The Bohemian values of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love predominate throughout Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Let’s explore what Bohemianism is (its values and culture), and what it represented to turn-of-the-century Bohemians as compared with the artists of the 21st century. We will also delve into some of the risks and costs that are incurred when embracing such a lifestyle.
Bohemian – nounMERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY
bo•he•mi•an | \ bō-’hē-mē-ən \
A person (e.g., writer or artist) living an unconventional life usually in a colony with others.
The term “Bohemians” originally referred to people of Bohemia (an area in Central Europe now known as the Czech Republic) and implied a nomadic way of life. Later, the term Bohemian was used to describe poor and suffering writers or artists who traveled to Paris from outer towns. Many of these writers or artists lived in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, not far from the famous cabaret, The Moulin Rouge.
The term Bohemianism started to appear in the early 19th century, mostly in France, and developed into a belief or state of mind, and a way of life. The central focus of life for Bohemians was their impact, as unique individuals, on the world in which they lived. How they lived was considered eccentric by mainstream society. Bohemians lived carefree, unconventional lifestyles, often in the company of like-minded, marginalized people who valued creativity and the liberty to explore (e.g., musicians, actors,
artists, and writers). Four core values, or guiding principles, of Bohemianism included Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love.
By living by these principles, Bohemians were less concerned with the pursuits of upward mobility and tended not to have permanent ties to places or things. They rejected the values of mainstream, middle-class society (the Bourgeois) and focused their time and efforts on artistic or literary interests. Bourgeois society refers to the middle class, and a Bourgeoise is someone whose views and beliefs (e.g., economic, social, political) are greatly influenced by his or her concern for material possessions, property values, and respectability. As part of their rebellion against society, Bohemians felt no reason to exhibit moral or socially acceptable behavior. Instead they indulged in and enjoyed frugal, simple living that embraced free love and, at times, hallucinatory substances, which were used by many to help with inspiration. As outsiders of the societal norm, they adopted the Bohemian state of mind where high degrees of freedom were perfectly acceptable; meeting the standards or expectations of mainstream society was not on the Bohemian mind.