Author(s): Virginia Nicholson
Subversive, eccentric and flamboyant, the artistic community in England in the first half of the twentieth century was engaged in the bold experiment of refashioning not just their art, but their daily lives. They reinvented the home, challenging and rejecting the smug certainties of the Victorian bourgeoisie, in what amounted to a domestic revolution.
From Roy Campbell's recipe for bouillabaisse to Iris Tree cutting off her braid and leaving it behind on a train, creativity entered every aspect of these people's lives. Bohemians ate garlic and didn't always bathe; they listened to Wagner and worshipped Diaghilev; they sent their children to coeducational schools, explored homosexuality and free love, vegetarianism and Postimpres-sionism. They were often drunk and broke, sometimes hungry, but they were of a rebellious spirit. Inhabiting the same England with Phil-istines and Puritans was a parallel minority of moral pioneers, traveling third class and coping with faulty fireplaces.
This is a book about a search for truth and beauty in small things; it is also about sacrifice, liberty, class conflict and the generation war. In many cases, Bohemia's headlong idealism collided disastrously with the demands of everyday life. Accompanying the victories in this rebellion was an anarchic clutter of bounced checks, blocked drains, whooping cough, and incontinent cats. Sometimes artists felt lost amid the turmoil of new freedoms. Contempt for convention led all too often to poverty, divorce, addiction and even death.
Many of the heroes and heroines of this transitional time are half-forgotten, neglected characters from the footnotes of history who achieved little of artistic durability. Their voices have seldom been heard, but their valiant approach to the art of living deserves to be celebrated. For where they led, we have followed. Gradually, imperceptibly, Bohemia changed society. Among the Bohemians testifies to that quiet revolution.
Part 1 Paying the price: why is poverty so romantic?; why do artists despise money?; how does one survive while producing something that no one will buy?; what does an artist do who runs out of money?; does being rich disqualify one from Bohemia?; if being Bohemian means being poor, is the gain worth the pain? Part 2 All for love: what is wrong with talking about sex?; what is wrong with sex outside marriage?; why shouldn't self-expression extend to the bedroom?; is homosexuality wrong?; must relationships be confined to members of the same sex, class and colour?; is marriage a meaningful institution?; is there such a thing as free love? Part 3 Children of light: what is it like to be brought up in Bohemia?; should children be kept clean and tidy?; should children be given rules and punishments?; how do you bring up a creative child?; should children be educated, and if so, how? Part 4 Dwelling with beauty: how can one recognise a Bohemian interior?; does one really need furniture?; how can one live beautifully and cheaply?; is innovation in design compatible with authentic living?; do things have to match? what is the point of wallpaper?; must furniture be new?; is comfort more important that appearance; is living the simple life the answer to poverty? Part 5 Glorious apparel: what do one's clothes tell people about one's beliefs?; does one have to wear what other people wear?; must one wear sober colours?; evening dress? corsets?; which is more important, comfort or appearance?; must women wear skirts?; must men be clean-shaven?; is jewellery wrong for men?; do clothes have to be expensive to be beautiful? (Part contents).