohemians was born from the political, social, and cultural upheavals of 19th-century France. 1 The 18th-century bourgeois revolution challenged the feudal estate system and aristocracy, creating the conditions for rapid urbanization, widespread population migration, modernization, and a new political economic structure. People fl ooded the cities, hungry, poor, and hopeful, seeking work or business, as well as freedom from the traditional strictures of feudalism and the monarchy (Graña and Graña 1990, 75). Meanwhile, the university system expanded. Students became a growing part of the urban landscape, especially on the Left Bank of Paris, home to the Sorbonne, along with the unemployed, vagabonds, outlaws, and denizens of the underworld (Pritchett [1943] 1990). The upheavals of the modern age also transformed the arts and the lives of artists. The decline of the traditional system of art patronage freed artists, musicians, and playwrights from the fetters of the Church and Crown and made them subject to the demands and vicissitudes of the market instead. As these creative types struggled to fi nd their place in the new political economy, they made their way across the river, where those leading a precarious economic existence could be found. From this mélange of desperation and liberation emerged the modern bohemian, a social type born of the marginal world of the Left Bank.