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  • La Bohème: une figure de l’imaginaire social by Anthony Glinoer
  • Valentina Gosetti
La Bohème: une figure de l’imaginaire social. Par Anthony Glinoer. (Socius: littérature, art, discours, société.) Montréal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2018. 288 pp., ill.

‘La bohème, la bohème | Et nous vivions de l’air du temps’, sings Charles Aznavour in the world-famous song; but what precisely is ‘la bohème’: a rejection of convention, a lifestyle choice, an ambition, a set of places or attitudes? This question is the starting point of Anthony Glinoer’s informative and thoroughly researched study. The Introduction brings some order to longstanding critical debates by identifying three main categories that have dominated thus far: ‘la dimension collective’, ‘la dimension individuelle’, and ‘la dimension idéologique’, the latter having been privileged outside the francophone context. According to Glinoer, all these takes, although useful, are insufficient to tackle a phenomenon better grasped by a combination of ‘concepts opératoires’, such as the notion of an ‘imaginaire social’ (p. 22), which integrates at once ‘le réel et le fictif, le singulier et le collectif, le conforme et le subversif ’ (p. 23) — all tensions inherent to la bohème. On this theoretical basis, the first chapter addresses the historical development of the phenomenon in its competing versions, from the most popular, namely Henri Murger’s ‘bohème enchantée’ (p. 47), which inspired Puccini’s opera, to Champfleury’s ‘désenchantée’ variety (p. 48); or from Marx’s pessimistic judgement, to the more ludic fin-de-siècle forms of groups such as the Hydropathes. Chapter 2 explores, through an array of appealing literary examples, how la bohème reveals itself to be in friction with other contexts and figures: with its clear enemy, le bourgeois (even if la bohème and le bourgeois ‘se complètent et finissent souvent pour se confondre’, p. 58); with women; with artists, both authentic and inauthentic, as captured by the Goncourts; and with all the marginaux of the ‘bohème pauvre’ (p. 87), who co-exist alongside a certain ‘bohème dorée’ (p. 87). Particularly revealing is the section on ‘[f]emmes bohèmes et bas-bleus’ (p. 59), which does not shy away from denouncing the misogyny of the air du temps, when muses were largely considered objects of the male gaze. Two names emerge: George Sand and the lesser-known Nina de Villard, whose life and oeuvre is here sketched as an invitation to rediscover this important personality. The central chapters introduce a range of individual examples as well as some collective experiences, because la bohème, contrary to the poète maudit, ‘fuit la solitude’ (p. 147). Especially illuminating here is a social topography of la bohème — its interiors and public spaces — all coming with their own characters, moods, and ‘sociabilités bohémisées’ (p. 190; original emphasis). Chapter 5 surveys different literary genres (press, poetry, the novel) and tropes associated with la bohème, such as la fantaisie, the taste for irreverence, digression, and paradox in constant tension and dialogue with more realist tendencies. The closing chapter then moves beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of the rather Paris-centric nineteenth-century bohème analysed thus far to embrace a wider global perspective. This is a very exciting turn that clearly demonstrates the huge potential for further research in this area. Glinoer’s study is a highly recommended introduction to la bohème, which, in its richness, will also be of benefit to specialists. [End Page 305]

Valentina Gosetti
University of New England, Armidale


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