The Bohemians

The Bohemians

Anne Gédéon Lafitte
Marquis de Pelleport
Translated by Vivian Folkenflik
With an Introduction by Robert Darnton
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Bohemians
    Book Description:

    While the marquis de Sade was drafting The 120 Days of Sodom in the Bastille, another libertine marquis in a nearby cell was also writing a novel-one equally outrageous, full of sex and slander, and more revealing for what it had to say about the conditions of writers and writing itself. Yet Sade's neighbor, the marquis de Pelleport, is almost completely unknown today, and his novel, Les Bohémiens, has nearly vanished. Only a half dozen copies are available in libraries throughout the world. This edition, the first in English, opens a window into the world of garret poets, literary adventurers, down-and-out philosophers, and Grub Street hacks writing in the waning days of the Ancien Régime. The Bohemians tells the tale of a troupe of vagabond writer-philosophers and their sexual partners, wandering through the countryside of Champagne accompanied by a donkey loaded with their many unpublished manuscripts. They live off the land-for the most part by stealing chickens from peasants. They deliver endless philosophic harangues, one more absurd than the other, bawl and brawl like schoolchildren, copulate with each other, and pause only to gobble up whatever they can poach from the barnyards along their route. Full of lively prose, parody, dialogue, double entendre, humor, outrageous incidents, social commentary, and obscenity, The Bohemians is a tour de force. As Robert Darnton writes in his introduction to the book, it spans several genres and can be read simultaneously as a picaresque novel, a roman à clef, a collection of essays, a libertine tract, and an autobiography. Rediscovered by Darnton and brought gloriously back to life in Vivian Folkenflik's translation, The Bohemians at last takes its place as a major work of eighteenth-century libertinism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0370-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XLIV)
    Robert Darnton

    While the marquis de Sade was drafting The 120 Days of Sodom in the Bastille, another libertine marquis in a nearby cell was writing another novel—one equally outrageous, full of sex and slander, and more revealing for what it had to say about the conditions of writers and writing itself. Yet Sade’s neighbor, the marquis de Pelleport, is completely unknown today, and his novel, Les Bohémiens, has nearly vanished. Only a half-dozen copies are available in libraries throughout the world. This edition, the first since 1790, makes a major work of eighteenth-century libertinism accessible, and it also opens a...

    (pp. XLV-XLVIII)
    (pp. XLIX-4)
  6. CHAPTER ONE The Legislator Bissot Renounces Chicanery in Favor of Philosophy
    (pp. 5-8)

    The sun was about to rise from Amphitrite’s bed, dawn was fleeting apace; prostitutes were just closing their eyes, and the bourgeois housewives of Reims squawking to rouse their servant-girls, since in Champagne nobody rings for them; ladies of quality or any claim to nobility had six hours’ sleep left to go; female devotees roused by mournful church bells hurried to early mass: when fear of the bailiffs and the first ray of the morning star startled awake the lawyer Bissot¹ as he lay sleeping in a garret beside his brother Tifarès,² faithful companion of his lot and emulator of...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Two Brothers Wander on the Plains of Champagne
    (pp. 9-13)

    After these Latin words to satisfy the rule established by great men from time immemorial in every time and place—never begin an enterprise without some sentence worthy of its importance and quotable at the head of the narrative—our two travelers plunged deep into the solitude of Pont-Favergé, along roads unfit for riders on horseback, passengers in carriages, or even simple pedestrians.¹

    Foreigners and city-dwellers looking at our kingdom through a post-chaise window always marvel with inexpressible admiration for its broad, extensive highways: the fine avenues to our filthy inns convince the rest of Europe that such excellent paths...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Supper Better Than Dinner
    (pp. 14-17)

    Tifarès was emboldened by this warm welcome to open his little eyes, which fear had sealed as hermetically as an Encyclopedist’s purse or a devout woman’s moneybox. His joy and his surprise were unbounded at the sight of two legs of lamb turning side by side on a long wooden spit, along with several partridges whose lives had been cut short by the fatal cord, and a goose whose flesh, bruised as the back of the late M. des Brugnières,¹ gave every indication of having ended its life with a beating. Fragrant corpuscles exhaled by the cadavers of these innocent...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Who Were These People Supping Under the Stars on the Plains of Champagne?
    (pp. 18-20)

    “Are you not astonished, Sir,” began the President, “to find a band lacking neither appetite nor gaiety at such a time and so deserted a place?¹ But I assure you: good health and good cheer are never found under the gilded ceiling of the farmer general, or in the courtesan’s cabinet, or behind the merchant’s counter. Free-spirited, cordial liberty camps out sub jove:² liberty possesses no property, forgets its clothes, spends the day shirtless, and would rather wear a beggar’s rags or the dirty petticoat of a prostitute than a chevalier’s cassock or prelate’s surplice. Liberty is what assembles us...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Reveille; The Troupe Marches Forward; Unremarkable Adventures
    (pp. 21-31)

    How much it costs to sleep in a fine bed! How many sacrifices it takes to buy those silk curtains, those gilded shutters to hide the morning star’s faintest gleam from our eyes.—O liberty! You are the price we pay for accepting the treacherous refinements of the soft life, in exchange for destroying our finest faculties. Ah yes, I recall the happy time when, lying in Julie’s embrace on a curtainless bed, dawn’s first rays drew me from the arms of slumber: a tenderly savored kiss brought my lover back to life: her heart opened to desire before her...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Cock-Crow
    (pp. 32-46)

    You must thank me, gentle reader, for rescuing you from that damned coach at last—

    —Whew! Whatever are you going to do…?

