From the Margins: The Male Bohemian Observer in Mid-Victorian Culture

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This essay identifies Bohemianism as a major factor in understanding attitudes to gender, art and society in mid-nineteenth century London. It sees the homosociality of Bohemian circles as particularly significant for the construction of masculine identities in the period. One of the key factors in the development of this Bohemianism was a new journalism that developed out of a concern with the lives of the poor and the socially excluded. Writing from the margins of respectable journalism led to a new kind of observational reportage which acted alongside the caricature and illustration of artists such as John Leech and ‘Phiz’, among others, to inform audiences about social issues. The essay identifies a link between such journalistic practices and the fine arts. Ford Madox Brown’s painting Work (exhibited in 1865) makes apparent this nexus of ideas and attitudes, dress codes and manners. In the figure of the onlooker, it is argued here, Brown depicts himself as the marginal Bohemian onlooker whose personal style and political affiliations are with the labourers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-153
Number of pages17
JournalVisual Culture in Britain
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2015


  • bohemianism
  • Ford Madox Brown
  • homosociality
  • John Leech
  • phiz
  • mayhew
  • punch
  • victorian London


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