Regarded as one of the wunderkinds of German letters in the 1980s, Süskind debuted onto the German stage with Der Kontrabaß (1981; The Double Bass) which became one of the most popular German plays of the decade. He later achieved international popular and critical acclaim for his first novel Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders (1985; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), a historical fable about a murderous perfume-maker with a keen sense of smell, who oddly lacks any human odor himself. In his fiction, Süskind typically explores the effects of obsessive behavior upon an individual's life. The dense allusiveness and pastiche style that mark his narrative technique have yielded richly diverse interpretations, including readings that variously study Perfume as a detective story, bildungsroman, and picaresque novel. Although critics have often classified all of Süskind's slender output as definitive contributions to the development of German literary postmodernism, the majority of scholarship has focused on Perfume, which poses for some scholars the dilemma of reconciling the novel's literary merits with its hugely popular appeal.
Born in 1949, Süskind was raised in Ambach, Germany, the eldest son of Wilhelm Emanuel Süskind, a writer and journalist best known in Germany for his collection of essays on language, Aus dem Worterbuch des Unmenschen. In 1968 Süskind entered the University of Munich to study history. He later completed a master of arts degree at the University of Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1974. While studying in the perfume-producing country of southern France, Süskind traveled and gathered material for what eventually became the novelPerfume. Meanwhile, in the fall of 1981, Süskind's play The Double Basspremiered, establishing him as one of the most popular playwrights of German theatre. Originally conceived as prose piece that was repeatedly rejected for publication, The Double Bass eventually appeared in novella form in 1984. Around the same time, Süskind began collaborating with Helmut Dietl on the hit German television series, Monaco Franze. In late 1984 the newspaperFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung contracted Süskind to serially publish his first prose work, Perfume. Published in book form the following year, Perfumeimmediately became a German best-seller and subsequently sold over six million copies worldwide by 1991. Wary of his newfound celebrity, Süskind declined a five-thousand dollar prize for best first novel from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 1986, vowing to never again accept awards for writing. That same year, Süskind resumed his collaboration with Dietl by co-writing the script for another popular television series, Kir Royal, which revolved around the adventures of a titular Munich gossip columnist. In 1987 Süskind published the novella Die Taube (The Pigeon) which, though critically well received, failed to attain the popular success of Perfume. Süskind and Dietl reteamed again in 1996 to write the screenplay for the film Rossini: oder die mörderische Frage, wer mit wem schlief, which follows the careers of a variety of characters in the German film industry as their lives intersect in a Munich restaurant.
The principal focus of Süskind's works has been the motivations and behavior of the typical outsider. The Double Bass is a serio-comic monologue that explores a double-bass player's relationship to his instrument, illuminating the instrument's—and the player's—supporting role in the orchestra and in life. The double-bass is alternately characterized as feminine, reliable, discriminated against, and simultaneously protesting and threatening revolution. However, in the end, both the instrument and its player allow themselves to conform and play their allotted secondary part. Set in urban Paris and the French countryside of the 1700s, Perfume is a study of the dynamics of scents and the sense of smell. The bizarre and ironic tale focuses on an alienated antihero, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a despised outcast orphan who lacks any bodily odor. He roams through eighteenth-century France murdering beautiful young women in order to distill their bodily scents into a perfume that will make him the most desirable and powerful man on Earth—not to mention nominally human. In addition,Perfume also weaves a detailed discourse on historical perfume-making techniques into its narrative, complete with sensuous descriptions of both pleasant and repellent odors as a recurrent motif.
The novella The Pigeon focuses on a single day in the life of Jonathan Noel, a Parisian bank guard, who has finally attained a measure of happiness after years of personal strife. Totally satisfied with his job and the isolation he secures in his small apartment, Noel finds his serenity abruptly interrupted when a pigeon lands on his doorstep and remains there for the rest of the day. The event is so unnerving for Noel that he goes to sleep vowing to kill himself in the morning. In Die Geschichte vom Herrn Sommer (1991; The Story of Mr. Sommer), the narrator recalls his post-war childhood, framing his growing knowledge of the adult world in terms of his frequent encounters with the eccentric Herr Sommer, who spends his days frantically traversing the local environs by foot, barely saying a word to anyone but always carrying his extraordinarily long walking stick. The novella concludes with the death of the wandering misfit, which teaches the boy valuable life lessons about responsibility, suffering, and distress that contrast with his comfortable, contented existence as a child. In the first story comprising Three Stories and a Reflection (1996), a young artist retreats from the world and eventually kills herself because critics labeled her art as superficial. The second story involves a game of chess in Luxembourg Gardens between a dashing young stranger and a perennial elderly champion. As the game progresses, the confidence and foolhardiness of the youthful novice unexpectedly yields a victory over the expertise of the seasoned veteran, stunning the audience and ultimately persuading the old man to abandon playing chess. The longest piece of the collection, “Das Vermächtnis des Maitre Mussard,” consists of the first-person deathbed writings of Mussard, a historical figure mentioned in Jean-Jacque Rousseau's Confessions (1782-89), who is suffering from the delusion that petrifaction is overtaking the world. In an addendum, an anonymous narrator tells us that Massard died of a strange form of paralysis and had to be buried in a right-angled hole. The final item of the collection, “Amnesie in litteris,” is a reflection on books, with Süskind proclaiming that he has long since forgotten every book that had once deeply stirred him.
Highly regarded by German critics for his contributions to German literary postmodernism, Süskind has also been recognized worldwide as one of the most popular German-language writers since Erich Maria Remarque publishedAll Quiet on the Western Front in 1929. Reviewers have acclaimed Perfume's masterful narrative and splendid evocation of eighteenth-century France, while others have praised its detailed discourse on perfume-making and the sensuality of its odiferous motif. Conversely, some have protested that segments of the novel seem contrived, objecting to the incongruity between its hero's own lack of body odor and his highly developed olfactory nerves. Commentators have also noted the novel's lack of secondary characters at the expense of developing an unsympathetic protagonist, though most have generally conceded that Grenouille is portrayed as a charismatic antihero. Such critics have also drawn parallels between Grenouille and Adolf Hitler, echoing a perennial theme of contemporary German literature—Germany's Nazi past. Acknowledging its pivotal role in the development of a new generation of German writers, literary scholars have long recognized Perfume as a definitive example of German literary postmodernism, particularly its pastiche of past literary and cinematic styles as well as its intertextual play with numerous cultural and literary allusions. Subsequent scholarship has yielded intertextual studies of Perfume in relation to such German narrative traditions as the grotesque, the angst of existentialism, the vitality of the Ubermensch, the critique of reason through folkloric myth, the romantic fascination with criminality, and the psychology of aesthetic decadence and obsession. Others have conducted structural analyses of the novel as a fairy tale, philosophical novel, and political allegory, while some have deconstructed the significance and function of its textual allusions in relation to traditional religious, philosophical, psychological, and societal structural models. In addition, critics have also examined Perfume within the context of conventional ideas concerning the relationship between authorship and the text, partly in reaction to Süskind's legendary resistance to reveal literary influences and his alleged inability to recall other writers's works he has read.
Literary Precedents "In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era . . ." runs the first line of Perfume in the translation of John E. Woods. These words immediately remind the literate German reader of the opening of another well-known tale: "Toward the middle of the sixteenth century, there lived . . . the son of a schoolmaster, one of the most upright and at the same time one of the most terrible men of his day.'r This is the translation by Martin Greenberg of the first line of the novella Michael Kohlhaas, (1844; German, 1810) by Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811), a work purporting similarly to deal with an historical personality, a lone figure larger than life who confounds the social order of his time. Very reminiscent of Kohlhaas, the avenger who refashions the world, is the scene of the God Grenouille creating his realm on the mountain and directing the sun and the rains.
And further Kleistian touches abound. Amusingly characteristic of this author is Baldini's premonition and the catastrophic consequences thereof. Fearing that there will be a reckoning and he will have to pay the piper for having exploited Grenouille, the perfumer resolves to attend church but fails to do so. That night a section of the bridge beneath Baldini's house collapses into the Seine, and he and his wife disappear with their entire business including the formulae for six hundred secret perfumes, all of which are never to be seen again. Further, the formal style is sometimes reminiscent of Kleist, as is the description of crowd scenes, particularly that of people gathering for Grenouille's execution.
The novel of the artist has its precedents in Cardillac, the Jeweler (1855; Das Fraulein von Scuderi, 1819) by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822), the story of an artist unable to part from his creations and compelled to murder to recover them until, like Grenouille, he is finally discovered and apprehended. Tonio Kroger (1913-1915; German, 1903) by Thomas Mann (1875-1955) is a novella which details the growing self-awareness of a sensitive, young writer, who envies the normality of solid, middle-class people. The peculiar mixture of art and criminality found in Perfume and Cardillac is similarly present in Mann'sFelix Krull (1955; German 1954), an amusing, picaresque novel of the adventures of a confidence man.
And Siiskind borrows a number of familiar literary motifs. The return to civilization and readaptation thereto after seven years in the wilds recalls the nineteenth-century legends associated with Kaspar Hauser and other feral children. The man lacking an odor recalls a classic of German romantic fiction about a fellow without a shadow in Peter Schlemihl's Remarkable Story (1814;Peter Schlemihls zvundersame Geschichte, 1813) by Adalbert von Chamisso (1781-1838). The absence of odor serves as a magic cape rendering its bearer invisible by depriving man and beast of their olfactory facilities; the magic cape or Tarnkappe is associated in German mythology with the dwarfs who inhabit the innermost regions of the earth.