    —You are frightened? Calm down, never fear, I won’t force you back right away; I’m not one of those writers who shake up your world until its natural warmth is extinct. Five or six hundred dozen quakes are plenty at one time; besides, if you are afraid of digressions, close my book. I write the same way I am treated by fortune: my style is weak, and my composition motley.

    This comparison comes particularly apropos now while I...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN After Which, Try to Say There Are No Ghosts …
    (pp. 47-55)

    Have you ever been to Saint-Malo? I know nothing of the place, to tell the truth, and for once my ignorance proves my good faith; for you are not someone I would fib to, like travelers who lie with more impudence if they know their listeners have never been within a hundred leagues of the place in question. Ah well! Take me as I am: a man who has crossed the equator twice. If I had wished, I could have gone to hear the devil shrieking on the isle of Ceylon, as George Knox surely heard him during his long...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The Denouement
    (pp. 56-57)

    Ha! You threw my book into the fire? No problem, I swear, no problem—I had ten thousand copies printed. Burning my book! O the horror of it! Going to the Bastille would make my reputation. Ah well, since you spoil me like a favorite child, I will pick up the thread of my narrative, and unwind it to the core. I should probably start with the reply made to Mordanes by the beings whose entire lives depended on one flexor movement of his index finger.

    “Do not shoot, whoever you may be,” they cried, “beware! Your salvation depends on...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Nocturnal Adventures That Deserve to See the Light of Day, and Worthy of an Academician’s Pen
    (pp. 58-71)

    If I ever some day write an epic poem—or somehow find my imagination fertile enough to write a novel without borrowing episodes from my colleagues right and left—then I promise to let my heroes sleep in peace from sunset to dawn every night. Wouldn’t you say daytime allows plenty of time for cut-and-thrust swordplay? At the rate of one arm and leg per minute, which is easy for a goodfellow after a night’s sleep, the daylight hours are surely sufficient to obtruncate an army of fifty thousand men, even at the winter solstice. Whenever inclined to spread worldwide...

  15. CHAPTER TEN The Terrible Effects of Causes
    (pp. 72-76)

    “What a country! What a landscape! Miserable inhabitants!” So spoke the illustrious Séché to the band on the rutted tracks leading to the abbey of Mont-Dieu:¹ “Look at this unfortunate hamlet: scrawny, starving livestock; filthy, sickening, exhausted peasant women, real remedies for love;² flies eating away at the thin carcasses of man and beast alike. But then! a half-starved priest and greedy tax-gatherers swoop down on whatever meager sustenance these unfortunate villagers have left.” Séché’s speech seemed so eminently unanswerable to his colleagues that for once, none of them tried to refute it.

    But the Demon of Diatribe—the darkest,...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN Uncivil Dissertations
    (pp. 77-85)

    “I speak,” began Lungiet,¹ “on behalf of that unfortunate portion of humankind which lives in abstinence and nudity, and against the rich and great who dine well and dress magnificently. My clients’ existence, their daily life, their happiness—I am the only person who cares about them; I alone am predestined to defend them. Now for the second time in my life I have hesitated, and felt I might lose heart. Had people been attacking only my life and liberty, I would not have hesitated a moment; but my envious enemies have attacked my reputation and my honor. And so...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Parallel of Mendicant and Proprietary Monks
    (pp. 86-91)

    “Well, cook, did you give the Capuchin fathers their supper?”

    “Capuchins, Dom Procurator? No Capuchins came here today.”

    “Liar! I could smell them: go ask Dom Coadjutor.”

    “You are mistaken: they are a mere itinerant camp, traveling with a donkey.”

    “With a donkey! That proves they must be Capuchins. Good God, they have women with them! Stubborn idiot—can’t you see they are Capuchins who have run off with girls?”

    Dom Hachette said no more, because he was contradicted no longer.¹ My friend had such well-developed nostrils and so strong a hatred of mendicant orders that no one could have...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Various Projects Highly Important to the Public Weal
    (pp. 92-97)

    You grow impatient, dear reader: you seem annoyed to see the heavy curtain of rational discourse lowered onto the stage. If I took your word for it, my actors would have no interval to catch their breaths. I am thrilled to hear the stamping of your feet and your neighbors’ canes interrupt the orchestra, while provincials in the audience call: “Begin! Begin!” Hearing that word in thirty different dialects assures me that I can find readers in every geographic parallel of our kingdom—I only wish I could say buyers! But in the past few years, a perfidious practice was...

