The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter

The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter

Ellen Marriage
John Selwyn
Introduction by Maurice Samuels
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter
    Book Description:

    "Today, as of old, every man who enters on an artistic career, without any other means of livelihood than his art itself, will be forced to walk in the paths of Bohemia."-from the Preface Based largely upon Henri Murger's own experiences and those of his fellow artists, The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter was originally produced as a play in 1849 and first appeared in book form in 1851. It was an immediate sensation. The novel consists of a series of interrelated episodes in the lives of a group of poor friends-a musician, a poet, a philosopher, a sculptor, and a painter-who attempt to maintain their artistic ideals while struggling for food, shelter, and sex. Set in the ancient Latin Quarter, a vibrant and cosmopolitan area near the University of Paris, the novel is a masterful portrait of nineteenth-century Parisian artistic life. "Bohemian" soon became synonymous with "artist," and it is from Murger's novel that the word and concept entered the English language. Drawn from real-life characters and events, the themes of love, sacrifice, and "selling out" are immediately recognizable to the modern reader. Capturing the heart, spirit, and bittersweet humor of the world of struggling artists, The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter is the universal story of one's attempt to leave a mark on the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0095-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    Maurice Samuels

    THANKS to the opera La Bohème (1896), Rodolfo and Mimi have entered the pantheon of our culture’s most famous lovers, alongside Paolo and Francesca and Romeo and Juliet. But if we’ve grown accustomed to imagining the nineteenth-century French poet as a portly Italian tenor, and his garret as a soaring stage set, the dimensions of the original text on which Puccini based his opera were far more modest. In Henry Murger’s depiction of the struggles of a group of bohemians, as poor intellectuals in the Latin Quarter of Paris were beginning to be known, we discover a grittier picture of...

    (pp. xvii-xxxiv)
    H. M.
    (pp. 1-42)

    BEHOLD how Chance (styled by sceptics the business-agent of Providence) brought together in a single day every one of the individuals who afterwards met in the bonds of brotherly union, constituting an inner circle in that fraction of the country of Bohemia which the present author has endeavoured to make known to the public.

    One morning (it was the 8th of April) Alexandre Schaunard, who cultivated the two liberal arts of music and painting, was suddenly startled out of his slumber by a lusty peal from the king of a neighbouring poultry-yard, who acted as his alarm clock.

    “Good gracious!”...

    (pp. 43-52)

    SCHAUNARD and Marcel, after working valiantly all the morning, had come to a sudden stop.

    “How hungry it is, by Jove!” exclaimed Schaunard; then he added carelessly, “is there not to be any lunch to-day?”

    Never was question more inopportunely raised, and Marcel seemed very much astonished by it.

    “Since when have we begun to lunch two days in succession?” he demanded. “Yesterday was Thursday.” And he rounded out this observation by pointing with his mahl-stick to the commandment of the Church—

    “Thou shalt eat no meat of a Friday,

    Nor anything resembling thereunto.”

    Schaunard, having no answer to make...

    (pp. 53-64)

    ONE evening in Lent Rodolphe went home early intending to work. But scarcely had he sat down and dipped his pen in the ink when he was disturbed by an unusual sound. Applying his ear to the indiscreet partition wall, he could hear and distinguish perfectly well an onomatopoetic dialogue carried on principally in kisses in the next room.

    “Confound it!” thought Rodolphe as he glanced at the clock. “It is early yet, and my fair neighbour is a Juliet who seldom permits her Romeo to depart with the lark. It is impossible to work tonight.” So taking up his...

  8. IV ALI RODOLPHE, or, the involuntary turk
    (pp. 65-75)

    OSTRACISED by a churlish landlord, Rodolphe led for a time a nomad life, doing his best to perfect himself in the arts of sleeping supperless, and supping without a bed to follow, with Chance for his chef, and the ground open to the stars for his lodging. No cloud wandered more than he.

    Still amid these painful cross events two things did not desert him—to wit, his good humour and the manuscript of The Avenger, a tragedy which had made the rounds of all the likely openings for dramatic talent in Paris.

    But one day, as it befell, Rodolphe,...

    (pp. 76-87)

    TOWARDS the end of the month of December the messengers of Bidault’s agency received for distribution about a hundred copies of a circular of which we certify the following to be a true and genuine copy:—

    To M.

    MM. Rodolphe and Marcel request the honour of your company at a Soirée, on Christmas Eve (Saturday next). There is going to be some fun.