Plot Overview - General
Perfume subtitled The Story of a Murder) is the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man with a phenomenal sense of smell who lives in mid-eighteenth century France.
From the start, there is something sinister about Grenouille. The author calls him a tick and a monster. Misfortune strikes those around him, and there is something chilling about his presence, as though a draft comes into the room when he is around. Only Grenouille realizes that this is a result of his complete lack of scent. He is too willful and ambitious to let fear and censure keep him from his goals. In his mind, he knows that he is Grenouille the Great and that one day he will rule the world through his unique ability.
During his childhood and well into his teens, Grenouille spends his time mentally cataloging the thousands of different scents he comes across daily in Paris. He combines them to form new smells, much as a composer might do with musical sounds. Grenouille is able to “compose” all sorts of new aromas, leading to his success in the field of perfumes. His success is not public, however; not only does he prefer to remain anonymous, but in addition the perfumer for whom he works, Maître Baldini, takes all the credit for the hundreds of perfumes Grenouille creates.
All the significant people in Grenouille’s life are greedy and take advantage of him: Madame Gaillard, who ironically has no sense of smell; Grimal the tanner, who treats Grenouille humanely only after he lives through a disease; Maître Baldini, who never trusts or respects Grenouille despite the incredible riches and renown Grenouille brings him; the Marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse, who uses Grenouille to fund exploration of his personal “scientific” theories; and Druot, who is too busy making love to his former master’s widow to do his share of labor in the perfumery.
None of this seems to bother Grenouille. He has his own agenda and is unaffected by others’ greed; he never learned the difference between right and wrong and learned to be greedy and selfish like those around him. From his youth, Grenouille learned that if he is patient and compliant, things will come to him.
It is Grenouille’s sense of smell that determines his life. He is never fooled by appearances; in fact, he rarely bothers to look at people or things. He does not fear the dark, and he does not learn words that do not express things he can smell.
Grenouille is nearly thirty when he arrives in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. He has been living for seven years in a cave, reliving his olfactory memories. His ultimate plan is clarified when he catches the scent of a young girl, a scent that he recognizes as beauty. Realizing that it will be a few years before the scent fully develops, Grenouille works and practices his techniques for scent extraction, first on inanimate objects, then on small animals, and finally on young girls. He eventually manages to capture and bottle the absolute essence of beauty, which he plans to use to rule the world. Grenouille discovers, however, that there is no satisfaction in ruling people who do not even understand his power. He realizes that his greatness will never be understood and decides to end his life.
France with a superhuman sense of smell, but with no personal odor of his own. He is
orphaned at birth, and grows up without love to become a cold and calculating
murderer. He is motivated in his crime by a desire to possess the scent of a young
woman named Laure Richis, which he intends to steal using the extraction methods he
has learned as a journeyman perfumer. From this girl's scent, he creates the most
powerful perfume in the world, which has the effect of making anyone who smells it
fall in love with the wearer. Grenouille uses the perfume to escape punishment for the
murders he has committed, even gaining forgiveness from Laure Richis' father. He is
not satisfied, however, for he still has no genuine scent of his own. In a bizarre
suicidal ending to the novel, Grenouille wanders into a camp of vagrants and douses
himself with his powerful scent. In a fit of passion, the vagrants attack and eat him.
Grenouille is born in a fish stall and left among the guts on the ground to die by his
mother. She is eventually executed for letting four previous children die, and
Grenouille is taken in by the church. The monk in charge of him has trouble finding a
wet nurse to feed him, however, because he is a ravenous eater and because he has no
smell. He is sent to live with a woman who takes in orphans, Madame Gaillard.
As Grenouille grows up under the harsh but fair hand of Gaillard, he realizes he has an
ability that nobody else has, which is a superhuman sense of smell. He is able to detect
the slightest odor from across the city, and can use scent the way others use vision to
perceive objects. Yet he has no individual scent of his own, something that makes him
practically invisible to others, who do not realize that they use their sense of smell to
detect the presence of other people.
Madame Gaillard sends Grenouille to work for a tanner named Grimal. He slaves
away for years for Grimal, doing the worst of chores, biding his time until an
opportunity comes along. He is gradually given more and more freedom by Grimal, which he uses to explore the scents of the city. One night during a fireworks display,
he smells a scent so lovely that he is compelled to follow it. It comes from a young
woman who is sitting alone in a courtyard. Grenouille comes from behind her and
strangles her, taking in her scent as she dies. He creeps away and is not caught.
Opportunity turns up when he is asked to deliver a load of skins to Giuseppe Baldini, a
master perfumer. Grenouille maneuvers his way inside Baldini's workshop and talks
him into letting him create a perfume for him from the ingredients in his shop.
Grenouille has by this time memorized thousands of scents, and has a desire to create
new ones by learning the perfumer's art. Baldini is skeptical, but indulges Grenouille.
Grenouille astounds Baldini by creating a perfume that is overwhelmingly beautiful.
He takes Grenouille on as an assistant, and exploits his amazing ability to become a
rich and famous perfumer. He teaches Grenouille what he can about extracting the
scent from natural materials, but Grenouille wants to learn more. Baldini eventually
grants Grenouille his journeyman perfumer papers and lets him go, provided he never
tell that he was the secret of Baldini's success.
Grenouille sets out for Grasse, the center of the scent-making trade, to learn more
about the craft. Once outside the city, however, he begins to avoid the smell of
humans, and eventually finds himself on a desolate mountaintop with no trace of
human scent. Here he becomes a hermit, living in a dark cave for seven years, during
which time he lives in his imagination populated by all the smells he has ever
encountered. The most wonderful of these is the scent of the young girl he murdered.
Then suddenly he has the realization for the first time that he himself has no smell. He
panics and leaves the cave. He decides he must create a scent for himself and makes
off toward Grasse. On his way, he is taken in by a nobleman, Taillade-Espinasse, who
rehabilitates Grenouille and gives him some money. He steals away from
Taillade-Espinasse and makes his way to Grasse.
Arriving in Grasse, Grenouille once again encounters a smell like the one of the girl he
murdered in Paris. He follows the scent to the mansion of a scent wholesaler named Richis. It is Richis's daughter that Grenouille can smell, and he begins to devise a plan
to possess her scent for himself. He takes a job in a perfumer's workshop and begins to
learn more about the methods of extracting scent from things. He begins to experiment
with robbing the scent of living beings such as small animals. After some success, he
begins to carry out his plan.
The town becomes terrified as several young girls turn up murdered, naked, and with
their hair cut off. The killer cannot be found. It is Grenouille killing the girls. He
wraps them in oil-soaked linen as they die and extracts their scent. This scent he
concentrates into an intense oil he keeps hidden in small bottles in his cabin. The town
of Grasse is desperate to stop the killings. One day the killings just stop. After six
months, they have largely forgotten about them.
There is one person who has not forgotten the murders, however, and that is Richis.
He has decided that he has some insight to the motive of the killer and believes,
correctly, that his own daughter is the ultimate target. He packs up his household and
pretends to leave for the town of Grenoble. On the way, he and his daughter break
away and head toward the sea. He intends to have her married to the son of a baron
right away. Once she has lost her virginity, he reasons, the killer will no longer desire
Grenouille is able to track them with his nose, however. While they are stopped at an
inn, he climbs into Laure's window and kills her, taking her scent as he has done with
the other girls. He gets away and returns to Grasse.
He is soon caught, as he had been seen at the inn. He confesses to the murders and is
sentenced to be executed. On the day of the executions, however, he steps out of the
carriage that is carrying him to the scaffold, wearing the ultimate perfume that he has
created from the scents of his murder victims. At once the crowd is convinced that he
must be innocent. The scent makes them feel they are in love with him, and that he
must be set free. Even Richis falls into tears, begging Grenouille to forgive him.
Meanwhile, the amassed crowd descend into a gigantic sexual orgy.
Grenouille passes out. He is overcome once again by the panic that he has no scent of
his own. He wakes up in Richis's mansion, in Laure's very bed. Richis asks him to be
his adopted son, he loves him so much. Grenouille agrees, but as soon as possible he
leaves the mansion and sets of out of Grasse toward Paris, with a bottle of his ultimate
He is going to Paris to die. He can make people love him with his perfume, but it will only ever be a hollow love because he has no scent of his own. He enters Paris and goes back to the neighborhood where he was born, near a foul-smelling cemetery. There, a group of vagrants have built a small fire and are gathered around it. Grenouille steps into the circle of vagrants and douses himself with the ultimate perfume. The vagrants are overcome with love and desire for Grenouille, to the point that they attack and eat him.
Close Reading Chapter 1
This chapter begins with a summary of the setting of the novel, describing in detail the smells of Paris and the time period. Following this description Grenouille’s mother, who is a fishmonger, is giving birth to her son, Grenouille, whilst at work. She squats down beneath the table and gives birth to her son, Grenouille. Not wishing to keep the child, she hides him among the fish guts, hoping that he will be thrown away at the end of the day with guts. However, Grenouille cries out and brings attention to himself. The crowd turns Grenouille’s mother into the police, where she is tried and found guilty of multiple infanticide and killed. Grenouille is given to a policemen, who decides to hand the baby over to the Church so that Grenouille could be baptized.