  19. CHAPTER FOURTEEN On Hospitality
    (pp. 98-101)

    “Nowhere on earth has Hospitality taken refuge for the last three hundred years,” began Bissot, “except in cloisters—the only lodging this goddess still can find.¹ Your own order, sir, yes indeed: your Benedictine scholars alone still preserve the faintest notion of Hospitality, first among the ancient Roman virtues. All Europe is filled with tourists and cabarets. The only way to travel across it is to go purse in hand, or else sleep under the stars. As for our scientists and philosophers, they are making no effort to resuscitate this communicative virtue; scientific and philosophical interests are more likely to...

  20. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Morning Matins at the Charterhouse
    (pp. 102-104)

    The charterhouse bells had already tintinnabulated more than once, and every little altar had been honored by a sacrificial victim. Time for breakfast: fresh rolls, cylinders of butter, and half-bottles of wine awakened the appetites of the peace-loving hermits in various quarters of the house. Crossing the courtyard to his own rooms, Dom Prior met the Coadjutor who approached him with a half-modest, half-cavalier air, well-polished boots, a whip in one hand, and his robe hiked gallantly up on the other side. Getting ready for any journey, a monk puts on his hat, struts, looks in the mirror, and practices...

  21. CHAPTER SIXTEEN Panegyric of the Clergy
    (pp. 105-109)

    “I have not taken this chair to instruct you about the utility of the clergy to which you belong—for who would dream of attacking the existence of the clergy?¹ which is as necessary as the worship it supports. The slanderous topics of attack on the clergy are: its riches, its mores, its love for the government, and its open-mindedness. And on these scores will I undertake to justify it.

    “I shall demonstrate that within the church, all the excesses for which her ministers may be justly accused are individual divagations; the overwhelming majority of the clergy are pure, as...

  22. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN A Mouse with Only One Hole Is Easy to Take
    (pp. 110-111)

    “Maman’s eyes had never looked so odd: she was staring at Tifarès the whole time I was trimming the edge of my green skirt with a white ribbon.¹ Her eyes were brimming with water, her breath was almost panting. ‘Maman,’ I asked, ‘do you need some fresh air? Would you like me to open a window?’

    “‘No,’ she replied, ‘I am going to take a walk; this gentleman will offer me his arm. Finish your skirt.’

    “I was longing to go out with them, but I thought … I don’t know quite what ideas could have entered my mind; I...

  23. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN How Lungiet Was Interrupted by a Miracle
    (pp. 112-114)

    It is so painful for a historian to begin his tale convinced no one will believe him, that if I thought belief had quite vanished from the face of this earth, I would leave this page blank. But there are still good souls left in the world: our problem is not total incredulity, but rather the rarity of miracles, which we have lost the habit of believing in. Yet miracles happen every day. Such a pity the skeptics from the Academy of Sciences were not present at this miracle; what a shock it would have given them!

    Lo! At this...

  24. CHAPTER NINETEEN Which Will Not Be Long
    (pp. 115-115)

    Having departed so late in the day from the Mont-Dieu monastery, our philosophers could get no farther than the village of Stone, where thanks to the Capuchins’ silverware they procured the best this poor village could offer. They supped frugally, they drank bad wine, and they had to make room for each other in a hayloft overnight. I am unable to discover exactly what happened that night, but everyone was out of temper. Mordanes most of all: he kept hideously cursing miracles in general, as he had hoped to line his pockets a lot better before leaving the hostel. The...

  25. CHAPTER TWENTY A Pilgrim’s Narrative
    (pp. 116-130)

    The sun had almost reached the height of its career, and the heat was unbearable; the poor scalawag donkey made little progress, loaded with provisions and manuscripts, panting, his tongue out: he would take twenty paces, tail between his legs, and then lie down and wait, as if to tell his master in donkey dialect: “Whoa right here under this beech.”

    At that moment, emerging from the woods, our travelers found themselves in a beautiful meadow watered by the serpentine Meuse. Above the stream, trees on the hill formed an amphitheater inviting the weary travelers to repose before the evening...

  26. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Continuation of the Pilgrim’s Narrative
    (pp. 131-148)

    “Another motive I had for returning to Paris upon the sad news of my recent loss, beside my concerns about inheriting the succession, was to ensure the appropriate masses, vespers, paternosters, Ave Marias, and other minor prayers to get my father’s soul out of purgatory, should it happen not to have gone straight to Paradise.¹ The preceding on the explicit condition that the aforesaid masses, vespers, and other prayers of lesser value would be applicable to the soul of my grandmother; and should her soul be unavailable, to the nearest-related soul in direct line on my father’s side, taking precedence...

  27. NOTES
    (pp. 149-193)