HENRY HARLAND IN BOHEMIA

                                                                                 JIM BURNS

I don’t suppose many people read Henry Harland these days. A few academics, perhaps, especially if they’re researching the 1890s, and in particular the saga of The Yellow Book. The magazine is often held to represent the decadence in full bloom. In fact, with the notable exception of work by Aubrey Beardsley, it often seems quite decorous now, and I’m not convinced that it really appeared to be all that much different when it was first published. It was the notoriety surrounding Oscar Wilde, and the ambiguous nature of some of Beardsley’s illustrations, that essentially sounded its death knell. And there had been people waiting in the wings who were keen to find an excuse to attack The Yellow Book. To them, it appeared effete and degenerate, and too much infatuated with French literature and art. The suspicious scent of green carnations pervaded the air around it.

Henry Harland was one of the founders of The Yellow Book, and its chief editor from 1894 to 1897. It was said that he “did not care greatly for poetry” and what he published in the magazine wasn’t always of the highest quality. Katherine Lyon Mix, who wrote a definitive history of The Yellow Book, was of the opinion that Harland’s finest achievement as an editor was giving space to well-written essays, and that they have survived the years when compared to much of the poetry and fiction that appeared in its pages. Not everyone would necessarily agree with that opinion.

But who was Henry Harland? He was born in 1861 and brought up in America, despite liking to drop hints about coming from St Petersburg, growing up mainly in Rome, and studying in Paris. Under the name of Sidney Luska he wrote several convincing novels about Jewish life in America, despite having no Jewish family links. He does seem to have visited both Rome and Paris in his twenties, though for what purposes is difficult to decipher, but returned to New York.  And, according to Mix, in 1884 he married a lady called Aline Merriam, “an American girl of French ancestry”. She “was charming, talented, a musician and a writer, and quite in sympathy with Henry’s literary ambitions”.

The couple moved to Paris in 1887 and then to London in 1889, where Henry effected a transition to a form of literary dandyism that seemed to tie in with the languid mood of the moment. His prose style became more refined and affected, and Mix says his models were French writers like Maupassant, Daudet, and Mérimée : “He was acutely aware of the meaning of style and form, nourishing the vividness of an impression until he could transfer it to well-thought-out phrases”. He wrote several novels while he was in London, but it was the short story that showed him at his best.

Harland did set several of his stories in Paris and others in Rome, and it may have been that it was because, in both places, he found people he wanted to relate to. Paris had its bohemians, while Rome had its aristocratic expatriates. And in each group he may have perceived a reluctance to surrender to bourgeois rules and values. And he could understand their distrust of an assertive middle-class, with its own systems of social control and ambitions for power that seemed to challenge the independence of both bohemians and aristocrats. Baudelaire and other bohemians had recognised the threat posed by the bourgeoisie, and the bohemian poet, when he expressed his admiration for the dandies, who were primarily drawn from the aristocracy (Beau Brummell was a notable exception), was acknowledging their presence in the nineteenth century reaction to mass society, industrialisation, and the rise of a mercantile middle-class.

There is an irony in the fact of Harland’s interest in bohemians as supposed opponents of middle-class mores. In nineteenth century Paris  many of them, and certainly those in the American and British communities of artists, writers, and students, were on the  whole from the middle-class and supported in their activities by subsidies from business-based parents and the like. Their bohemianism was largely voluntary and could be terminated at any time should the going get really tough. When they returned to their native land it was often to a comfortable home and, if they hadn’t succeeded as painters or poets, to a fairly secure awareness that they could always find a reasonable job thanks to family and friends. I think a general impression of these middle-class, part-time bohemians comes through in Harland’s stories, as it does in George Du Maurier’s Trilby (1894) and Robert W. Chambers’ In The Quarter (1894, though it has been claimed that it was written some years earlier), which had a similar theme to Trilby.  Both Du Maurier and Chambers had been art students in Paris in their younger days.

