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Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939 Paperback – March 1, 2005
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Some writers (e.g. Herbert Gold) have successfully examined Bohemia from the inside, using a poetic and meandering voice, but Nicholson prefers the more sociological/ anthropological method. The fact that she is writing about a past era also makes a certain distance inevitable. Despite this methodical approach, Nicholson is not detached from her subject in a coldly objective way. She is clearly sympathetic and admiring of the people she describes. Indeed, she credits bohemians with creating much of the freedom we take for granted today. As she states in the introduction, Nicholson does not confine her study to famous people, though the well known (e.g. Dylan Thomas, Carrington, Robert Graves), are certainly not neglected. As an American, I had always associated Bohemia with places like Paris (which, Nicholson confirms, has always been the Bohemian capital), Greenwich Village and North Beach, but never England.Read more ›
Given the desperate nature of their lives, and their sometimes shocking deaths, the amazing thing is that the book is a fun read. Nicholson is an engaging prose stylist who knows how to pluck out that little detail that will interest her reader. It's not enough, for example, to point out that the artist Eric Gill engaged in incestuous relations with his daughters - he also refused to wear underwear. Dylan Thomas preferred to steal shirts from friends and acquaintances rather than launder the ones he had. The painter Augustus John leapt on just about every female in sight, and went about in his younger days like a bedraggled gypsy.
There are some omissions. I would have liked Nicholson to have included George Gissing's "The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft," simply because it includes so much of the essence of what these people thought and felt, and not to mention Quentin Crisp, the author of "The Naked Civil Servant," is a definite loss to the book.
"Among the Bohemians" is a bit too British and Bloomsbury-centric (understandable enough, given that Nicholson's grandmother was Vanessa Bell and her great-aunt Virginia Woolf), and the Americans who came over to Europe between the wars are practically ignored, but given the limits of what she's chosen to work with, it's a splendid job.Read more ›
The reminder that the reader gets from this book is that if not for the artistic aspect that made these individuals remarkable and noteworthy, they would have been ordinary people who were living in or on the brink of poverty, and the reason that modern society remembers or cares is because of redemptive writing or art: something which is rather left out of the retrospective equation when we think of Bohemianism from a present-day point of view. Time, coupled with the artistic aspect, has twisted this somewhat into a romantic image. At the time, however, the "starving artists" themselves were not seeking a name for their lifestyle or trying to package their look or sensibility. They were muddling through quandries related to their work and linked to money issues: the idea of "I am an artist, therefore i despise wealth" (p.25), yet on the same page, "How I loathe poverty!" This paradox -- the clutching of the very chains that bind them -- is one of the analyses that really makes the book work. Other aspects of the lifestyle that are examined include concepts of value, aesthetics, sexuality and taste.
Perhaps the most fascinating investigation involves the evolution of the Bohemian world, which just can't be reproduced with an after-the-fact "how-to".Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Beautifully written. Would recommend this to anyone wanting to know more about the bohemian way of life.Published 14 months ago by Angela R
Extremely interesting. What I loved about this book is that it is organized by categories such as, food, interior decorating, clothes, morals, etc. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Ellen Stahr
Bought this book because I loved the author's other book-Singled Out-and I'm so happy I did. From page one I was entranced and had a hard time putting it down to go to sleep. Read morePublished on April 2, 2013 by dreaming of the sun
Virginia Nicholson had a wealth of background information...her Great-aunt being Virginia Woolf, and Grandmother Vanessa Bell the painter, both considered Bohemians of their times,... Read morePublished on February 15, 2013 by Bonnie Goerke
This book is very well written, entertaining and informative. I highly recommend it to everyone, even those not interested in the subject, as it speaks of an era that gave rise to... Read morePublished on January 16, 2013 by D. Stichick
The author Virginia Nicolson is perfectly placed to write a book about the lives of Bohemian artists and writers before the Second World War - daughter of Quentin Bell and... Read morePublished on January 15, 2013 by S Riaz
The first book on bohemia I ever picked up and led me to a hundred other fantasticlly original,obscure memoirs. Read morePublished on September 4, 2010 by Christine M Paris