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International Bohemia

Daniel Cottom traces the vagabond word "bohemia" as it migrated across national borders over the course of the nineteenth century—from France to the United States, England, Italy, Spain, and Germany—and how it was transformed, contested, or rejected along the way.

International Bohemia
Scenes of Nineteenth-Century Life

Daniel Cottom

2013 | 368 pages | Cloth $65.00
Literature / Cultural Studies
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Bohemian Poseur Jew
Chapter 2. Maggie, Not a Girl of the Streets
Chapter 3. The Indignity of Labor
Chapter 4. Unknowing Privat
Chapter 5. America, the Birthplace of Bohemia
Chapter 6. The Poverty of Nations
Chapter 7. Sherlock Holmes Meets Dracula


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


In this book I am concerned with how the vagabond word bohemia migrated across various national borderlines over the course of the nineteenth century and, in doing so, was developed, transformed, contested, or rejected. I focus on how individuals and groups sought to take possession of this word and make it serve as the basis for the elaboration of identities, passions, cultural forms, politics, and histories that they wanted to bring to life. With a nod to Henry Murger, whose Scenes of Bohemian Life was the closest thing the century had to a Bible of bohemian types and tropes, one might think of my work here as looking in on scenes from the life of a word. I begin with the invention of the modern sense of this word in Paris during the 1830s and 1840s and then trace some of its most important twists and turns, through the rest of this era and into the early years of the twentieth century, in the United States, England, Italy, and, to a lesser extent, Spain and Germany.

This is not a survey or general history, and I do not make any claims to comprehensiveness. I have chosen the individuals, works, scenes, and episodes to which I turn my attention here simply because I found them especially rewarding for thinking through the bohemian phenomenon. These do, however, cumulatively serve to represent what I take to be the most important aspects of the career that this much-debated word eventually came to have. The topics I address include the figure of the Jew in bohemia, the cultural politics of masquerade, capitalism, the political economy of art, the gospel of work, the nature of community, the question of the parasite, the intersections of race and class, the representation of women, the designs of modern desire, and the value of nostalgia.

Even when they traveled under the banner of l'art pour l'art, the bohemians of this era generally saw little reason to observe borderlines between their life and their art. On the contrary, they were eager to mix up the one with the other, and their critics often reproached them on this account, as when they claimed that bohemians were all talk—do-nothings frittering away their lives in cafés and taverns. To help draw out the implications of this feature of bohemianism, I have woven into my arguments in this book discussions of the lives of several notable figures: Thomas Chatterton, George Sand, George Eliot, Murger, Alexandre Privat d'Anglemont, Walt Whitman, Ada Clare, Iginio Ugo Tarchetti, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

A note on orthography: except when quoting others, I have reserved Bohemia, with a capital letter, for the Eastern European country of that name, and have used bohemia for the modern cultural formation. Translations not otherwise noted are my own.

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