Harland’s story, “The Bohemian Girl”, soon sets the scene with a description of her father often noticed striding along “the Boulevard St Michel” dressed in “velvet jackets, flannel shirts, loosely-knotted ties, and wide-brimmed soft felt hats”. He held court to impressionable art students at the Café Bleu and had a studio in Montparnasse. Nina, his daughter, is “a girl or sixteen or seventeen; though tall, with an amply-rounded, mature-seeming figure – if one had judged from her appearance, one would have fancied her three or four years older”.  The narrator goes on to say; “It was a queer life for a girl to live, that happy-go-lucky life of the Latin Quarter, lawless and unpremeditated, with a café for her school-room, and none but men for comrades; but Nina liked it; and her father had a theory in his madness. He was a Bohemian, not in practice only, but in principle; he preached Bohemianism as the most rational manner of existence, maintaining that it developed what was intrinsic and authentic in one’s character, saved one from the artificial, and brought one into immediate contact with the realities of the world; and he could see no reason why a human being should be ‘cloistered and contracted’ because of her sex”.

When her father suddenly dies, Nina is compelled to move to distant relatives in England : “From the Café Bleu to a Yorkshire Parsonage”. She is completely lost there. As she says in a letter to one of her contacts in Paris: “Are you interested in crops? In the preservation of game? In the diseases of cattle?”  She eventually runs away and returns to Paris, where she works as a model, a translator, and gives music lessons. She has male admirers but, following her father’s teachings, does not believe in marriage: “If a man and woman love each other, they should be free to determine for themselves the character, extent and duration of their intercourse, as two friends should be”.

But some observers felt that “the situation held tragic possibilities. A young and attractive girl, by no means constitutionally insusceptible, and imbued with heterodox ideas of marriage – alone in the Latin Quarter”.  The inevitable happens and Nina falls in love with a South American who is studying in Paris. When she becomes pregnant he agrees to marry her and leaves, ostensibly to obtain his parents’ approval. But once away from Paris he writes to tell her that he is already engaged to marry someone else. Nina has the child, decides to leave the Latin Quarter, and to support herself and her daughter, opens a pension. She makes a success of it by being careful about who she allows to live there, and eventually has a regular salon where “on a Friday evening, you would meet half the lions that were at large in the town – authors, painters, actors, actresses, deputies, even an occasional Cabinet Minister. She has become respectable, but “has never accepted the least repentance for what some people would call her ‘fault’. Her ideas of right and wrong have undergone very little modification”.

It’s an engaging tale, tidily told, and if it does have a slight air of disapproval about some aspects of bohemianism, it doesn’t push it too hard and the narrator refrains from adopting a moral tone when describing Nina’s life.

The lighter side of the Bohemian experience can be found in Harland’s stories, “A Reincarnation” and “Mademoiselle Miss”. In the former an Englishman arrives in the Latin-Quarter and is surprised to find that, as a popular, published author in his own country, he’s unknown in Paris. He is intending to write a novel in which the hero will spend some time in the Latin-Quarter, and so he’s in Paris to pick up on some local colour, hopefully from the students he’s meets. They, realising what a fraud he is, string him along and allow him to make a fool of himself: “He took it for granted that everybody had heard of him, and bridled, as a personal affront, when he met anyone who hadn’t. If you fell into chance talk with him, in ignorance of his identity, he could not let three minutes pass without informing you”. When he’s taken to visit a famous artist he’s annoyed that he’s not introduced to the man as “a distinguished English author”. And he’s not interested in the fact that the he’s talking to “the most distinguished living painter”.  It’s a briskly-written look at a self-centred mediocrity.

“Mademoiselle Miss” is kinder in intent and concerns a “young and distinctly pretty” Englishwoman who turns up at the hotel where the narrator and his student companions stay. It’s not a particularly respectable place, and among the other residents are several young French women whose occupations and activities might best be described as “questionable”. The Englishwoman is on her way home after working as a governess in America, is spending a few weeks in Paris, and has an old guide which lists the hotel. It’s well out-of-date and the character of the hotel has vastly changed. The students think of themselves as worldly-wise and decide to show the lady the seamy side of Bohemia. She meets up with Aristide Bruant, and even accompanies him at the piano while he performs when his usual pianist is indisposed. And she visits the Rat Mort.  She takes it all in her stride, even though she’s naïve in many ways, and in the end they all come to respect her and are sad when she leaves. The story is lightly-amusing and not without charm.  

