Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939 – Virginia Nicholson

Published April 10, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

They ate garlic and didn’t always bathe; they listened to Wagner and worshiped Diaghilev; they sent their children to coeducational schools, explored homosexuality and free love, vegetarianism and Post-impressionism. They were often drunk and broke, sometimes hungry, but they were of a rebellious spirit. Inhabiting the same England with Philistines and Puritans, this parallel minority of moral pioneers lived in a world of faulty fireplaces, bounced checks, blocked drains, whooping cough, and incontinent cats.

They were the bohemians.

Virginia Nicholson — the granddaughter of painter Vanessa Bell and the great-niece of Virginia Woolf — explores the subversive, eccentric, and flamboyant artistic community of the early twentieth century in this “wonderfully researched and colorful composite portrait of an enigmatic world whose members, because they lived by no rules, are difficult to characterize” (San Francisco Chronicle).

What did I think?:

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the style the author adopts. Rather than sequencing events chronologically, she decides to split it into various sections i.e. love, food, money, education. Before she begins the section she will ask a number of questions which she then proceeds to answer in the chapter. I found this a very effective way of organizing and presenting the information, and it made it more interesting as a reader. Another plus point on the author’s side is that she was the grand-daughter of the artist Vanessa Bell and the great-niece of Virginia Woolf so a lot of her information probably arises from someone close to the source, this makes what we read more reputable.

I didn’t know a whole lot about the Bohemians before beginning this book but I had a rough idea of their views and morals. It seemed a liberal, non-judgemental, free way of living and thinking, and was instrumental in developing some of the mindsets we have in today’s society. This particular quote made me smile:

“You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk-dancing” quoted by Arnold Bax in his memoirs.

A lot of the Bohemian ideals were a sort of escapism and breaking free against the previous Victorian infringements on society. And the Victorians were incredibly “proper” about things, especially regarding what women should and shouldn’t do. No unmarried woman was to go anywhere without a chaperone, no drinking, no smoking, and the clothes! From the layers upon layers of underclothes and petticoats, it was no wonder that in some marriages, the couple had never seen each other naked.

There are a host of characters in this book, and it is obvious the author has done extensive research, to the point if you are interested you can find out more about various individuals from the bibliography. I am very intrigued now to find out more about Dylan and Caitlin Thomas’ tempestuous drink-fuelled relationship, and to re-discover some of D.H. Lawrence’s finest work. I can’t really criticize too much about this book as the writing was impeccable, and those with an interest in that era of history will be glad they picked it up.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



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