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The Bohemians

By Anne Gedeon Lafitte, Marquis de Pelleport. Translated by Vivian Folkenflik. Introduction by Robert Darnton

Publication Year: 2010

While the marquis de Sade was drafting The 120 Days of Sodom in the Bastille, another libertine marquis in a nearby cell was also writing a novel—one equally outrageous, full of sex and slander, and more revealing for what it had to say about the conditions of writers and writing itself. Yet Sade's neighbor, the marquis de Pelleport, is almost completely unknown today, and his novel, Les Bohémiens, has nearly vanished. Only a half dozen copies are available in libraries throughout the world. This edition, the first in English, opens a window into the world of garret poets, literary adventurers, down-and-out philosophers, and Grub Street hacks writing in the waning days of the Ancien Régime.

The Bohemians tells the tale of a troupe of vagabond writer-philosophers and their sexual partners, wandering through the countryside of Champagne accompanied by a donkey loaded with their many unpublished manuscripts. They live off the land—for the most part by stealing chickens from peasants. They deliver endless philosophic harangues, one more absurd than the other, bawl and brawl like schoolchildren, copulate with each other, and pause only to gobble up whatever they can poach from the barnyards along their route.

Full of lively prose, parody, dialogue, double entendre, humor, outrageous incidents, social commentary, and obscenity, The Bohemians is a tour de force. As Robert Darnton writes in his introduction to the book, it spans several genres and can be read simultaneously as a picaresque novel, a roman à clef, a collection of essays, a libertine tract, and an autobiography. Rediscovered by Darnton and brought gloriously back to life in Vivian Folkenflik's translation, The Bohemians at last takes its place as a major work of eighteenth-century libertinism.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-xlii

While the marquis de Sade was drafting The 120 Days of Sodom in the Bastille, another libertine marquis in a nearby cell was writing another novel—one equally outrageous, full of sex and slander, and more revealing for what it had to say about the conditions of writers and writing itself. Yet Sade’s neighbor, the marquis de Pelleport, is completely unknown today, and his novel...

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pp. xlv-xlviii

As a translator, I have approached this novel from a literary perspective, coming first to the text. While Robert Darnton necessarily focuses on Pelleport’s personal, literary, and political targets as “thinly disguised” people in a roman a clé, I have presented the Bohemians as fictional characters in the great tradition of the European comic novel, individuated through their voices ...


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pp. xlix

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CHAPTER ONE: The Legislator Bissot Renounces Chicanery in Favor of Philosophy

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pp. 5-8

The sun was about to rise from Amphitrite’s bed, dawn was fleeting apace; prostitutes were just closing their eyes, and the bourgeois housewives of Reims squawking to rouse their servant-girls, since in Champagne nobody rings for them; ladies of quality or any claim to nobility had six hours’ sleep left to go; female devotees roused by mournful church bells hurried to early mass: when ...

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CHAPTER TWO: The Two Brothers Wander on the Plains of Champagne

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pp. 9-13

After these Latin words to satisfy the rule established by great men from time immemorial in every time and place—never begin an enterprise without some sentence worthy of its importance and quotable at the head of the narrative—our two travelers plunged deep into the solitude of Pont-Favergé, along roads unfit for riders on horseback, passengers in carriages, or even...

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CHAPTER THREE: Supper Better Than Dinner

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pp. 14-17

Tifarès was emboldened by this warm welcome to open his little eyes, which fear had sealed as hermetically as an Encyclopedist’s purse or a devout woman’s moneybox. His joy and his surprise were unbounded at the sight of two legs of lamb turning side by side on a long wooden spit, along with several partridges whose lives had been cut short by the fatal cord, and a goose whose ...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Who Were These People Supping Under the Stars on the Plains of Champagne?

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pp. 18-20

“Are you not astonished, Sir,” began the President, “to find a band lacking neither appetite nor gaiety at such a time and so deserted a place? 1 But I assure you: good health and good cheer are never found under the gilded ceiling of the farmer general, or in the courtesan’s cabinet, or behind the merchant’s...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Reveille; The Troupe Marches Forward; Unremarkable Adventures

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pp. 21-31

How much it costs to sleep in a fine bed! How many sacrifices it takes to buy those silk curtains, those gilded shutters to hide the morning star’s faintest gleam from our eyes.—O liberty! You are the price we pay for accepting the treacherous refinements of the soft life, in exchange for destroying our finest faculties. Ah yes, I recall the happy time when, lying in Julie’s embrace on a ...

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pp. 32-46

You must thank me, gentle reader, for rescuing you from that damned —You are frightened? Calm down, never fear, I won’t force you back right away; I’m not one of those writers who shake up your world until its natural warmth is extinct. Five or six hundred dozen quakes are plenty at one time; besides, if you are afraid of digressions, close my book. I write the same way I ...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: After Which, Try to Say There Are No Ghosts . . .

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pp. 47-55

Have you ever been to Saint-Malo? I know nothing of the place, to tell the truth, and for once my ignorance proves my good faith; for you are not someone I would fib to, like travelers who lie with more impudence if they know their listeners have never been within a hundred leagues of the place in...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: The Denouement

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pp. 56-57

Ha! You threw my book into the fire? No problem, I swear, no problem—I had ten thousand copies printed. Burning my book! O the horror of it! Going to the Bastille would make my reputation. Ah well, since you spoil me like a favorite child, I will pick up the thread of my narrative, and unwind it to the core. I should probably start with the reply made to Mordanes by ...