There was always a dark side to Bohemia, and Harland was well aware of it. “When I am King” is about a talented pianist-composer who everyone expects will achieve great things. But the narrator meets him many years later playing in a run-down bar in a dockside district of Bordeaux: “Edmund Pair playing a dance for prostitutes and drunken sailors”.  He hears about the man’s story of success in Paris not being repeated in London, the death of his beloved wife, his failure to obtain steady employment as a musician, teacher, or critic. He doesn’t betray any self-pity and simply says: “The situation you find me in seems terrible to you; to me it’s no worse than another. You see, I’m hardened; I’ve got past caring”, And the narrator says; “I stood looking after him till he vanished in the night, with a miserable baffled recognition of my helplessness to help him”.

The problem of drugs occurs in “P’tit Bleu”, the young woman of that name being “a Latin-Quarter girl” who is alert to the ways of the world and looks on the men who admire her as ready to be exploited. She has little or no regard for anything other than having a good time and raking in any gifts or money offered her. And then she suddenly takes up with an older man, an artist who is also addicted to opium. She looks after him, weans him off the drug, though he frequently relapses and spends whatever they have on opium. But she perseveres and starts him painting again. But then he embarks on one final binge, ends up in hospital, and dies in Dieppe. The narrator does not know about this until later, and is away when P’tit Bleu calls at his Paris address, and never hears from her again: “So she has simply disappeared, and, in the flesh, may have come to………one would rather not conjecture”.

“Funeral March of a Marionette” again touches on the kind of young women who appears to have been a constant in Parisian bohemia throughout the nineteenth century. Surviving on very little, and with what the respectable would regard as a dubious moral sensibility, she pairs off with various “friends” and others she entertains in her little room on the Left Bank. But the narrator is aware that he often hears her coughing in the night, and is therefore not surprised when one of her companions calls on him to say that she has died, a victim of consumption. It was prevalent in Paris, especially among the impoverished. The narrator looks back on his attempts to help the girl by persuading her to change her way of life, but realises it was all in vain. She didn’t want to change, even though she knew how it would end.

The final story I want to consider is the longest. “A Latin Quarter Courtship” ran to 189 pages, so could well be thought of as a short novel, though it’s included in Harland’s book, A Latin-Quarter Courtship and Other Stories, which might give an indication of how he saw it. Stephen Ormizon is a would-be novelist, living in Paris thanks to a generous allowance from his mother. He advertises for someone with a good command of English to make a copy of his novel (this was long before laptops,       and even a widespread use of typewriters) and visits the apartment of a D. Personette who replies. There he is greeted by Dr Gluck, “a decidedly pretty, pretty, plump little lady, perhaps thirty years of age”, who he knows from New York, and who explains that the “D” is Denise, who shares the apartment with her. Gluck is “into animal magnetism, mesmerism, hypnotism, and that sort of thing, a good deal”. She describes Denise as “her chum” and her “dearest friend”. And they had fallen “desperately in love with each other and vowed never to separate”.

Denise turns up and meets Ormizon. Gluck explains who he is and reminiscences fondly about past times with him in New York. Denise pats her hand, “softly stroked it, then kissed it, and murmured ‘Chère p’tite Isabel…’  ‘But’ she added, ‘you must not think of those times. That was before you knew me. That makes me jealous’ “.  ‘Oh, you sweet thing’, exclaimed the doctor, putting her arm around Denise’s waist’. ‘You have no reason to be jealous. I never knew what real happiness meant until I met you.’ “

A little later, Gluck says that she and Denise are “just like husband and wife; aren’t we, Denise? And she replies, “Perfectly”.  Ormizon asks “Which is which?”  With our modern sensibilities it’s difficult not to imagine that something other than mere friendship is involved in the relationship between Gluck and Denise. But as things develop, Ormizon falls in love with Denise and she with him. He determines to marry her, and decides to break off a commitment he had made at his mother’s request to marry her niece. He doesn’t love her, nor does he believe that the girl in question loves him. But his mother objects to his marrying a French girl and vows to disinherit him if he does.

