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Images for study



Plan of the Bastille (Project_Gutenberg)

"The Bohemian Girl" by Franz Hals (National Gallery, London)



















































The Cumaean Sibyl ("Corinne") by Domenichino, c. 1610
Oil on canvas
Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome (Web Gallery of Art)
Germaine Necker at age 14, later Mme de Staël, pastel by Louis de Carmontelle (

The Bohemians is my translation for the University of Pennsylvania Press of the Marquis de Pelleport's little-known novel Les Bohémiens, about a troupe of vagabond writer-philosophers and their sexual partners. The two-volume novel, written in the Bastille where the author was imprisoned at the same time as the Marquis de Sade, is the first important use of the term "Bohemians" in its modern sense as anti-establishment intellectuals. His lively and wide-ranging fiction, virtually unknown in France (only seven copies still exist in the world) and never translated into English, was unearthed rediscovered by the historian Robert Darnton, was written just before the outbreak of the French Revolution by a writer, poet, and libellist imprisoned in the Bastille for four years because of anti-monarchical publications. Through its presentation of the "Bohemian" wanderers and the narrator's response to them, it both satirizes and voices many of the major political and philosophical positions current in the period, as well as the perilous situation of anyone trying to break into the literary scene. The picaresque framework allows a narrative range that includes satire, parody, erotic description, personal, political, anticlerical, and social critiques, some Rousseauistic, some mocking contemporary versions of Rousseau. It often offers interlocutory direct address to the reader. In its inventive literary techniques, The Bohemians takes its place in the tradition of Sterne and Diderot. It bears witness both to the political and personal grievances of a Grub Street writer imprisoned for four years, and his inventive and remarkable efforts to create a world elsewhere.

The story begins with a discontented lawyer-intellectual "Bissot" (based on Pelleport's former friend the Girondin politico Brissot) who meets and joins the Bohemians' troupe and happily turns philosopher. The peripatetic troupe of argumentative philosophical "Bohemians" includes major schools of Enlightenment philosophes, a donkey loaded with their many unpublished manuscripts, and mother-daughter companions Voragine and Félicité. The Bohemians often live at the expense of others, as either guests or thieves, stealing when necessary; their travels through the much-maligned Champagne countryside include funny, painful, sexual, and criminal encounters with a variety of peasants, nobility, parvenus, priests, and servants. The inset narratives told by their hosts and visitors are set in Switzerland, the Low Countries,and Rome. The novel ends with an autobiographical tale by an ex-poet whose peregrinations, parallel in some respects to what we know of Pelleport's own career, traces his childhood awakenings to Don Quixote and love, his dysfunctional family, his dislike of the military, his attempts to earn a living by selling his work, his experiences in London as a miracle-working sexual wonder and Whig partisan. The open ending of the story, the poet leads the Bohemians to an inn in his home town, Pelleport's own Stenay, before they continue their vagabond philosophizing.

FromThe Bohemians: Two samples of Pelleport's direct addresses to the reader can be seen below. Excerpt from publication by the University of Pennsylvania Press (2009), not to be reproduced without permission:

" "

From Chapter Thirteen.  Various Projects Highly Important to the Public Weal.
You grow impatient, dear reader: you seem annoyed to see the heavy curtain of rational discourse lowered onto the stage.  If I paid attention to you, my actors would have no interval to catch their breaths.  I am thrilled to hear the by the stamping of your feet and your neighbors’ canes interrupt the orchestra, while the provincials everywhere in the audience call: “Begin! Begin!”   Hearing that word in thirty different dialects assures me that every geographic parallel in our kingdom will offer me readers – I only wish I could say buyers!  But a perfidious practice was introduced in France a few years ago by which the latter number only perhaps one-tenth of the former.  Many, many bachelors, when it comes to reading, possess no books of their own.  These gentlemen live off the common expense, or rather off the purse of unfortunate authors.  A single copy is enough for an entire city.  Sometimes the valet of a local lord discovers an unbound last-season stitched paperback in the waiting-room of our generous small-town librarians: what then?  The scoundrel pockets it silently; his master reads it one rainy day; milady weighs it contemptuously; young Miss reads it secretly with her chambermaid; a bored neighbor borrows it; and so you have the honor of being read, judged, covered with muck in a hundred chateaux and a hundred shops by a million spectators, only one of whom has paid at the door.


From Chapter Six. Cock-crow.
Dear reader, have you ever been printed alive?  Have you ever felt so pressured by your baker and local innkeeper that you dragged your down-at-heels shoes through bazaars where literary ragpickers traffic in the thoughts of human beings so wretched they can support themselves only by selling their dreams? – No, you never have. You began life as a tax farmer's lackey; you started the world poor as a churchmouse, working for some rat of an exciseman.  You then progressed to a desk job: pilfering from drunken sots with one hand, while with the other you take crumbs from poor people who can hardly pay for their salt.  Everyone in the world of letters knows your name: “Clerks, doormen, let him pass through!”  You no longer fear a hunger-strike, thanks to the happy larcenies of your youth.  You acquire a mistress, your mistress reads novels, you find on her dressing-table this my true history, which you have open at this moment to this very page, and your eyes alight on my question: a lucky chance that now procures me the honor of explaining exactly how much money an unfortunate author earns by entertaining you.


The interlocking and interlocutory tales told by these remarkable Bohemians and the people they meet on their travels belong in part to the great tradition of Cervantes and Scarron, while the narrator sometimes interacts directly with the reader in ways that relate to the techniques of Sterne and Diderot. Pelleport's by-play with the reader in this fiction makes and breaks an intimacy that connects allows him to raise an astounding breadth of public and personal questions. The difficulties of a marginal writer's life and his attempts to break into publishing and keep away from imprisonment are particularly rich in detail. In its representations of aristocratic, bourgeois, literary, scientific, religious,and peasant life, The Bohemians both satirizes and extends contemporary political and moral critiques of the many abuses of the power structure it depicts and contests. See Robert Darnton's article: "A Lost Prince of Bohemia," The New York Review of Books April 3, 2008






An Extraordinary Woman, selected writings of Germaine de Staël translated and with an introduction by Vivian Folkenflik (Columbia UP, 1987)

"On Women Writers," from On Literature Considered in its Relationship to Social Institutions (1800):
...I believe a day will come when philosophical legislators will give serious attention to the education of women, to the laws protecting them, to the duties which should be imposed on them, to the happiness which can be guaranteed them. At present, however, most women belong neither to the natural nor to the social order. What succeeds for some women is the ruin of others; their good points may do them harm, their faults may prove useful. One minute they are everything, the next nothing. Their destiny resembles that of freedmen under the emperors: if they try to gain any influence, this unofficial power is called criminal, while if they remain slaves their destiny is crushed.


French history and language

Histoire par l'image

Le Tresor de la Langue Francaise

H-France jules_michelet.htm

Jules Michelet

Jules Michelet, by Thomas Couture (c. 1843), Musée

JULES MICHELET: The Student (" Que les lettrés se fassent illettrés," known as L’Étudiant, 1847-48 lecture series at the Collège de France.

Translation, introduction and notes in progress