saving bohemia from the yuppies

Its too late to save Bohemia.Perhaps a worthless book can achieve more ill than a good book can ever achieve good. At any rate it is upon this seeming paradox that it is worth dwelling on, in the effort to demonstrate, beyond the power of any skepticism to disprove, how a bad writer, by means of their bad writing, can influence the fate of a whole country. …

Bohemia was a country which we all knew. Every English child had read the story of the capture, single-handed, of the old King of Bohemia by the Black Prince; as a result of which the shield of every Prince of Wales since that time has been surmounted by the three ostrich feathers and has carried the motto “Ich Dien.” Shakespeare himself deigned to pitch scenes in this realm and-another instance of how, throughout the ages, the English have plotted against a virtuous Germany- added to it a seacoast.

—Two months later and Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is generating waves on television. While sympathetic and giving a voice to Gypsy Travellers, it nevertheless presents an exoticised image of their lives: the horse-drawn wagons, extravagant dresses and flamboyant wedding arrangements seem to encapsulate how they remain the ‘other’ of British society. As the opening voiceover put it: ‘For hundreds of years the Gypsy way of life was one of ancient traditions and simple tastes. Then their world collided with the 21st century. With unprecedented access to the UK’s most secretive community … this series will take you to the very heart of Gypsy life.’ If contemporary images of Gypsy Travellers seem to be polarised between vilification and the exotic, can the same be said for historical depictions of one of Britain’s oldest minority groups?—Read More:

It may be that a vague knowledge of the fjords and rocky islands of Croatia had made him confound it with this inland country of mountains and of castles balanced upon conical hills, of vast forests and monasteries fattening in green valleys. At any rate, his description, for example, of Act III, Scene III, in The Winter’s Tale runs: “Bohemia. A desert Country near the Sea.”…

The gypsies made their first appearance in England during the early sixteenth-century, and were well established- though looked upon with not very favorable eye by their involuntary hosts- in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Throughout Western Europe they were known as “Bohemians,” because when they had first entered it they had passed through Bohemia. But, in spite of their dirt, their lies, their vermin, they did little harm to the name they had appropriated; added thereto, indeed, a certain ragged luster, associating it with scenes of wild and improbable beauty, of droves of horses, of sneering, handsome faces, and of exotic dances by the light of fires blazing out on the darkest nights from strange encampments.

—A Barricade on the Rue Soufflot (in view of the Pantheon), Paris, June 1848, 657 x 513, Emile Jean Horace Vernet.
Henri Murger’s Scenes de la Vie de Boheme appeared in print during the 1840s. In 1849, large audiences flocked to the Varietes Theatre to see it as a play on stage. The Bohemian world of the Latin Quarter was still relatively unknown and these audiences yearned to know more about the Bohemian types that Murger portrayed in the play, whom they now associated with the radical energies of the agitators who manned the barricades in 1848. To many, La Boheme was viewed as an escape from the violent and bloody realities of two years of revolutionary turmoil and insecurity.—Read More:

Then, three and a half centuries later, came Murger and, with his triumph, the name of this ancient country entered on its decadence. Born in Paris in 1822, the son of a German concierge and tailor, Henri Murger became secretary to a Russian nobleman, wrote several books, and published his great success, La Vie de Boheme, in 1848; with Murger himself featured in it under the guise of “Rodolphe.” He it was who put across to the curious middle classes the idea of “Bohemianism,” cafe-gypsies of the bed and board, sharing everything-and everybody-with everybody…


(see link at end)…That there were indeed two types of citizens of Bohemia: one immersed in radical leftist politics and one apolitical (those who firmly believed that politics was an excrement of a society that prostituted its own soul) was evident in the various writings of the drama critics who discussed Murger’s play. In 1849, the drama critic Jules Janin who wrote for the Journal des Debates penned an imaginary debate between poetry and politics in which poetry uses the characters of Murger’s play as examples of'”poetry’s victory over inept reason': “At the Varieties Theatre we had La Boheme, and it is here that I that I have been waiting for you, O Politics, to show that even the youth of the Latin Quarter can get along without your counsels and your practice. O Poverty! It is in vain that you have infested these garrets, these attics, these poetic heights; it is in vain that you have wanted to rule on the mountain of Saint Jacques and thereabouts; between the Pantheon and the Luxembourg Gardens one finds a race of philosophers and poets, of lovers and idlers who have never read a single one of your red and bastard sheets, all filled with hate and vengeance! …”

Many of the Bohemian race, of course, sided zealously on the side of the revolutionary causes, such as Henri Muger’s friends, the painter Gustave Courbet, the poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire. the photographer Felix Nadar and the famous Polish Water Drinker Karol. ….Read More:

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