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The First Bohemians
The First Bohemians

The First Bohemians

Life and Art in London's Golden Age


512 Pages, 5 x 8

Formats: Trade Paper

Trade Paper, $27.95 (US $27.95)

Publication Date: October 2015

ISBN 9780718195830

Rights: US

Penguin UK (Oct 2015)

Price: $27.95


The colorful, salacious, and sumptuously illustrated story of Covent Garden, the creative heart of Georgian LondonIn the teeming, disordered, and sexually charged square half-mile centered on London's Covent Garden something extraordinary evolved in the 18th century. It was the world's first creative "Bohemia." The nation's most significant artists, actors, poets, novelists, and dramatists lived here. From Soho and Leicester Square across Covent Garden's Piazza to Drury Lane, and down from Long Acre to the Strand, they rubbed shoulders with rakes, prostitutes, market people, craftsmen, and shopkeepers. It was an often brutal world full of criminality, poverty, and feuds, but also of high spirits, and an intimacy that was as culturally creative as any other in history. Vic Gatrell's spectacular new book recreates this time and place by drawing on a vast range of sources, showing the deepening fascination with "real life" that resulted in the work of artists like Hogarth, Blake, and Rowlandson, or in great literary works like The Beggar's Opera and Moll Flanders. The First Bohemians is illustrated by more than 200 extraordinary pictures, many rarely seen, for Gatrell celebrates above all one of the most fertile eras in Britain's artistic history. He writes about Joshua Reynolds and J. M. W. Turner as well as the forgotten figures who contributed to what was a true golden age: the men and women who briefly dazzled their contemporaries before being destroyed—or made—by this magical but also ferocious world.


"Superb. . . An eccentric and very robust age, which makes the people found in Mr. Gatrell's chronicle infinitely more entertaining than the bloodless Bloomsbury poseurs we always read about."  —Wall Street Journal

"Boozy, arty and sexually charged, Covent Garden in the mid-1700s surges spectacularly into life in this engrossing history."  —Sunday Times

"[An] exhilarating history . . . Gatrell's book features nearly three hundred irreverently foul examples, to which he is an entertaining and appropriately digressive guide. In his hands, the prints provide a bewildering, sometimes nauseating, but ultimately enlightening portrait of a vigorously satirical time."  —New Yorker on City of Laughter

"Readers interested in the art and literature of the period will find much to feast upon here." —Booklist

"wonderful and richly illustrated"--The Wall Street Journal, 11/15/2015

a "fascinating history" --San Diego Book Review, 2/22/2016

Author Biography

Vic Gatrell's last book, City of Laughter, won both the Wolfson Prize for History and the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize; his The Hanging Tree won the Whitfield Prize of the Royal Historical Society.