This chapter focuses mainly on two aspects: introducing both the setting and plot. Firstly it introduces the setting of not only the city of Paris, but the time period in general. The narrator specifically explains the smells present in Paris at the time in a very detailed manner. From this description of smells we can infer a great deal about the time period, and are therefore introduced to the setting of the novel. Furthermore we, as the reader, are introduced to Grenouille, the protagonist, through the description of his birth. These important details about his birth will help the reader later on in establishing the character of Grenouille.
This is a fairly brief chapter and really only contains a description of Grenouille’s birth and where it took place, however this does not mean that there are no literary devices within this chapter; there is foreshadowing within this chapter. After Grenouille’s birth his mother faints due to the, “unbearable, numbing something.” (5) which is the heat and the smell of the day. However the author continues the passage with, “like a field of lilies or a small room filled with too many daffodils.” (5) This suggests that very pleasant smells, such as the lilies and daffodils, can cause numbing and change a person’s behavior. This is foreshadowing Grenouille’s execution date when his perfume of the twenty five virgin girls, an amazing smell, numbs the audience into a mass orgy.
“And then, unexpectedly, the infant under the gutting table begins to squall. They have a look, and beneath a swarm of flies and amid the offal and fish heads they discover the newborn child.” (Süskind, 6)
This passage is important because it shows Grenouille’s initial will to live and to survive. Furthermore it shows how Grenouille is completely self-absorbed and only cares for himself, not thinking about other. Although he would not consciously know this at this time, by crying out he is saving himself at the expense of his mother. This is a characteristic which Grenouille shows throughout the novel, such as when Druot is blamed and killed for the crimes which Grenouille committed.
abominable (p 1, par1) - adj. causing moral revulsion, very unpleasant.
succinctly (p 1, par 1) - adv. briefly and clearly expressed.
tumult (p 5, par 2) - noun. a loud, confused noise, often caused by a large mass of people.
ecclesiastical (p 7, par1) adj. of or relating to the Christian Church or its clergy.
eleemosynary (p 7, par 1) adj. of, relating to, or dependent on charity.
The second chapter commences with the introduction of Grenouille’s wet nurse, Jeanne Bussie “at the gates of the cloister of Saint Marie”, waiting for the auspicious priest, Father Terrier. Despite being tasked with the care of an infant, she finds Grenouille’s ravenous and scentless nature unnerving. Desperate to be rid of Grenouille, she demands that he be removed from her care. Father Terrier, unable to see an issue with the babe in the basket, offers Bussie a raise for her troubles. Uncompromised by incentives to retain Grenouille, Bussie attributes his lack of scent to satanic possession. Doubting this analysis, Father Terrier accepts to take Grenouille from Jeanne and deliver him to a new wet nurse.
Significant Literary Features
-Setting: the debate over the custody of Grenouille in a religious establishment dedicated to aiding needy children is tantamount to Grenouille’s abandonment. His rejection in this sort of environment illustrates the degree to which Grenouille is rejected from established society and social norms.
-Foreshadowing: The ravenous parasitic hunger that Grenouille pertains to his wet nurse is similar to the desire for scent that consumes him later in the novel. This hunger, combined with his lack of scent, contribute to his second abandonment by his wet nurse and furthering his alienation from established society.
Caramel: Jeanne Bussie’s assertion that most children smell like caramel is representative of the perceived innocent nature of children. Grenouille’s lack of wholesome scent is parallel to his corrupted personality.
“Because he’s stuffed himself on me. Because he’s pumped me dry to the bones. But I’ve put a stop to that. Now you can feed him yourselves with goat’s milk, with pap, with beet juice. He’ll gobble up anything, that bastard will”
This passage is significant to this particular chapter for it introduces the reader into the basic machinations of Grenouille’s personality and goals. Baby Grenouille’s tenancy to consume the resources of others with ravenous hunger foreshadows the parasitic way he absorbs the experience and scents that only other humans may provide.
cloister - noun. a covered walk in a convent, monastery, college, or cathedral, typically with a wall on one side and a colonnade open to a quadrangle on the other.
Summary This chapter takes place after Father Terrier receives Grenouille from the wet nurse, Jeanne Bussie her claiming that the baby is possessed by the devil. The chapter opens with some back story on Father Terrier; his hobbies, education, and his thought on superstitions of the uneducated, related to the wet nurse’s claims about Grenouille. Father Terrier puts baby Grenouille to bed as he thinks about what was said about Grenouille, and becomes curious. He smells Grenouille, and finds that he indeed has no scent, and is surprised by this. However Father Terrier dismisses this, as all children have not scent, they do not develop one until they reach puberty.
Father Terrier watches over Grenouille as he sleeps, and begins to feel that he could almost be the father of this child he is watching. At this moment, Father Terrier watches Grenouille wake up. When Grenouille wakes up, he takes a deep sniff and everything changes. Father Terrier feels that Grenouille is identifying him by sent, learning everything about him this way. He feels exposed, and no longer looks at Grenouille with feelings of love. Father Terrier no thinks of him as a creature, no longer human. Then, Grenouille begins to cry loudly, and Father Terrier becomes scared. He now believes that Grenouille is possessed, and has to get him as far away as possible. He then runs as fast as he can to Madame Gaillard’s, and hands over Grenouille along with payment, all while Grenouille is still crying. Father Terrier then returns home at the end of the chapter, relieved to be ridded of Grenouille for good.
Character: The personality of Father Terrier is a kind, fatherly, existence, the sort that could be the father figure for many an orphaned children. Although he has no emotional attachment to most of the children that receive monetary aid from the church, Grenouille is the first (mentioned) child that Terrier develops a personal relationship with. Terrier is initially fond of Grenouille, but once he discovers Grenouille's nature as a parasitic scent-monger, he cannot stand the presence of the child. This reaction is not intended for the reader to sympathize with Terrier, but to introduce the reader to the societal attitude towards Grenouille. If a man of the cloth, who by his oaths and nature, is supposed to love all, what must be the nature of this child to garner so much contempt? Such is the character of Grenouille, the abandoned outcast who seeks self-satisfaction no matter the cost to others.
Metaphor: The character of Terrier is not a character whom the reader should sympathize with, per se, but he exists as a metaphorical representation of the societal perception and attitude towards Grenouille. The rejection by an outwardly generous (if somewhat exhausted) priest shows the degree to which Grenouille is shunned by his contemporaries.
“ He felt naked and ugly, as if someone were gaping at him while revealing nothing of himself. The child seemed to be smelling right through his skin, into his innards. His most tender emotions, his filthiest thoughts lay exposed to that greedy little nose....” p.17
The significance of this passage is illustrated in the fact that this represents the turning point in Father Terrier's opinion of Grenouille. Whilst Grenouille was a sleeping babe, Terrier considered him adorable. Yet once Grenouille awoke and revealed his scent-fueled nature to Terrier, Terrier becomes consumed by a primordial terror, the likes of which he had not the misfortune to experience. His fear and hatred of Grenouille are the key factors in Terrier's decision to send Grenouille as far away as possible to Madame Gaillard's, ironically prolonging his life.
-oesophagus, throat cavity.
Plot Summary This chapter is all about Grenouille’s time with Madame Gaillard. Grenouille is sent to Madame Gaillard’s by Father Terrier, and this is where he spends his childhood. The chapter beings with a history of Madame Gaillard; how she lacks emotion due to abuse from her father, and how that has resulted in a very strict environment for the children that she raises. The narrator continues to describe the characteristics of Grenouille as a child; how the children fear him because he is different, and because they get a chilling sense when around them. This results in multiple attempts made by the children to murder Grenouille, however they are not successful since they will not physically touch him. Grenouille explores his surroundings, gaining lots of different smells which he classifies in his head. Madame Galliard starts to get nervous about him because she believes that he has supernatural powers because he can do strange things with his sense of smell such as smelling money through the wall or a person approaching. This leads her to want to get rid of Grenouille, and when the Church stops paying for his care this provides the perfect excuse, so she sells him to a tanner.
Setting: The weathered and seasoned foster home of Madame Gaillard is an environment in which only a parasite like Grenouille could live in harmony, even thrive. Here, Grenouille displays his tick-like tenancies by biding his time in an area full of life and activity, making himself inconspicuous until his opportune time to strike.
Metaphor: This chapter contains one of the first references to Grenouille being tick-like. His parasitic tendencies are referenced in full detail near the end of the chapter as he bides his time in the foster home, like a tick waiting to sniff out a perfect host. The reliance on scent is a parallel between Grenouille and the bloodsuckers, as the example given by the author details a very clear preference for scent in both creatures.
“For his soul he required nothing. Security, attention, tenderness, love - or whatever all those things are called that children are said to require - were totally dispensable for the young Grenouille. Or rather, so it seems to us, he had totally dispensed with them just to go on living - from the very start.” (Süskind, 20-21)
This passage is important because it shows how Grenouille is more of a creature than he is a human being. As the passage explains, Grenouille lacks the requirements of attention and love that a normal person would need. Instead of this he is able to thrive off of barely nothing at all so that he could survive his harsh birth. This likens him to a creature, which is prevalent throughout the novel.
annuity (p 20, par 1) noun. a fixed sum of money paid to someone each year, typically for the rest of their life.
modicum (p 21, par 1) noun. a small quantity of a particular thing, especially something considered desirable or valuable.
