Search >> Bohemia in America, 1858-1920
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Levin, Joanna. Bohemia in America, 1858-1920. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010.
Type: book ; Genre: literary criticism, history
People Mentioned in this Work
- Aldrich, Thomas Bailey [pages: 21, 67]
- Bristed, Charles Astor [pages: 17, 42-43, 51, 61, 65]
- Levin notes that Bristed was one of the first English translators of Murger, the creator of the popular musical La Vie de Bohéme, and a voice on the Bohemian “race” (17).
Many of the Bohemians believed strongly in women’s rights. Charles Astor Bristed was one of the few who believed that “women [were] not fit Bohemians” (42).
- Clapp, Henry Jr. [pages: 5, 18, 19, 21-29, 36-37, 55, 68-69, 42, 44-47, 57-60, 66]
- Levin notes that the Bohemians of New York clustered around Henry Clapp Jr., “an iconoclast who had just returned from Paris with the idea of emulating la vie bohéme.” Clapp and others sought to create a Bohemia of their own at Pfaff’s beer cellar. “Clapp seized upon Pfaff’s because of its excellent coffee and beer and, most likely, because of its foreign ambiance” (18).
Henry Clapp is referred to as “Prince of Bohemia” by William Winter (19).
Levin states that it was Clapp who set the tone for the group of Bohemians and “created a self-conscious Bohemian spirit” (21).
Clapp started the Saturday Press in 1858. The paper attempted to employ Bohemian “freedom of thought,” but this often translated into a “scathing critique of what the Pfaffians took to be one of the central banes of bourgeoisie existence: humbuggery” (21). The paper helped “popularize notions of Bohemianism and its position within American culture (21).
Clapp provides a direct link between Antebellum reform and Bohemia through his lectures and writings on Abolitionism, Temperance, Fourierism, and Free Love (22).
Levin writes that for Clapp, “Bohemianism seems to have represented a disillusioned turn […] and he often used Bohemianism to articulate an agonized ‘politics of anti-politics.’” However, she notes that there is still some continuity between his Bohemianism and his earlier visions of reform (26).
Henry Clapp was against slavery and had once declared, "'Slaveholding is a sin'" (28).
Levin notes that Clapp had a very particular view of Bohemia, locating it "at the intersection of several overlapping yet distinct bourgeois discourses" (29). Though Clapp promoted the Bohemian sense of artistic entitlement and exemption from the requirements of bourgeois life, he himself must have been a diligent worker, having published several articles a week (36).
“Paradoxically enough […] Clapp viewed a ‘distinct national character’ as the very condition of a future, more broadly based American Bohemianism” (45).
Surprisingly, Henry Clapp appears to have possessed some anti-Semitism. He once stated “‘Jews excepted, I have from my youth up had a lively sympathy for all creatures who are the victims of general persecution’” (46). Still, Levin notes that “such sentiments did not prevent the Bohemians of Pfaff’s from welcoming the openly Jewish actress Adah Isaacs Menken to the beer cellar (47).
Clapp felt that New York “offered a liberating anonymity to its ‘aesthetic inhabitants,’ allowing them greater independence from bourgeois mores and control” (66).
After the Civil War, Clapp attempted to reestablish the Saturday Press, only to find that “the Bourgeois press was even more hostile toward Bohemianism than before” (68).
- Clare, Ada [pages: 21, 38-39, 42, 43, 44, 68, 69]
- Ada Clare was an essayist, novelist, and actress who frequented Pfaff’s and was perhaps “best known for her notorious love affair with the pianist and Byronic sex symbol Louis Gottschalk” (21).
Levin notes that Ada Clare had her own definition of a Bohemian: "I thought the Bohemian was by nature, if not by habit, a Cosmopolite, with a general sympathy for the fine arts, and for all things above and beyond convention" (38).
Ada Clare was an essayist, novelist, and actress who frequented Pfaff’s and was perhaps “best known for her notorious love affair with the pianist and Byronic sex symbol Louis Gottschalk” (21).
- Congdon, Charles Taber [pages: 19]
- Congdon noted that the low ceiling, stone walls, and stacks of barrels in Pfaff’s beer cellar reminded him of Auerbach’s Cellar in Faust (19).
- Emerson, Ralph Waldo [pages: 29, 58, 68]
- Howells, William Dean [pages: 12, 21-22, 38, 57, 58, 63, 64, 66, 67]
- Upon his visit to Pfaff's, William Dean Howells found it to be like an "orgy" and commented on the "awful appearance" of some of the Bohemians (38).
In 1860, a young William Dean Howells traveled to New York to meet the Bohemians, who had published some of his poetry in the Saturday Press. However, once there, Howells asserted himself as a representative Bostonian, perpetuating the rivalry between the literary cities. Howells found in New York “‘a bitterness against Boston as great as the bitterness against respectability’” (57).
Levin remarks that “among the Pfaffians, Howells dutifully embodied the role of the Boston Bourgeois.” Howells looked down upon the Pfaffins “by contrasting them with the institutions of a culture increasingly constructed as ‘high’ and consummately respectable” (58).