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CHAPTER NINE: Nocturnal Adventures That Deserve to See the Light of Day, and Worthy of an Academician's Pen

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pp. 58-71

If I ever some day write an epic poem—or somehow find my imagination fertile enough to write a novel without borrowing episodes from my colleagues right and left—then I promise to let my heroes sleep in peace from sunset to dawn every night. Wouldn’t you say daytime allows plenty of time for cut-and-thrust swordplay? At the rate of one arm and leg per minute, which is easy ...

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CHAPTER TEN: The Terrible Effects of Causes

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pp. 72-76

“What a country! What a landscape! Miserable inhabitants!” So spoke the illustrious Séché to the band on the rutted tracks leading to the abbey of Mont-Dieu: 1 “Look at this unfortunate hamlet: scrawny, starving livestock; filthy, sickening, exhausted peasant women, real remedies for love; 2 flies eat-ing away at the thin carcasses of man and beast alike. But then! a half-starved ...

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CHAPTER ELEVEN: Uncivil Dissertations

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pp. 77-85

“I speak,” began Lungiet, 1 “on behalf of that unfortunate portion of humankind which lives in abstinence and nudity, and against the rich and great who dine well and dress magnificently. My clients’ existence, their daily life, their happiness—I am the only person who cares about them; I alone am predestined to defend them. Now for the second time in my life I have hesitated, ...

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CHAPTER TWELVE: Parallel of Mendicant and Proprietary Monks

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pp. 86-91

“Well, cook, did you give the Capuchin fathers their supper?” “Capuchins, Dom Procurator? No Capuchins came here today.” “Liar! I could smell them: go ask Dom Coadjutor.” “You are mistaken: they are a mere itinerant camp, traveling with a donkey.” “With a donkey! That proves they must be Capuchins. Good God, they have women with them! Stubborn idiot—can’t you see they are Capuchins...

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Various Projects Highly Important to the Public Weal

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pp. 92-97

You grow impatient, dear reader: you seem annoyed to see the heavy curtain of rational discourse lowered onto the stage. If I took your word for it, my actors would have no interval to catch their breaths. I am thrilled to hear the stamping of your feet and your neighbors’ canes interrupt the orchestra, while provincials in the audience call: “Begin! Begin!” Hearing that word in thirty ...

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pp. 98-101

“Nowhere on earth has Hospitality taken refuge for the last three hundred years,” began Bissot, “except in cloisters—the only lodging this goddess still can find. 1 Your own order, sir, yes indeed: your Benedictine scholars alone still preserve the faintest notion of Hospitality, first among the ancient Roman virtues. All Europe is filled with tourists and cabarets. The only way ...

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Morning Matins at the Charterhouse

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pp. 102-104

The charterhouse bells had already tintinnabulated more than once, and every little altar had been honored by a sacrificial victim. Time for breakfast: fresh rolls, cylinders of butter, and half-bottles of wine awakened the appetites of the peace-loving hermits in various quarters of the house. Crossing the courtyard to his own rooms, Dom Prior met the Coadjutor who...

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Panegyric of the Clergy

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pp. 105-109

“I have not taken this chair to instruct you about the utility of the clergy to which you belong—for who would dream of attacking the existence of the clergy? 1 which is as necessary as the worship it supports. The slanderous topics of attack on the clergy are: its riches, its mores, its love for the government, and its open-mindedness. And on these scores will I undertake to justify it....

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: A Mouse with Only One Hole Is Easy to Take

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pp. 110-111

“Maman’s eyes had never looked so odd: she was staring at Tifarès the whole time I was trimming the edge of my green skirt with a white ribbon. 1 Her eyes were brimming with water, her breath was almost panting. ‘Maman,’ I asked, ‘do you need some fresh air? Would you like me to open a window?’“‘No,’ she replied, ‘I am going to take a walk; this gentleman will offer me ...

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: How Lungiet Was Interrupted by a Miracle

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pp. 112-114

It is so painful for a historian to begin his tale convinced no one will believe him, that if I thought belief had quite vanished from the face of this earth, I would leave this page blank. But there are still good souls left in the world: our problem is not total incredulity, but rather the rarity of miracles, which we have lost the habit of believing in. Yet miracles happen every day. Such a pity ...

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CHAPTER NINETEEN: Which Will Not Be Long

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pp. 115

Having departed so late in the day from the Mont-Dieu monastery, our philosophers could get no farther than the village of Stone, where thanks to the Capuchins’ silverware they procured the best this poor village could offer. They supped frugally, they drank bad wine, and they had to make room for each other in a hayloft overnight. I am unable to discover exactly what...

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CHAPTER TWENTY: A Pilgrim's Narrative

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pp. 116-130

The sun had almost reached the height of its career, and the heat was unbearable; the poor scalawag donkey made little progress, loaded with provisions and manuscripts, panting, his tongue out: he would take twenty paces, tail between his legs, and then lie down and wait, as if to tell his master in At that moment, emerging from the woods, our travelers found themselves ...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Continuation of the Pilgrim's Narrative

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pp. 131-148

“Another motive I had for returning to Paris upon the sad news of my recent loss, beside my concerns about inheriting the succession, was to ensure the appropriate masses, vespers, paternosters, Ave Marias, and other minor prayers to get my father’s soul out of purgatory, should it happen not to have gone straight to Paradise. 1 The preceding on the explicit condition that the ...


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pp. 149-193

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203707
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812221756

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010