First word: wood
Leaves Madame Galliard’s because she’s creeped out – money excuse
-Madame dies many years later the way she didn’t want to (same way as husband)
Goes to work for Grimal (tanner)
Survived anthrax so became more valuable as a tanner
Explored Paris & smell gained momentum
Learned to categorize smells and understand his nose
First encounter with perfume realizes that many scents put together to make up one
Anniversary of king’s coronation
Went to smell fireworks; disappointed at sulphur smell (nothing new)
Smells something faint that wonderful and follows it
Turns out to be a red-headed girl
Suffocates her and strips her down and smells her; takes her smell in his memory
Makes decision to become “the greatest perfumer of all time” (p 44)
closest to Grenouille in the sense of lacking emotion
couldn’t feel what Grenouille didn’t have (smell)
despite this, she was creeped out by Grenouille because of his ability to “see through walls” and that he would do things other children would never do, i.e. going into dark places
planned out entire life (to die with dignity) and this was taken from her
first character the reader sees follow through to her death
only character to die of natural causes
(tick analogy – quality of life decreases over time)
“a man capable of thrashing him to death for the least infraction”
We can see that he was a man not to be messed with
Softened up to Grenouille because Grenouille became extraordinarily valuable to him as he became immune to anthrax
Large character development (in a sense puberty)
He learns how to use his talent of smell – categorizing and manipulating smells
He has his first murder – first time he smells such a smell
He is born for the first time - “it was as if he had been born a second time; no, not a second time, the first time, for until now he had merely existed like an animal with a most nebulous self-awareness” (p 43)
The setting of Paris is really developed in these chapters. It is not developed through typical imagery, however, but almost entirely through smell. Grenouille has an indifference to the setting except for the smells. Once he got to explore Paris and the smells it contained, “it was like living in utopia” (p 33).
Süskind uses a unique style of writing in the use of diction to emphasize imagery. The diction is extremely descriptive in the instances of describing smell, and often bland in describing everything else. Diction such as olfactory and odoriferous (p 43) is used to attempt in creating an atypical imagery.
“That night, his closet seemed to him a palace, and his plank bed a four-poster. Never before in his life had he know what happiness was. He knew at most some very rare states of numbered contentment. But now he was quivering with a happiness and could not sleep for pure bliss. It was as if he had been born a second time; no, not a second time, the first time, for until now he had merely existed like an animal with a most nebulous self-awareness. But after today, he felt as if he finally knew who he really was: nothing less than a genius. And that meaning and goal and purpose of his life had a higher destiny: nothing less than to revolutionize the odoriferous world. And that he alone in all the world possessed the means to carry it off: namely, his exquisite nose, his phenomenal memory, and most important, the master scent taken from the girl in the rue des Marais…It was clear to him now why he had clung to life so tenaciously, so savagely. He must become a creator of scents. And not just an average one. But, rather, the greatest perfumer of all time.” (p43-44)
This passage shows Grenouille experiencing an epiphany. He goes from being an animal looking only for survival to a master of the scents. It also shows Grenouille’s lack or materialism and his reasons for happiness. This is the first time Grenouille recognizes himself or really reflects upon himself. It also shows the development and reason for his life-goal: to become the best perfumer of all time. We see this goal as essentially the only goal that Grenouille has throughout the entire novel, thus this excerpt is vital. All in all this provides a major base for Grenouille’s character and illustrates the reason of Grenouille’s narcissism.
Pelargonium (23) - any plant of the genus Pelargonium, the cultivated species of which are usually called geranium.
Jacqueslorreur (23) - Art - community of artists and those devoted to art.
Olfactory (25) - of or pertaining to the sense of smell: olfactory organs.
Autodidact: (26) a person who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education; a self-taught person.
Wunderkind (26) - a wonder child or child prodigy.
Coolies (28) - an unskilled laborer employed cheaply, esp. one brought from Asia.
Contumacy (30) - stubborn perverseness or rebelliousness; willful and obstinate resistance or disobedience to authority.
Neroli (36) - An essential oil obtained by distillation from the flowers of the orange. It has a strong odor, and is used in perfumery, etc.
Nebulous (43) - hazy, vague, indistinct, or confused, cloudy or cloudlike.
Literary Devices: Foreshadowing:
How Madame Gaillard had “lost for good all sense of smell and every of human warmth and human cold ness- indeed, every human passion” (Suskind, 19). The character of Madame Gaillard is the closest resemblance to the character of Grenouille. This foreshadows the extended life that Madame Gaillard would live, as she was the only character in the novel that wanted to die, and the point of her life was to die with dignity. Additionally, her extended life is also foreshowing the extent in which Madame Gaillard would be affected, as every person Grenouille came into contact with died a relatively short time after they depart. However as Madame Gaillard was so similar to Grenouille, this process took a longer time to take affect, but did eventually lead to her eventual demise, resulting in death.
This chapter introduces us to the character of Baldini, one of the oldest and most successful perfumers in Paris. His success, however, has long since dried up, as he in his seniority is having difficulty smelling the perfumes that he creates. The narrative describes the thousands of smells and perfumes stored in his shop in the bridge named “Pont-au-Change”, and sets the atmosphere for Baldini’s perfumery.
The primary literary feature being focused on in this particular chapter is the atmosphere, divided into environment and mood, of Baldini’s perfumery. The author combines the real and the surreal in a fashion that indicates the state of financial disrepair that the shop is unfortunately in. With supplies stored everywhere, and a thousand scents co-mingling, the stage is set perfectly for Grenouille to enter, and being to craft his first perfumes.
“Baldini had thousands of them. His stock ranged from essences absolues-floral oils, tinctures, extracts, secretions, balms, resins, and other drugs in dry liquid or waxy from-through diverse pomades, pastes, powders, soaps, creams, sachets, bandolines, brilliantines, moustache waxes, wart removers, and beauty spots….” Page 46
This pattern continues for half a page, listing off the perfume reagents held in Baldini’s perfumery. Such repetition causes imagery- but it does so by demonstrating how crowded the environment of Baldini’s shop is, as by the time the reader has finished reading the enormous list, chances are they’ll have already forgotten the majority of the items listed.
“The blend of odors was almost unbearable, as if each musician in a thousand-member orchestra were playing a different melody at fortissimo.” Page 47
The use of simile compares the sense of smell to that of sound, in order to better portray the agony that somebody subject to so many odors at once might feel.
“Behind the counter of light boxwood, however, stood Baldinin himself, old and stiff as a pillar, in a silver-powdered wig and a blue coat adorned with gold frogs.” Page 45
Interesting to note is the adorning of gold frogs on Baldini’s jacket. Frogs are not representative of perfume, so it is odd that he would wear such symbols, unless the author is subtly hinting at his future involvement with Grenouille. Because gold is the colour of wealth, and Grenouille brought no end to riches for Baldini, it is quite possible that this is symbolic of their symbiotic relationship.
Bandoline – “–noun
a mucilaginous preparation made from quince seeds and used for smoothing, glossing, or waving the hair”
Brilliantine – –noun
“an oily preparation used to make the hair lustrous”
Fortissimo - –adjective
(a direction) very loud.
Throughout chapter 10 we find ourselves in Baldini’s perfumery where he and Chénier are having a conversation. Baldini is on his way towards his study where he says he aims to create a new perfume for Count Verhamont to impregnate the Spanish hides. The Count would like the perfume to be similar to that of Pélissier’s perfume, Amor and Psyche. As Baldini heads to his study, Chénier remains in the shop and he knew that within the next few hours there would be no one who would enter the shop and there would be no new and fabulous creation made in the study. Chénier also accounts Baldini’s routine in his study, of sitting and waiting for inspiration that would never come.
Character: We learn of Baldini’s inablility to create perfume showing that he portrays a false image to others around him. His is in face not a very good perfumer which becomes important when Grenouille is introduced into the situation.
Text structure: from pg. 48-49 the author has changed the structure of the paragraphs from a typical dialogue to that of a script between Baldini and Chénier. This is used as the situation that it presents, that of Baldini having to create a new perfume and bound to not succeed, is an occurrence that appears often within the shop and therefore this particular conversation is such a common occurrence that it is to the point where it has become scripted.
Simile: “And with that, he shuffled away – not at all like a statue, bit but as befitted his age, bent over, but so far that he looked almost as if he had been beaten – and slowly climbed the stairs to his study on the second floor.”
This simile of comparing the way in which Baldini walks is like that of a beaten man which is indicative of where he is in his perfumery business. He is beaten out by others such as Pélissier and is incapable of overcoming it himself.
“Baldini was no longer a great perfumer.” (50)
This quote is important as it leads to opening up the possibility for Grenouille to come into employment from which he can later benefit.
Impregnate- to be filled, imbued, permeated or saturated
Bungler- one who acts or works clumsily or awkwardly
Tincture- a slight admixture
Veritable –being in fact the thing named and not false, unreal or imaginary
Furor- an angry or maniacal fit
Befitted- to be proper or becoming to
Acquiesce- to accept, comply, or submit tacitly or passively
Baldini is trying to extract the recipe for Amor and Psyche from a sample that he had a contact of his purchase for him. He recalls how his perfuming business was grand before the arrival of radical pioneers such as Pelissier – whom he frequently notes had no formal training. He also tells himself that Pelissier has no talent, and simply copies the great arts of others. Near the end of the chapter, Baldini reveals how he hates how the water in the river flows away from his house, symbolic of his riches eroding away.
