Henri Murger (myewr-zhehr) once said that “Bohemia is the preface to the hospital, the Academy, or the morgue.” The honor of membership in the French Academy never came to him, but he did spend a long time in hospitals until severe arthritis, aggravated by the malnutrition he suffered during his many years in “Bohemia,” caused his premature death at the age of thirty-eight.
Murger never knew anything but the poverty that was the enduring fact of typical bohemian life. Born in Paris to the family of a poor tailor on March 24, 1822, he existed on his small salary as secretary to Count Alexei Tolstoy. The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter was first published serially, accounting, perhaps, for its structural looseness. A dramatic version, written in collaboration with Théodore Barrière, had an even greater success. Still, Murger, like Charles Baudelaire, a fellow bohemian, had little success in managing money when he had it. Despite his considerable fame and the recognition he received when Napoleon III admitted him to the Legion of Honor, he died penniless on January 28, 1861.
Though he wrote a number of other novels and plays (Le Pays Latin, 1852; Les Buveurs d’eau, 1855; Le Sabot rouge, 1858) and a volume of poetry, Murger is remembered almost exclusively for his novel depicting the lives of the impoverished artists in the Latin Quarter of nineteenth century Paris, the story upon which Giacomo Puccini, half a century later, based his opera La Bohème.