    P. S. We only live once!!

    7 P. M. The salons will be open : lively and animated conversation.

    8 P. M. The ingenious authors of The Mountain in Labour (a comedy refused by the Odéon) will...

    (pp. 88-97)

    MADEMOISELLE MUSETTE was a pretty girl of twenty, who, shortly after her arrival in Paris, began to live as pretty girls are apt to live when their equipment consists of a slender waist, a good deal of coquetry, a little ambition and no grammar to speak of. For some time Musette was the delight of Latin Quarter suppers, for if she did not always sing in tune, her voice was quite fresh, and she knew a number of country glees and songs, an accomplishment which gained for her the name under which she has since been made famous by the...

    (pp. 98-112)

    TWAS the nineteenth of March …. Rodolphe will never forget that date, though he should live to the age of M. Raoul-Rochette, who beheld the foundation of Nineveh, for it was on that day (the day of St. Joseph), at three o’clock in the afternoon, that our friend came out of a bank where he had just drawn the sum of five hundred francs in hard cash—current coin of the realm.

    The first use that Rodolphe made of this slice of Peru which had just dropped into his pocket was not to pay his debts by any means, though...

    (pp. 113-124)

    ONE Saturday evening, in the days before Rodolphe and Mlle. Mimi kept house together (as shall be shown in due time), it so fell out that that gentleman made the acquaintance of one Mlle. Laure, who dined at the same ordinary. Now Mlle. Laure kept a toilet repository, and when she discovered that Rodolphe was editor of two fashion papers, the Iris and the Castor, plied him with provocative and eloquent glances in the hope of obtaining an advertisement for her wares. To these Rodolphe had replied with a display of poetical fireworks thrown off in a way that would...

    (pp. 125-135)

    IN those days Rodolphe was very much in love with his cousin Angèle (who could not endure him), and the thermometer of the ingenious chevalier registered twelve degrees below freezing-point.

    Mlle. Angèle was the daughter of M. Monetti, the stove dealer, whose acquaintance the reader has made already. Mlle. Angèle was eighteen years old, and had just come home after spending five years in Burgundy with a female relative who was expected to leave her her fortune. The female relative, as it chanced, was an old woman who had never been young nor handsome. On the other hand, she had...

    (pp. 136-146)

    IN the month which opens each new season of the year there are two terrible epochs, which usually fall upon the first and the fifteenth day. Rodolphe, who never could behold the approach of either of these dates without misgivings, called them “The Cape of Storms.” When that day comes, it is not the dawn that flings open the portals of the east, but a host of creditors, duns, landlords, bailiffs’ men and other persons acquainted with the art of serving writs. That day begins with a downpour of accounts, invoices, receipts and stamped paper of all kinds and ends...

    (pp. 147-158)

    THESE are the circumstances under which Carolus Barbemuche, literary man and Platonic philosopher, became a member of Bohemia in the twenty-fourth year of his age.

    In those days Gustave Colline, the great philosopher; Marcel, the great painter; Schaunard, the great musician; and Rodolphe, the great poet (for so they styled each other among themselves), used to be regular frequenters of the Café Momus. Other people nicknamed them “The Four Musketeers,” because they were always seen together; and, indeed, they came together, went together, played cards together, and at times declined to pay their score, all with an accord worthy of...

    (pp. 159-184)

    ON the evening that he paid out of his own pocket the cost of the supper consumed at the café by the Bohemians, Carolus contrived to leave in the company of Gustave Colline. Since he had assisted at the reunions of the four friends in the estaminet where he had pulled them out of their scrape, Carolus had specially taken note of Colline, and was beginning to feel a great affinity for this Socrates, of whom later he was to become the Plato. For this reason it was that from the first he had decided to choose him as his...

    (pp. 185-195)

    THESE events took place some little time after the poet Rodolphe had first set up house-keeping with Mlle. Mimi, when for a whole week the Bohemians had been very uneasy about him, for he was nowhere to be found. They had sought for him in all his customary haunts, and everywhere met with the same answer—

    “We have not seen him for a week past.”

    Gustave Colline was especially disturbed, and for this reason. Some days previously he had entrusted to Rodolphe an article on the “Higher Philosophy,” which Rodolphe was to insert in the occasional column of the Castor,...

    (pp. 196-219)

    OH, my friend Rodolphe, what has happened to make such a change in you? Must I believe the rumours that are circulating, and is it possible that misfortune can so completely destroy your lofty philosophy? How can I—the humble chronicler of your Bohemian days , so full of laughter and merriment—how can I record in sufficiently melancholy terms the painful occurrence which stemmed the flow of your gaiety and with one blow arrested all your paradoxes?