Chapter 11 is almost entirely devoted to establishment of Baldini’s character. Here we are shown his unfortunate circumstances, his devote religion (frequently referencing the authority of God’s church and the grace of God), and his utter lack of skill in his trade now that he is in his old age. Indeed, Baldini is painted as a hypocritical and almost weak character to prepare him for his interaction with Grenouille.
Symbol – “Here everything flowed away from you – the empty and the heavily laden ships, the rowboats, and the flat-bottomed punts of the fishermen, the dirty brown and the golden-curled water – everything flowed away, slowly, broadly, and inevitably.” Page 58
The river flowing away from Baldini’s house is representative of his fortune and reputation as a great perfumer, which are also being gradually eroded from him. It may also be hinting at the inevitable fate of his house plummeting into the water, as the supports are being worn away by the tides.
Dialogue – “A perfumer was fifty percent alchemist who created miracles – that’s what people wanted. Fine!” Page 51
The narrative ventures directly into Baldini’s mind. Instead of an omniscient narrator describing him from the outside, we are placed directly in Baldini’s thoughts as he speaks to himself. This creates a more intimate look at the character, and provides background on his attitude that would otherwise be very difficult to do from a 3rd person narrative given that our character is solitary, without anybody else to speak to.
“What did people need with a new perfume every season? Was that necessary? The public had been very content before with violet cologne and simply floral bouquets…” Page 53-54
This quote shows perfectly how Baldini can no longer keep with the times. He is frustrated in his seniority that the public are no longer satisfied with his outdated perfumes and need a new brand every month. This is also somewhat funny for the reader, as fashion trends are such a common element of today’s society.
Mountebank - noun
a person who sells quack medicines, as from a platform in public places, attracting and influencing an audience by tricks, storytelling, etc.
Rodomontade - –noun
vainglorious boasting or bragging; pretentious, blustering talk.=
Perfidious - –adjective
deliberately faithless; treacherous; deceitful: a perfidious lover.
Throughout this chapter Baldini is in his study examining Pélissier’s Amor and Psyche in attempt to recreate it or something close to it that will suffice in scenting the Spanish hides for Count Verhamont. In attempt to determine all of the multiple different combinations of scents in the perfume, Baldini uses a white handkerchief, holds his head far back, pinching his nostrils together, and places a few drops of the perfume on the handkerchief allowing the scent to run under his nose. He completes this over and over again to try and pick apart each of the specific scents one by one. Baldini also states about the importance of a perfume to smell good in all stages, its youth, maturity and old age.
Narration: Throughout this chapter, the narration changes slightly by using ‘we’ instead of ‘he’ and therefore bringing the reader into the conversation. The point of view also shifts away from that of and exterior narrator and towards a narration by Baldini. These shifts are noted when it is stated, “We, Baldini, perfumer, shall catch Pélissier, the vinegar man, at his tricks.” (62)
“He sprinkled a few drips onto the handkerchief, waved it in the air to drive off the alcohol, and then held it to his nose. In three short, jerky tugs, he snatched up the scent as if it were a powder, immediately blew it out again, fanned himself, took another sniff in waltz time, and finally drew one long, deep breath, which he then exhaled slowly with several pauses, as if letting it slide down a long, gently sloping staircase.” (60)
Throughout this chapter, particularly in this quote however, Suskind has used a form of listing out the manner in which Baldini is proceeding to analyse the perfume to create great imagery. He integrates smaller devises such as the simile comparing the scent to powder as well as in his reference to ‘waltz time’ to create depth to the writing and make it interesting.
“The second rule is: perfume lives in time; it has its youth, its maturity, and its old age. And only if it gives off a scent equally pleasant at all three different stages of its life, can it be call successful.” (62)
This quote is important as it demonstrates the different ages of perfumes and the necessity for the scent to be maintained throughout the perfume’s years. This is presented later in the novel with Laure and her need to develop in order to ensure that her scent was at its best and was successful in maintaining its equally pleasant scent after years.
Flacon: a small usually ornamental bottle with a tight cap
Profiteer: one who makes what is considered an unreasonable profit especially on the sale of essential goods during times of emergency
Olfactory: of or relating to the sense of smell
Efflorescent: the period or state of flowering
Unctuous: smooth or greasy in texture or appearance
Bombastic: marked by or given to bombast
Eulogies: a commendatory oration or writing especially in honour of one who is deceased
Hackneyed: lacking in freshness or originality
Civet: a think yellowish musky-odoured substance found in a sac near the anus of the civet (animal)
Ostensibly: to all outward appearances
In this chapter, Baldini attempts to create a perfume like Pelissiers’ Amor and Psyche because a good customer of his requested for it. To save his slumping business, Baldini tries to dissect the scent of Amor and Psyche. All day long, he smells the perfume until he is unable to smell anything. Despite such effort, Baldini fails to figure out the ingredients of the perfume. Therefore, he considers sending a person over to Pelissiers and get a original Amor and Psyche for his own customer. Then, he suddenly comes to a conclusion that he would sell his business to someone else when it is still in a firm state and before it is too late. Baldini is satisfied with his decision and it lets him be in such delightful mood. Later, someone who wishes become the world’s best perfumer visits him with goatskins to deliver; Grenouille.
In this chapter, the author seems to develop the character of Baldini. Although once he used to be considered one of the greatest perfumers in Paris, it is apparent that Baldini lacks talents as a perfumer compared to other perfumers like Pelissiers. Although he is properly trained since he was young, Baldini is unable to dissect the scent that Pelissiers, who he considers as an improperly trained perfumer. Therefore, the author reveals Baldini’s lack of talent as a great perfumer. As well, Baldini also seems to recognize his own weakness. He therefore understands the fact that his business is slumping, and realizes that he has no power to change anything. This shows the desperate situation that Baldini’s in, and sets the stage for Grenouille, by reflecting Baldini’s need for Grenouille. Also, Baldini’s strength/stubbornness is reflected in this chapter for Baldini’s decision to sell his business instead of saving his business and his refusal to admit is incapability as a great perfumer.
As well, the author uses a foreshadowing technique to indicate his early future as a successful businessman by gaining Grenouille. “It was flowing toward Baldini, a shimmering flood of pure gold.”(65) Considering that gold is a valuable object, it seems to predict the arrival of Grenouille because Grenouille is the main source of Baldini’s future wealth.
Some of the “new to you” vocabulary in this chapters are valise, sachets, jalousie, serrating.
In this chapter, Baldini lets Grenouille in the laboratory to allow him to deliver his goat skins. After laying the goatskins on the desk, Grenouille stands in the laboratory without leaving. Baldini wants him to leave then Grenouille asks him if he can become a perfumer. Baldini first laughs at Grenouille’s demand, yet he is surprised with Grenouille’s nose that is able to smell literally everything. Immediately, Grenouille tells him the ingredients of the Amor and Psyche Baldini is unable to discover. Baldini seems to deny admitting the fact that Grenouille is more talented than him as a perfumer, insisting that a perfumer should be able to create new scents and provide exact formulas for scents. He insists that the formula of scents is the most important thing in perfumery. However, Grenoille suggests that he is able to produce a scent that is identical to the Amor and Psyche without the use of formula. Then, Baldini takes a risk and decides to give Grenouille a chance to show his ability. Therefore, Baldini gives an approval to Grenouille a chance to use his laboratory.
This chapter is very significant in terms of the development of the plot because the journey of tick-like Grenouille truly begins. Taking account the fact that Grenouille is finally able to pursue his destined goal to make the world’s best perfume/scent only because of the jouneyman’s paper Baldini provides, it can be considered that this chapter which clearly shows the first interaction between Baldini and the protagonist is very significant as the stage-setting chapter for the following plotlines.
Some of the “new to you” vocabulary in this chapters are storax, pipette, jeopardize, superabundance, wunderkind, tincture, admonition.
Grenouille begins to make a Amour and Psyche in an extremely unorthodox fashion which creates anger and fear in Baldini. To Baldini Grenouille appears to be a child “despite his scarred, pocket marked face and his bulbous old-man’s nose.”(Page 81). He sees Grenoille as a child who would take over the world if he was not restrained. Furthermore Baldini believes that he is going to teach Grenouille a lesson. Baldini is so caught up in personal exasperation that when Grenouille caps the flacon and begins to shake it vigorously he explodes in anger and begins to heavily insult Grenouille. As Baldini begins to rant on, the air becomes saturated by the odour of Amour and Psyche. Balidini continues to rant but loses the inner motivation to continue as such is the power of the odour. When he falls silent Grenouille announces the perfume is finished and Balidini tests it. It is indistinguishable form Amour and Psyche causing Baldini to enter a numbed state, but Grenouille claims it is bad and says he can improve it. Grenouille adds to the mock Amour and Psyche and corks the new scent. Grenouille asks Baldini if he wants to test the scent but Baldini waves him off telling him to go and that he will test it later. Grenouille begs Baldini if he can come work for him and Baldini responds with “I don’t know” (page 85) and sends him off. When Baldini re-enters the shop he is filled with a scent so heavenly it fills his eyes with tears and takes him on a nostalgic return to his youth. Baldini trims and scents the leather and names the perfume Nuit Napolitaine. At supper he says nothing to his wife and she nothing to him. He does not walk to Notre-Dame to “thank God for strength of character” (page 86). For the first time ever, Baldini goes to sleep without saying his evening prayers.
