The name “Bohemian” comes from the name of a region in Czech Republic called Bohemia. A nomadic group of gypsies were called “Bohemians” in French.
The subculture became popular in the 19th century in Paris, France. To become a Bohemian one would believe in living outside the Bourgeois or mainstream culture, to live an unconventional lifestyle usually artistic. This often included middle class adolescents who wanted to become a successful artist or poet. To do so the lifestyle would include an itinerant, poverty-stricken life. In the mid 1800’s George Sand and Honore de Balzac defined Bohemians as: “One who lives a vagabond, unregimented life without assured resources, who does not worry about tomorrow.”
According to Henry Murger there were 3 types of Bohemians
- Unknown Dreamers – amateur artists who do not seek publicity but expect it to come for them. They are poor and often die from poverty. Murger calls this way of life a “blind alley,” and says that their avoidance of fame works against them (xl).
- Amateur – has a steady income but chooses to live in Bohemia for the fun of it. Once they have had their fill, they will return to the bourgeoisie.
- Stalwart Official Bohemians - must be known as an artist to the wider world; though they are not making a lot of money, they are guided by ambition and are expected to soon be “making it” in the world of art. They known both how to be frugal and how to be extravagant and can fit in in squalor or luxury.
The author Lauren Strover broke down Bohemians into 5 different groups
- Nouveau: Bohemians with money who attempt to join traditional Bohemianism with contemporary culture
- Gypsy: drifters, neo-hippies, and others with nostalgia for previous, romanticized eras
- Beat: also drifters, but non-materialist and art-focused
- Zen: “post-beat,” focus on spirituality rather than art
- Dandy: no money, but try to appear as if they have it by buying and displaying expensive or rare items – such as brands of alcohol
The Bohemian lifestyle died out around the turn of the 19th century however it became part of a huge influence on later movements such as surrealism, the beat generation and punk rock and has also become a fashion of its own.