There are only two ways out of Bohemia: fame or death; apotheosis or self-destruction. And there were so many ways to take the latter road: drink, drugs, disease, starvation, madness. Although unknown at the time of his death, the young poet Thomas Chatterton, who killed himself in 1779 at the age of seventeen, became a Romantic icon when the Pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis immortalised him in his painting of 1856; which inspired a rash of copycat suicides by other would-be Parisian artists jealous of his posthumous fame. Others were less rash. Henri Murger rewrote his character-sketches as a novel and his novel as a play, moved out of the city and spent the rest of his life re-cycling stories of people he’d known in the far-off country of Bohemia.

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