Significant literary features
Atmosphere: Slightly dark but occasionally full of Baldini’s exasperation then delight at the realization that he has discovered a genius.
Setting: Baldini’s workshop/house
Point of view: The Point of view shifts from Baldini’s to an omniscient narrator back to Baldini
“The scent was so heavenly that tears welled into Baldini’s eyes.” (Page 85
Megalomaniacal: A psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence.
Demijohn: A large bottle having a short, narrow neck, and usually being encased in wickerwork.
Baldini goes to Grimal the next morning and invites him to the Tour d’Argent. Baldini claims he needs unskilled labour and will purchase Grenouille for 20 livres, an enormous sum. Grimal accepts and thinking he has got the best deal of his life gets “rip-roaring drunk” (Page 87) gets lost on his way home, falls in the river and dies. Meanwhile Grenouille goes to bed in Baldini’s house, rolls himself into a ball like a tick and imagines within himself a gigantic banquet of smell held in his honour.
Significant literary features
Atmosphere: Dark with the death of Grimal but mostly with the careless matter of fact attitude of the entire novel.
Setting: The streets of Paris, the river and Baldini’s house
Point of view: Omniscient narrator
As he fell off to sleep, he sank deeper and deeper into himself, leading the triumphant entry into his innermost fortress, where he dreamed of an odoriferous victory banquet, a gigantic orgy with clouds of incense and fogs of myrrh, held in his own honour” (Page 88)
Odoriferous: yielding or diffusing an odour.
Chapter 17 Summary
Baldini has just purchased Grenouille from Grimal, who only hours after Grenouille’s departure died when walking home. Grenouille brings great success to the House of Giuseppe, Chenier became mesmerized by the monies and success of the shop, with people of all ranking’s coming to the House of Giuseppe. Baldini locked himself in the laboratory with Grenouille, dumbfounded by his talents, however justified his actions to Chenier as a theory he held “division of labor and increased productivity”. Where he proclaimed that no longer would he stand back while “Pelissier and his ilk, made a shambles of his business” he attributed the new success to his unskilled helper who would replace Chenier in the laboratory so that he could tend to customers. Chenier was so overwhelmed by the success that he seldom questioned it, only briefly attributing the creations to the new “awkward gnome” and not Baldini. Baldini also overwhelmed by successes attempted to salvage his pride and self-confidence, forcing Grenouille to record and use proper measurements in his creations instead of the “chaotic and unprofessional way he was creating them”. This satisfied his “thirst for rules and order” highlighted earlier in the novel, and gave Baldini an authoritative position which he used to feel valued, and still superior to Grenouille. Grenouille manipulatively uses this to his advantage, to encourage Baldini to think of him as a student, and therefore ignore any suspicions he may have had. Grenouille than reveals how although he “possesses the best nose in the world, both analytically and visionary” he uses Baldini’s lessons in procedure to obtain the ability to make his “scents realities”.
Chapter 18 Summary
As an eager pupil, Grenouille was taught the language of perfumery and became accustom to the many methods of products soaps, and essences. However what really stirred his enthusiasm was Baldini’s distilling apparatus, which used a procedure captivating “fire, water, steam, and a cunning apparatus to snatch the scented soul from matter”. The soul is what proclaimed as the only thing keeping him interested in matter, the rest was mere husk and ballast to be disposed of. Captivated by the new process, Grenouille ignored everything but the apparatus and process. He imagines himself inside the apparatus as if he were a new scent, and compares turning the world into “into a fragrant Garden of Eden”. He then begins to think more long term on how he could use the process for “more immediate goals”.
Chapter 19 Summary
Without the slightest contradiction to the expectations set upon Grenouille, he, before long, "had become a specialist in the field of distillation."(P. 98) He found that his abilities grew day by day and found his olfactory abilities more useful than the technical teachings of Baldini. Through the use of Baldini's equipments, Grenouille began to distillate everything that came to his mind that he pondered about its distilled odours. Grenouille, though already with an immeasurable extent of ability, still benefited from "Baldini's rules and regulations"(P. 98) as he learned of how some "could be distilled by the bunch"(P. 98) while others "needed to be carefully culled, plucked, chopped, grated, crushed, or even made into pulp."(P. 98) Baldini, after examining Grenouille's proficiency, allowed him to freely experiment with the equipments at hand. Grenouille, with his warped, unique mind, attempted to distillate the odour of glass, leather, and even "plain water, water from the Sein, the distinctive odor of which seemed to him worth preserving." (P. 99) After attempting to distillate myriad subtances, of which some contained no essential oils, Grenouille became painfully sick and "when it finally became clear to him that he had failed, he halted his experiments and fell mortally illl." (P. 100)
Chapter 20 Summary
"He came down with a high fever"(P. 100) which effectuated myriad symptoms on his body such as pustules, blisters, crater-like pimples, and much more. This caused Baldini to be gravely worried as Grenouille alone carried Baldini's future hope. With plans in his head of "opening a branch in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, virtually a small factory," (P. 100) and with greater plans such as working with "Holland, England, and Greater Germany," (P. 100, 101) Baldini felt that too much was at stake for Grenouille to fall down sick. Baldini "decided to leave no stone unturned to save the precious life of his apprentice." (P. 102) and called the most expensive doctor. It was found that Grenouille had "syphilitic smallpox complicated by festering measles in stadio ultimo"(P. 102) Having been told that Grenouille will die "within forty-eight hours"(P. 103) Baldini was in a state of melancholy. As he kept watch of Grenouille himself, all the thoughts of the world passed in Baldini's mind "and then all at once the lips of the dying boy opened," (P. 104) asking whether or not there were ways other than pressing or distilling to extract scents. Mechanically, Baldini answered and as the last answer to Grenouille's dying self, he gave him the direction of Grasse as a place where the extraction could be done. Grenouille, finally happy to know, closed his eyes and made Baldini think he was dead. "Grenouille was, however, anything but dead"(P. 105) and he was well again within a week.
Literary Devices through Quotations
Quotation on Page 94
"Grenouille learned to produce all such eaux and powders, toilet and beauty preparations, plus teas and herbal blends, liqueurs, marinades, and such - in short, he learned, with no particular interest but without complaint and with success, everything that Baldini knew to teach him from his great store of traditional lore."
The literary devices that are apparent in this quotation are, though there exist more, the length and the depth of the words that penetrate the readers' mind and create a large imagery, though olfactory it may be. It can be noted throughout the novel that there is a correlation between the length of the sentence and the depth of the olfactory sensation that Grenouille is experiencing. Whenever Grenouille, or rather the narrator, describes the sensation that Grenouille is experiencing through his nose, the sentence length seems to be extensive while short to medium size sentences are used throughout the novel where there are no exquisite sensations. In this quotation, the odours of powders, teas, herbal blends, marinades and eaux are being noted and through these, Suskind allows the readers to follow through the entire sentence as they imagine the odours. This correlation adds to the literary features of this novel greatly and most specifically in this context, it allows for better portrayal of Grenouille's greed in odours.
Quotation on Page 99
"He believed that with the help of an alembic he could rob these materials of their characteristic odours, just as could be done with thyme, lavender, and caraway seeds."
In this quotation, one can appreciate the intricate foreshadowing of the events that one can examine occur in Grasse, later in the novel. It is evident that this novel builds its atmosphere and the mood up to the point where Grenouille, through murdering 25 girls, acquire a master perfume that allows him to hold in his hand all the might and glory that can be offered with a single drop. However, this situation can be noted in this quotation as his belief that the characteristic odours can be robbed is analogous to Grenouille, robbing the 25 girls of their scent. Similarly, the mentioning of thyme, lavender and caraway seeds allow us to realize that these individual herbs are symbolic of the individual scents that the murdered girls provide. Therefore, through carefully analyzing each sentences in this novel, one is bound to find analogies of different instances in the novel and especially in this quotation, one can gain an insight into the characteristic event near the end of this novel.
Quotation on Page 100
“Grenouille looked like some martyr stoned from the inside out.”
Author Patrick Suskind uses similes to compare Grenouille and other elements in the novel to relatable entities, such as in the sentence on page 100 “Grenouille looked like some martyr stoned from the inside out.”. While still staying relevant to both tone and formal diction used throughout the novel, highlighted through the use of “martyr”.
Important Quote of Illness
“When it finally became clear to him that he had failed, he halted his experiments and fell mortally."
It is evident, throughout the novel, that Grenouille's life is almost simply dependent upon naught but his olfactory abilities. His life can be paraphrased into a single word, scent, while his main purpose of living is to extract and smell all the odours in the entire world. However, when, in page 99, Grenouille faces a halting point in which he cannot progress toward his goal, he despairs and almost gives up on his hope. Furthermore, in examining the fact that his mental hopelessness is transferred over to his physical health and grave symptoms in his body, one can truly understand the life of Grenouille in a far greater insight. This point where he despairs, which only come in instances where his life and its relationship with scents are shaken, such as his discovery of his own lack of odour, adds to the plot and the atmosphere greatly. His illness not only affects himself and his own ability to achieving his dreams but Baldini's hope, which would be utterly destroyed if Grenouille were to die. This point is, therefore, a crucial one in which Baldini's stance is shaken, Grenouille's mental stability broken and the atmosphere greatly shifted.
