Bohemianism was an artistic identity born in the revolutionary fervour of early nineteenth century Paris and taken up in different social and political contexts by groups who shared artistic and literary styles, an aestheticized view of modernity, a Romantic rebuttal of commercial philistinism, and an image of themselves as social outcasts.
Comparing three groups of Bohemian cultural producers in London, Melbourne and New York and placing them in an international context of developing transnational media relations, this project will shed light on the circulation of ideas, aesthetics and personnel between three cosmopolitan cities in the mid-nineteenth century. With a focus on their lives, works, environment, networks and their social interaction in Bohemian clubs, the project will examine how a community of Bohemian writers contributed to the development of a radical global public sphere and influenced the transformation of media and communication pathways in an increasingly interconnected world. Despite some distinctive national characteristics, the different groups exhibited striking similarities in terms of their writing styles, methods of publication, aesthetics, lifestyles, sociability, and political ideas. This study will investigate whether, and if so how, they communicated this group identity across national boundaries.
Bohemian groups were in the vanguard of a transformation of the literary, art, press, and theatre worlds, capitalising on opportunities arising from the democratization of the cultural trades and the development of new entertainment genres. They communicated with larger audiences created by urbanisation, the rise of mass education, and a global communications revolution, and although they have now faded from public memory they shaped public discourse on a wide range of contemporary issues.
Topographical evidence will be used to reconstruct their networks, which were at once both intimate and transnational. They exchanged ideas and networked in sites of sociability, and Bohemian clubs were formed in each city: the Savage in London, the Yorick in Melbourne, and Pfaff’s in New York. Clubs proliferated in the mid-nineteenth century, but the uniqueness of Bohemian clubs, where habits of dress, speech, and thought were unconventional, is unexplored. The prominent role played by Ada Clare, the ‘queen’ of the Bohemian circle at Pfaff’s in New York, will enable an exploration of gender issues in this male-dominated world.
The project will use social media, exhibitions and media productions to engage the public with the trials, tribulations, achievements and legacy of the mid-nineteenth century Bohemians.
James studied a BA in History at the University of Essex, writing his dissertation on the sociological impact of the 2-Tone record label entitled ‘The Chequered Roots of Multicultural Britain’. After three years living and working in Barcelona and London, James returned to Essex to study an MA in History, focusing on the life and work of the Robert Brough: ‘A Radical Bohemian on Grub Street’. His research on Brough introduced him to mid-nineteenth century literary and artistic Bohemia, which will form the basis of his doctoral study at the University of Brighton.