It’s not necessary to lay out all the plot, which partly involves an American artist, a trip to Meudon, conversations about the comparative merits of French, British, and American authors, and other minor matters. Ormizon does marry Denise with Gluck’s blessing, his mother relents and takes him back in the fold, and the couple settle in New York. Ormizon begins to make a mark in the literary world following the success of his first novel. And the story ends: “In addition to their other sources of revenue, they took a boarder. The boarder was a very pretty, plump little lady, not much older than thirty years. And though Ormizon was extremely attentive to her, and apparently very fond of her, Denise never manifested the least symptom of jealousy. Her name was Gluck – Isabel B. Gluck, M.D.”

Those with a Freudian frame of mine could have a field day with this story, but I suspect that some readers at the time might have simply shrugged, and said, “That’s what comes of living in Paris”. Rumours of what went on in the French capital were always likely to lead to assumptions of unconventional behaviour, and the corrupting influence of the bohemian way of life.

Richard Le Gallienne, another writer now little read, knew Henry Harland, and wrote about him affectionately in his memoir, The Romantic Nineties: “Harland was one of those Americans in love with Paris who seem more French than the French themselves……..He was born to be the life and soul of one of those cènacles, which from their café tables in ‘the Quarter’ promulgate all those world shaking ‘new movements’ in art which succeed each other with kaleidoscopic rapidity. The most vivacious of talkers, ‘art’ with him, as with his Parisian prototypes, was a life-and-death matter. Nothing else existed for him. He had no other interests”.

Perhaps this intensity came about because of his medical condition. Like his friend, Aubrey Beardsley, he was consumptive, and had been warned by doctors that he had only a few years left to live unless he moved to a warmer and dryer climate. He and his wife left to live in Italy, where he died in 1905. I’m not about to suggest that he was a major writer, and it may be that he is best remembered for his role in editing The Yellow Book. One or two of his stories are reprinted in anthologies of 1890s writing, and reprints of some of his books are in the lists of publishers specialising in reclaiming works from the past. I don’t know if they are much in demand, though I suspect not. But the short stories I’ve referred to are not without interest, and if they rarely delve deep into the characters’ motives and actions they are well-written and entertaining.

They might also be useful in terms of throwing a little light on aspects of nineteenth-century Parisian bohemia. In A Latin-Quarter Courtship, Palmer, an American student who doesn’t have a financially-secure background and is always impoverished, explains about Julian’s, the art-school he attends and which is the one open to women and foreign students: “But as I was going to tell you, your forty francs a month entitles you to all the privileges of the school. Then the masters, they give their services free-gratis-for-nothing. At Julien’s there are Bouguereau, Boulanger, and Lefebvre, the three greatest draughtsmen living. They come to the school three times a week, examine what the boys have done, point out its faults, show you as well as they can how to set it to right. They do this, as I say, for nothing – simply for the love of art; which, I claim, is glorious”.

Julian’s was a well-known art-school, and the three painters Palmer mentions were all well-established, and were what is usually referred to as “academic” or “traditional” in their approach to art. There are no references to the Impressionists in any of Harland’s stories.     


“The Bohemian Girl” in Grey Roses, John Lane, London, 1895.

“A Reincarnation” in Grey Roses, John Lane, London, 1895.

“Mademoiselle Miss” in Mademoiselle Miss & Other Stories, Heinemann, London, 1893.

When I am King” in Grey Roses, John Lane, London, 1895.  

“P’tit Bleu” in Comedies and Errors, John Lane, London, 1898. This story can also be found in The Yellow Book, edited by Fraser Harrison, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1982.

“The Funeral March of a Marionette” in Mademoiselle Miss & Other Stories, Heinemann, London, 1893

“A Latin-Quarter Courtship” in A Latin-Quarter Courtship and Other Stories, Cassell, New York, 1889.                                    

The Romantic Nineties by Richard Le Gallienne, Robin Clark, London, 1993. Originally published in 1925.

A Study in Yellow: The Yellow Book and Its Contributors by Katherine Lyon Mix, Constable, London, 1960.

Trilby by George Du Maurier. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998. Originally published in 1894.

In the Quarter by Robert W. Chambers. Dodo Press, 2007. Originally published in 1894.