Though seemingly a stern and pompous character who is seen to live only for dignity, Baldini shows his humanistic character in these chapters, especially when Grenouille falls ill. Firstly, the fact that he allows Grenouille alone in the laboratory allows the readers to view the liberal side of Baldini and, to a certain extent, allows one to understand Baldini's character. Furthermore, when Grenouille falls ill, although it is certainly clear that his sadness is simply due to the potentiality of his goal being broken, Baldini becomes sickly worried for Grenouille's health to the extent where he even swears that he would attach undying fame to Grenouille's name if he were to recover. Furthermore, one can find more descriptive words for his character such as ingenious, modern, piercing, careful, insightful and much more. Due to these, one can undoubtedly term this character to be very dynamic.
Setting is an important literary aspect used in the novel as while, the main setting is Baldini’s laboratory; it is the place that provides Grenouille with the methods necessary to carry –out his murders and eventual creation later in the novel. Highlighting Grenouille’s astounding olfactory skills, the laboratory also highlights the isolation in which Grenouille experiences, as he is constricted to the lab, while in contrast also highlights how much time and energy Grenouille put into his perfumery, as it was what he did from morning to night, and even in his dreams.
Symbol: Baldini's stories
The novel is riddled with myriad symbols that allow one to examine different interconnections between various parts of the novel. However, when one examines the stories that Baldini tells Grenouille, one can examine an important symbolic connection that truly explains Grenouille's character. Firstly, to examine this symbol, one must look at its composition and it includes worldly things such as the War of the Spanish Succession, the Camisards, Huguenot, cicadas, apprentice years in Genoa, the city of Grasse, golden cutlery, and much more. However, it is noted that during Baldini's "enthusiastic storytelling ... Grenouille ... who sat back more in the shadow, did not listen to him at all."(P. 97) Grenouille, as one can easily examine, is only interested in the new distillation process. Ergo, these stories are symbolic of worldly things that matter to most people that lived in that era, the 18th century Europe. However, these external things are of little to no importance for Grenouille as he is an isolated character who, alone, is interested only in his olfactory experience and in experiencing different scents. This is also symbolic of how the superiors in the French society did not care about the peasantry and the Third Estate's worldly concerns as they went about ignoring the inferiors. Analogously, Grenouille is found to be a person who despises and feels superior to other people around him. This hidden symbolic message allows one to truly understand Grenouille's character and ultimately the theme of this novel: conflicting societal status and the importance of scents.
To forbear, or to abstain and hold back.
Nouveau riche, or a person who has recently or suddenly acquired wealth, importance, position, or the like, but has not yet developed the conventionally appropriate manners, dress, surroundings, etc.
Beginning to exist or appear; in an initial stage: an incipient senility
The weakness or mental infirmity of old age.
An expert in monetary or financial affairs; international banker or financier: the gnomes of Zurich.
An aromatic gum resin from various Asian and African trees of the genus Boswellia, esp. B. carteri, used chiefly for burning as incense in religious or ceremonial practices, in perfumery, and in pharmaceutical and fumigating preparations.
To line the walls of (a room, hallway, etc.) with or as if with woodwork: a room wainscoted in oak.
Of or like a corpse. OR pale; ghastly.
Covered or smeared with clay.
Producing or capable of producing offspring, fruit, vegetation, etc., in abundance; prolific; fruitful: fecund parents; fecund farmland. OR very productive or creative intellectually: the fecund years of the Italian Renaissance.
A small elevation of the skin containing pus.
A companion or associate.
A reversible fabric of linen, silk, cotton, or wool, woven with patterns.
A sharp attack of emotion OR throes, a. any violent convulsion or struggle: the throes of battle. b. the agony of death. c. the pains of childbirth.
A vessel with a beaked cap or head, formerly used in distilling.
Begins with Grenouille’s wishes to leave Paris and go to Grasse, in the south in order to “learn the techniques the old man had told him about.” (p.105-6) It is then explained to the reader that this would be impossible for Grenouille due to the fact that he was not recognized by a birth certificate or any other document, and the only way he could hope to travel on his own was to obtain journey man’s papers from Baldini, who would only provide them on the basis of “Grenouille’s uncommon talents, his faultless behaviour from then on, ad his, Baldini’s, own infinite kindness,” (p.106)
Three years after Grenouille learns of the skills he can pick up in Grasse, Baldini was able to build a factory in Faubourg, Saint-Antoine, and has also reviced a royal patent for his exclusive perfumes. It is established that Baldini, who is now at the age of 70 is among the richest residences of Paris. Baldini feels as though he has achieved success, so he agrees to let Grenouille go on the conditions that he would not reproduce or sell the perfumes he created at Baldini’s shop, and he must never return to Paris for as long as Baldini was alive, and further more, he was to keep the last two conditions a secret. Grenouille internally scoffs at these ideas: “Not enter Paris again? What did he need Paris for! He knew it down to its last stinking cranny, he took it with him wherever he went, he had owned Paris for years now.” In addition to this, it is also revealed the Grenouille has no desire to profit from his skill as a perfumer, nor did he want to compete with any other bourgeois perfumers. At this, Baldini gives Grenouille supplies for his journey and sends him off.
begins with Baldini watching Grenouille set out. Once Baldini loses sight of Grenouille, he is overcome with a feeling of relief, and admits that he had never liked Grenouille at all because of the discomfort he felt while Grenouille was around. Baldini then has some internal discourse in which he ponders whether or not he will be punished by God for getting involved with Grenouille in the first place. He is worried that he will be punished because of the fact that he took credit and achieved success for the perfumes made by Grenouille in his shop, but he then feels justified thinking that it is God who sent Grenouille to him in the first place, and he is soothed by the fact that he feels other people have cheated their whole lives long, rather than he, who had only done so for a matter of years.
Baldini is also pleased by the fact that he has 600 of Grenouille’s perfume formulas, enough for him to return to wealth again within a year if he suddenly lost everything he had, and decided that he would go to Notre-Dame for prayer later that day. However, his trip was interrupted by the fact that England had declared War upon France, which may have had implications on the shipments of perfume he was sending out. This causes Baldini to come up with an idea to profit from this, by creating a fragrance called Prestige du Quebec, that would make up for the business he would lack in England. However, this would never come to be, as that night a “minor catastrophe” occurred, which sent Baldini’s two houses on Pont-au-Change hurtling into the river below, killing him and his wife, who were the only people inside of the house at that time. This is upsetting to Chenier because it results in him not being able to inherit the perfume business from Baldini.
Grenouille has decided to leave Paris after receiving his journeymen’s papers. He is traveling towards Orleans, and it says in the novel he is able to relax as he could breathe freely, as he did not have to worry about catching scents. Also as he traveled away from Paris he is able to walk erect, like a normal person. Grenouille starts to be able to smell the humans in Orleans and decides to avoid it, soon after he was not only avoiding cities but also villages. After this he is unable to be in the company of a human as he cannot stand a human scent. He has to travel by night, so he can avoid meeting a human. His nose becomes accustomed to pure air, the more sensitive he became to human scent. Here we learn that his nose is guiding him to a “magnetic pole of the greatest possible solitude.” (118)
Begins with Grenouille reaching his magnetic pole; it is located in the Massif Central. “Grenouille reached the mountain one August night in the year 1756. As dawn broke, he was standing on the peak.” (119) Even now Grenouille did not know that his journey was at end, he thought that his nose would guide him further until he turned in full circles atop of the mountain smelling did he realise he was at his goal. However he was unable to trust himself on top of the mountain and spent the rest of the day trying to find any signs of humans in his vicinity. As the sun set he was able to let his mistrust disappear, and then he realised he was truly alone. After this “he erupted with thundering jubilation.” (121) He carried on celebrating like a madman late into the night.
Setting: Chapters 21 and 22 take place in Paris, mostly in Baldini’s shop, and outside of the shop, on Point-au-Change. The fact that the shop is on the bridge is important, because it is in chapter 22 that the shop and the house next door also belonging to Baldini plunges into the water after Grenouille’s departure, which continues the string of misfortune that follows Grenouille and presents itself only after Grenouille has left.
Characters: Grenouille and Baldini are the prominent characters present in chapters 21 and 22. We are able to learn quite a bit about these two characters in the aforementioned chapters. We learn that Baldini sees himself as one with “infinite kindness” that he believe worked to his disadvantaged because he was incapable of denying others. This is ironic, because the rest of the time, Baldini is portrayed by our narrator as a greedy man who is interested only in making money. He even says that he provided Grenouille with “a little rucksack, a second shirt, two pairs of stockings, a large sausage, a horse blanket, and twenty five francs.” Which was “far more than he was obligated to do, considering that Grenouille had not paid a sol in fees for the profound education he had received.” This is ironic, coming from Baldini, since Grenouille is the one responsible for the vast wealth held by Baldini at the time of his departure. It is also revealed to us that Grenouille has no desire to accumulate wealth, and that having wealth is not his idea of success through the lines “But he didn’t to at all. He did not in the least intend to go into competition with Baldini or any other bourgeois perfumer. He was not out to make his fortune with his art; he didn’t even want to live from it if he could find another way to make his living.” (p.107)
Setting is very important in chapters 23 to 24 as Grenouille travels through the countryside to the mountain, therefore it is important for the reader to be able to envision the travels of Grenouille.