    Oh, Rodolphe, my friend! I admit that the misfortune was great, but there, really it is not a question of drowning one’s...

    (pp. 220-231)

    IT has been related how the painter Marcel made the acquaintance of Mlle. Musette. United one day by Caprice, who is the mayor of their district, they had imagined that, after the ordinary course of such things, their intimacy could end upon the basis of the same law. But one evening, after a violent quarrel, which decided them to break off instantly and for ever, they found that their hands, meeting in final adieu, would not separate. Fancy, almost without their being conscious of it, had become love. They both admitted it half-laughingly.

    “This,” said Marcel, “is a very serious...

    (pp. 232-242)

    FOR five or six years Marcel had worked at his famous picture, which he said represented “The Passage of the Red Sea,” and for five or six years this masterpiece of colouring had been persistently rejected by the judges. It had been taken so often to and fro between the artist’s studio and the Musée that if it had been placed on wheels it would have rolled of itself to the Louvre. Marcel, who had altered detail and touched up the canvas a hundred times from top to bottom, ascribed the ostracism which annually banished him from the salons to...

    (pp. 243-264)

    MADEMOISELLE MIMI, whose custom it was to sleep till about midday, woke one morning on the stroke of ten and was much astonished at not finding Rodolphe beside her, nor even in the room. On the previous evening before she fell asleep she had seen him settle himself at his desk in order to spend the night upon a special piece of literary work for which he had received a commission. It had peculiar interest for Mimi, inasmuch as the poet had promised her a certain splendid piece of stuff for a gown which she had seen in the windows...

    (pp. 265-294)

    AMONG the real Bohemians of real Bohemia I once knew a man named Jacques D——. He was a sculptor, and gave promise of splendid talent; but poverty and misery did not give him time to bring the promise to fruition. He died of decline, in the March of 1844, at the Hospital of St. Louis, Ward Sainte Victoire, Bed 14.

    I had known Jacques at the hospital, where I was myself laid up by a long illness. Jacques had in him, as I have said, the material for great things, but he did not believe in it much himself....

    (pp. 295-323)

    IT will perhaps be remembered how the painter Marcel sold the Jew Médecis his famous picture of “The Passage of the Red Sea,” which ultimately did duty as a sign over the shop of a provision dealer. The day following its sale, which had been celebrated by a grand supper given by the Jew to the Bohemians as seal to the bargain, Marcel, Schaunard, Colline and Rodolphe got up very late. All of them still stupid with the indulgences of the previous night, they were unable at first to remember exactly what had happened, and as the midday Angelus rang...

    (pp. 324-344)

    “OH! no, no, no, you are no longer Lisette. Oh! no, no, no, you are no longer Mimi.

    “You are now Madame la Vicomtesse; in due time you will be Madame la Duchesse, for you have set foot on the rungs of the ladder of greatness; the door of your dreams has at last been flung wide open to you, and here you are entering victorious and triumphant. I was sure it would end like this for you one day or other. It was bound to be so; your white hands were made for idleness, and have long called for...

    (pp. 345-356)

    DRESSED like a portrait in his own journal—the Iris—gloved, polished, shaved, curled, the ends of his moustache twisted to a point, stick in hand, eye-glass in eye, expansive, smiling, and rejuvenated, our friend Rodolphe might have been seen one November evening standing on the pavement waiting for a cab to drive him home.

    Rodolphe waiting for a cab? What cataclysm had occurred in his private life? At the same moment that the transformed poet twirled his moustache, smoked his regalia and charmed the ladies as they passed, one of his friends was walking along the same street. It...

    (pp. 357-389)

    DURING the early days of his final rupture with Mademoiselle Mimi, who left him, it will be remembered, to drive in Vicomte Paul’s carriages, the poet Rodolphe had striven to stifle down regret by taking another sweetheart. She was fair, and we have seen him dress himself up as Romeo in a moment of folly and absurdity. The liaison, however, which on his side was nothing but a matter of spite and on hers of caprice, could not have lasted long. The girl was, after all, a silly creature, who knew how to harp to perfection on the strings of...

    (pp. 390-393)

    A YEAR after Mimi’s death Rodolphe and Marcel, who did not part from each other, inaugurated their entry into the official world with a banquet. Marcel, who had at last found his way into the Salon, had exhibited two pictures, one of which had been bought by a rich Englishman, who had formerly been one of Musette’s admirers. With the fruits of this sale, and of that of a Government commission, Marcel had partly liquidated his old debts. He had furnished decent apartments for himself and set up a proper studio. Almost at the same time Schaunard and Rodolphe had...