Author(s): Travis Elborough
London has always been home to outsiders. To people who won’t, or can’t, abide by the conventions of respectable society. For close to two centuries, these misfit individualists have had a name. They have been called Bohemians. This book is an entertaining, anecdotal history of Bohemian London. A guide to its more colourful inhabitants. Rossetti and Swinburne, defying the morality of high Victorian England. Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley in the decadent 1890s. The Bloomsburyites and the Bright Young Things. Dylan Thomas, boozing in the Blitz, and Francis Bacon and his cronies, wasting time and getting wasted in 1950s Soho. It’s also a guide to the places where Bohemia has flourished. The legendary Café Royal, a home away from home to artists and writers for nearly a century. The Cave of the Golden Calf, a WW1 nightclub run by the Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s widow; The Colony Room, the infamous drinking den presided over by the gloriously foul-mouthed Muriel Belcher; and the Gargoyle Club in Dean Street where the artistic avant-garde mixed with upper-crust eccentrics. The pubs of Fitzrovia where the painters Augustus John and Nina Hamnett rubbed shoulders with the occultist Aleister Crowley, and the short-story writer Julian Maclaren-Ross, wearing mirror sunglasses and clutching a silver-topped Malacca cane, held court for his acolytes and admirers. The story of Bohemian London is one of drink and drugs, sex and death, excess and indulgence. It’s also a story of achievement and success. Some of the finest art and literature of the last two centuries has emerged from Bohemia. Nick Rennison’s book provides a lively and enjoyable portrait of the world in which Bohemian Londoners once lived.
Travis Elborough is a freelance writer and editor who lives in North London. His publications include The Pocket Essential guide to Nietzsche and, among several books for children, a history of London's gentlemen of the road'. He has also edited Orange and Lemons, a compendium of London Poems. He reviews for The Sunday Times and is a regular contributor to The Oldie, despite not being old at all.