While the marquis de Sade was drafting The 120 Days of Sodom in the Bastille, another libertine marquis in a nearby cell was also writing a novel—one equally outrageous, full of sex and slander, and more revealing for what it had to s

While the marquis de Sade was drafting The 120 Days of Sodom in the Bastille, another libertine marquis in a nearby cell was also writing a novel—one equally outrageous, full of sex and slander, and more revealing for what it had to say about the conditions of writers and writing itself. Yet Sade's neighbor, the marquis de Pelleport, is almost completely unknown today, and his novel, Les Bohémiens, has nearly vanished. Only a half dozen copies are available in libraries throughout the world. This edition, the first in English, opens a window into the world of garret poets, literary adventurers, down-and-out philosophers, and Grub Street hacks writing in the waning days of the Ancien Régime.

The Bohemians tells the tale of a troupe of vagabond writer-philosophers and their sexual partners, wandering through the countryside of Champagne accompanied by a donkey loaded with their many unpublished manuscripts. They live off the land—for the most part by stealing chickens from peasants. They deliver endless philosophic harangues, one more absurd than the other, bawl and brawl like schoolchildren, copulate with each other, and pause only to gobble up whatever they can poach from the barnyards along their route.

Full of lively prose, parody, dialogue, double entendre, humor, outrageous incidents, social commentary, and obscenity, The Bohemians is a tour de force. As Robert Darnton writes in his introduction to the book, it spans several genres and can be read simultaneously as a picaresque novel, a roman à clef, a collection of essays, a libertine tract, and an autobiography. Rediscovered by Darnton and brought gloriously back to life in Vivian Folkenflik's translation, The Bohemians at last takes its place as a major work of eighteenth-century libertinism.

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