For Howells, New York “encouraged a fall from an earlier ethic and aesthetic of responsibility and indicated the emergence of a laissez-faire economy of the self” (64).
- Ludlow, Fitz Hugh [pages: 20]
- Menken, Adah Isaacs [pages: 21, 42, 43, 68]
- Menken is noted as a famed female Bohemian who was a “sometime poet and successful actress” (21).
Levin notes that by defining themselves as “Bohemians” women like Adah Isaacs Menken created a certain sexual license that allowed them to “flaunt and justify their alleged improprieties or immoralities […] without incurring the assumption […] that they were in fact ‘public women’ or prostitutes” (43).
- O'Brien, Fitz-James [pages: 20, 33, 35-36, 67]
- Levin notes that Fitz-James O'Brien was the Bohemian "most likely to inspire comparisons to both the working-class loafer and the aristocratic dandy" (33). He alternately performed two different class identities as an Irishman with expensive tastes, and as a "starving" author picketing Harper's magazine. He was "an individual embodiment of that constant threat to bourgeois life: the boom-and-bust economy" (33).
- Pfaff, Charles Ignatius [pages: 16]
- Pfaff’s saloon is named as the meeting place for America’s first group of self-identified Bohemians (16).
- Poe, Edgar Allan [pages: 56-57]
- Levin notes that both the Frenchman Baudelaire and Walt Whitman analyze Poe and come up with very different interpretations: “Baudelaire and his Poe embrace the dream state while Whitman longs for the concrete” (57).
- Saturday Press, The [pages: 18, 20-22, 27-32, 34-35, 37, 39-44, 65-68, 55, 46-47, 57-60, 63]
- Clapp started the Saturday Press in 1858. The paper attempted to employ Bohemian “freedom of thought," but this often translated into a “scathing critique of what the Pfaffians took to be one of the central banes of bourgeoisie existence: humbuggery” (21). The paper also helped “popularize notions of Bohemianism and its position within American culture (21).
The Saturday Press rarely discussed slavery, however after Lincoln's 1860 election, the paper editorialized, "'We are opposed to slavery of every kind, but we are even more opposed to what is called anti-slavery, for the simple reason that it has no distinct aim or purpose, and consists of nothing but a series of noisy and unmeaning howls'" (28).
The Press devoted considerable space to defining its vision of Bohemianism. Often times this was in response to definitions made by other papers that the staff of the Press did not feel were accurate. In this way, a dialogue on the question of Bohemia was created, allowing for much interpretation and critique (30).
Levin notes that the Press believed the “ideal Bohemian cosmopolite […] also represented the rights of women” (41).
The Press experienced some conflict between a nationalistic and cosmopolitan literary agenda, but with the arrival of Walt Whitman, the paper reasserted a full-blown nationalistic literary bias (47).
The Press often editorialized against the development of a restricted high culture (59).
After the Civil War, Henry Clapp attempted to reestablish the Saturday Press, only to find that “the Bourgeois press was even more hostile toward Bohemianism than before” (68).
- Stedman, Edmund Clarence [pages: 21]
- Stoddard, Richard Henry [pages: 21]
- Taylor, Bayard [pages: 18, 21, 58]
- Levin notes that Bayard Taylor drew similarities between Pfaff’s beer cellar and a cellar he had been to in Leipzig. Taylor mused that the “‘mild potations of beer and the dreamy breath of cigars delayed the nervous, fidgety, clattering-foot American hours’” (18).
- Twain, Mark [pages: 69]
- Whitman, Walt [pages: 5, 12, 20, 22-26, 29, 34, 36, 46-48, 43, 49-52, 54, 55, 66-68, 47-56]
- Levin notes that Whitman composed an unfinished poem about Pfaff’s which drew on the literal location, combined with the urban geography, ultimately placing Pfaff’s as a safeguard for the values for which “America” stands but the commercial marketplace denies (20).
Whitman provides a direct link between antebellum reform and Bohemia through his numerous temperance writings which represent “the sort of ‘return of the repressed’ counterdiscourse that adumbrated his later Bohemianism” (22-23).
Whitman reported that women, such as Ada Clare and Ada Isaacs Menken, had been some of his most devoted readers (43).
Whitman looked upon the United States as an “ideal microcosm of a cosmopolitan community,” allowing him to reconcile his nationalism and internationalism (46).
Levin observes that as the nation approached the Civil War, Whitman’s sense of himself as the “poet of American democracy” began to fracture along with the Union (49).
- Winter, William [pages: 19, 21, 58, 67]
- Winter was a drama critic, poet, and sometime editor of the Saturday Press who revealed “the spectacular design of the Bohemian’s self staging” in his memoirs (19).
- Levin, Joanna Dale. American Bohemias, 1858-1912: A Literary and Cultural Geography. Ph.D Dissertation; Stanford University, 2001. 394 p. [more about this work]