Scenes of Bohemian Life

Scenes of Bohemian Life

By Henry Murger
Translated by Robert Holton

This book is a new translation of Henry Murger’s influential Scènes de la vie de bohème, first published in French in 1851.

Hardback, 254 Pages


October 2023

£80.00, $110.00

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About This Book

First published in 1851, Henry Murger’sScènes de la vie de bohèmebrought together the stories he had written for a small arts newspaper in Paris. These semi-fictionalized tales, drawn from the daily lives of Murger and his friends, portray the struggles and celebrations, the loves and losses, of young writers and artists as they eked out an existence on the impoverished margins of society. While the nineteenth-century Parisian setting is fascinating in itself, the stories have retained their contemporary relevance as the continuing popularity of Puccini’s opera adaptation (La Bohème) and the Broadway success of Jonathan Larson’s Rent—both based on Murger’s stories—have demonstrated. 

Life in bohemia continues to attract young people in great numbers, just as it has done for almost two centuries, and it is Murger’s bohemia, with all its energy and eccentricities, that underlies that appeal. Balancing humor and despair, and optimism and desperation, Murger’s characters, much like today’s bohemians, manage to confound landlords and bill collectors, endure cold and hunger, find love and lose it, party without restraint and confront the devastating deaths of friends and lovers. 

With this new translation, readers can once again encounter the point of origin for the bohemian cultures that have flourished ever since, not only the source for Puccini’s and Larson’s phenomenally popular musical works as well as for numerous films and songs over many decades but also a classic work of literature that will re-introduce English readers to Rodolphe and Mimi, Marcel and Musette, Schaunard and Colline, after too long an absence.


Henry Murger’s tales of bohemian life – in Robert Holton’s lively new translation – continue to fascinate and to resonate. The haphazard, hand-to-mouth existence of Murger’s bohemians, their vanities, their shifts and dodges, their amours, their self-deceptions, their wiles, their wit, their ever-fluctuating fortunes make for very agreeable and entertaining reading. The thoughtful introduction and informed annotations by Holton to Murger’s text are a most welcome added benefit. Warmly to be recommended. —Dr. Gregory Stephenson Associate professor emeritus at the University of Copenhagen. Author of the book "The Daybreak Boys: Essays on the Literature of the Beat Generation".

Robert Holton provides a modern version of Henri Murger’s Scenes of Bohemian Life that captures the spirit of nineteenth-century Parisian bohemia while remaining accessible to contemporary readers. Holton’s ability to translate double-entendre and provide well-researched sociohistorical and cultural context underscores Murger’s oeuvre as a richly intertextual work of art. —Eliza Jane Smith, University of San Diego.


If, like me, you thought the historical origins of Bohemia might be of modest, minor interest, then Robert Holton will make you think again. Framed by an informative and lively introduction, his new edition puts back into circulation the book that defined the subject and inspired or informed a wealth of cool cultural fashions and radical social experiments—from the garrets of Paris to the salons of the Bloomsbury Group, and from the Beat Generation to Bohemianisation as a form of urban gentrification. To evoke the trilby, an icon of cool which owes a debt to Murger’sbohemiaby way of du Maurier’s novel, a tip of my hat! — Oliver Harris, Professor of American Literature and President of the European Beat Studies Network

This new translation of Scenes of Bohemian Life by Robert Holton is direct, clear, lively and highly readable, and (as far as I can determine with my somewhat eroded command of French) has been rendered into English with fidelity and felicity. Holton's Introduction and his annotations are instructive and serve very much to enhance the text. The translator informs readers of the relation of the tales to actual persons and events known to the author, and assesses possible causes for the extraordinary popularity of the book in France and elsewhere during the 19th century, treating various aspects of its allure and mystique, including the book's implicit offer to readers of "a powerful new sense of possibility, an alternative way of life outside the strictures of society." — Midwest Book Review

Author Information

Henry Murgerwas a nineteenth-century French writer whose Scènes de la vie de bohème launched an idea of bohemian life that has influenced cultures ever since.

Robert Holton, the translator/editor, is Emeritus Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He has taught literature for many years, including courses in bohemian cultures.


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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION; 1. How the Bohemian Society Was Established; 2. A Gift from the Gods; 3. Love at Lent; 4. Ali-Rodolphe, or A Turk by Necessity; 5. Charlemagne’s Coin; 6. Mademoiselle Musette; 7. The Sands of Pactolus; 8. What Five Francs Cost; 9. Polar Violets; 10. The Cape of Storms; 11. A Bohemian Café; 12. A Reception in Bohemia; 13. The Housewarming Party; 14. Mademoiselle Mimi; 15. Donec Gratus; 16. The Passage of the Red Sea; 17. The Graces Adorned; 18. Francine’s Muff; 19. Musette’s Whims; 20. Mimi’s Fine Feathers; 21. Romeo and Juliet; 22. Epilogue to Love; 23. Only Young Once; Appendix: Murger’s Preface; Index


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