The only character mentioned in the two chapters is Grenouille. He knows that he is looking for something but he does not know what he is looking, until he arrives to the mountain.
When a description of the mountains is given on page 119 it gives the atmosphere surrounding the mountain is frightening and deserted place without human inhabitants.
1)“What did he need Paris for! He knew it down to its last stinking cranny, he took it with him wherever he went, he had owned Paris for years now.” (p. 107) Grenouille metaphorically owns Paris in the way that he has familiarized himself with its scent.
2)“God himself, who sent this wizard into my house, to make up for the days of humiliation by Pelissier and his cohorts.”(p.109) Baldini here compares Grenouille to a wizard, because of his amazing ability to create perfumes.
“He felt much as would a man of spotless character who does some forbidden deed for the first time, who uses underhanded tricks when playing a game.”(p.109) Here, Baldini compares himself to a man of formerly “spotless character” who has done something immoral for the first time in reference to his using Grenouille to gain his vast fortune.
Allusion (p.119) – an analogy is used to show the terror and horrors of the Massif Central. Saying that even a bandit running from the law would not hide in the mountain range.
Symbolism – the mountain range is a symbol for Grenouille’s solidity, and the item he was looking for throughout his life.
“He wanted to empty himself of his innermost being, of nothing less than his innermost being, which he considered more wonderful than anything else the world had to offer.”
This quote is important because it tells the reader what it is that Grenouille desires at the moment of his leaving. When he says he wants to empty himself of his innermost being, perhaps it is because Grenouille does not yet know himself, since he knows his world by scent and has not yet come to the conclusion that he himself lacks a scent. He wants to discover his innermost being, which to him, once again is interpreted by scent only.
Abhorrent – disgusted, loathsome, or horrid.
Gaudy – garnish, flashy
Proviso - making a condition, qualification or restriction
Grenouille had thrilled Taillade with the perfumes he had created. Taillade in fact started embracing Grenouille after he gave the new scents to him. He said he felt much younger, and called Grenouille as his “fluidal brother”. Once Taillade presented his lecture about fluidum vitale, every sceptic and critic was impressed as he presented the and civilized Grenouille. It was in fact Grenouille’s scent that had impressed the audience, whom had their hands wide open and wept. People gazed at him not only with amazement but with sympathy and a milder eye. At the end, everyone cheered Taillade-Espinasse and his theory of fluidum vitale, but Jean-Baptist believed that it was all for him and because of him.
Significant Literary Features:
Characterization: Grenouille in this chapter gives Taillade a perfume that he has created, which lessens the pain in Taillade’s knees and the buzzing in his ears. Grenouille manipulates not only Taillade with his scent to praise, embrace and pay him but the whole crowd that observes Taillade’s lecture. This is perhaps the first time that Jean-Baptiste had manipulated a crowd in his favour and he felt a great satisfaction and joy within himself. It is true that Grenouille possesses emotions as he feels joy with the crowd’s amazement and sympathy for him, nevertheless this joy just adds to his selfishness, as he believes that the crowd is not cheering Taillade but him.
Significant quote: “And as his odour reached them, even the faces of the timorous, frightened, and hypersensitive souls who had borne the sight of his former self with horror and beheld his present state with due misgiving now showed traces of amity, indeed of sympathy.”
The significance of this quote relies on the protagonist, Grenouille who manipulates the people around him in order to have what he wants.
Grenouille’s second journey started but this time, he did not avoid cities, and busy roads. In seven days, Jean-Baptiste arrived at Grasse where he wanted to learn about different techniques of perfumery and wandered around the city, discovering the richness of the scents. Among these scents, he found the most precious one, the scent of the young Laura Richie who was only a child playing behind the walls of a garden. This is where Grenouille decided to gain that scent for himself, the scent which he predicted to make Laura the most beautiful woman or the most wanted woman in France. He was in fact so intoxicated by that scent that he decided not to bother coming back there until he had broaden his knowledge and techniques to have that scent.
Significant Literary Features:
Simile on page 166 introduces the town of Grass as the Rome of scents.
Characterization: Laura Richie is introduced in this chapter. To Grenouille Laura’s scent is just like the scent of the red headed girl who he had murdered. Laura is described to have white skin, green eyes, and freckles on her face, neck and breasts. However she is too young for Grenouille to capture he scent and he in fact did not posses enough knowledge and skills to extract the odour of humans therefore he decides to spend his time in Grasse examining different techniques of perfumery and to return after.
Theme: “No, he wanted truly to possess the scent of this girl behind the wall; to peel it from her like skin and to make her scent his own.” (pg 172)
It is man’s temptation to possess something that he/she does not own. Grenouille is indeed intoxicated by the scent of Laura Richie and as a scent hunter, having Laura’s scent is a major goal for him.
Significant quote: “People are stupid and use their noses only for blowing, but believe absolutely anything they see with their eyes, they will say it is because this is a girl with beauty, grace and charm.” (Pg. 171)
This quote emphasizes Grenouille’s point of view about people and their understanding of the scents. He predicts an amazing future for Laura Richie and knows that it is due to the scent that she emits. From Grenouille’s point of view we can understand that the sense of sight is not worth as much as the sense of smelling, for scents represent who we are.
In January, the widow Arnulfi married her first journeyman Dominique Druot who was thus promoted to maitre gantier et parfumeur. Madame Arnulfi brought a new mattress for her bed, which she now shared officially with Druot moreover she retained the fine old name of Arnulfi and retained her fortune for her self as well as the management of finances and the keys to the cellar. As Druot was busy fulfilling his sexual duties daily, Grenouille took care of most of the work in return for the same small salary. It had been a year since Grenouille’s arrival to Grasse that he once again caught a whiff of a desirable scent of the girl behind the walls in the wind. He was ready fo the scent this time, knew more of less exactly what awaited him...She was there and had survived the winter. Her scent had grown stronger just as he had expected. Now that he was sure that the girl behind the wall at the Port Neuve was alive, he decided to wait another year because her scent was not ripened yet.
He did not love another human being, certainly not the girl who lived in the house beyond the wall. He loved her scent. He was delighted of the promise and loyalty he had given himself about capturing the girl’s scent as he believed that in 12 months he would have a scent of his own. He felt self-loved and wanted this feeling to accompany him to sleep. However he suddenly was terrified about what if his beloved scent would vanish in the air and he would end up creeping into the old cave and die. Later on he decided to wait knowing that this drop of her scent would be his last. He laid back on his bed, cozy under the blanket and thought of himself very heroic. He began questioning whether he is the greatest perfumer in the world. He decided to design a diadem (crown) of scent which intertwined with the other scents and yet ruling over them. He would make a perfume using all the precepts of the art and the scent of the girl behind the wall would be the very soul of it.
In May, the naked body of a fifteen year old girl was found in a rose field, halfway between Grasse and the hamlet of Opio east of town. She had been killed with a heavy blow to the back of the head. She was too a girl of exquisite beauty. Her hair was cut off and was taken with the murderer along with her clothes. People suspected the gypsies however no gypsies were around at the time and they had last come through the area in December. Later on Italian migrant workers were suspected but there weren’t Italians around either. Consequently wig makers, Jews, monks of the Benedictine cloister, Cistercians, Freemasons came under suspicion. Of course nothing definite could be proved because no one witnessed the murderer. Afterwards two more murders plus the Sardinian washer-woman’s death occurred.
People were outraged and reviled the authorities. Fires were set at both the Cabris mansion and the Hopital de la Charite. A servant returning home one night was shot down by his own master. All the victims were to be virgins, soft and pale-skinned and somewhat more full bodied. As a result of this horror, powerful men of the town council decided to write an abject petition begging the bishop to curse and excommunicate this monster. The results were convincing because the murders had ceased. The town organized a torchlight procession in honor of the bishop and celebrated a mass of thanksgiving. In consequence, the tighter security measures were relaxed and the nighttime curfew for women was lifted and not even the families involved with the murders spoke of it. But any man who still had a daughter just approaching that special age did not allow her to be without supervision.
Antoine Richis is the wealthiest person in Grasse. He is second consul. His goal is to marry off his daughter to nobility. After he accomplishes this, he will try to find a love of his own. He would like two sons, one to take over his business, and the other to pursue a law career. His most prized possession is Laure, his daughter. She is his only child, just turning sixteen. She has auburn hair and green eyes. She had a face that made people of all ages and both sexes stare, unable to look away. Even her father had some feelings of attraction towards her. Antoine believed that his daughter would not be murdered because of her young age. Nevertheless, he increased the security around their house in order to protect her.
Significant literary features
“While others publicly celebrated the end of the rampage as if the murderer were already hanged and had soon fully forgotten about those dreadful days, fear crept into Antoine Richis’s heart like a foul poison.”
This quote builds the atmosphere of the town and of Richis.
Also this chapter builds the character of Anton, and as well Laure. Laure’s great beauty is described along with the mesmerizing affect she has on people. Anton’s ambitions and values are described. He himself has sexual feelings towards his daughter.
Significant literary devices
“The most precious thing that Richis possessed, however, was his daughter.” (P. 200)
Laure is referred to as a thing.
“unable to pull their eyes away, practically licking that face with their eyes, the way tongues work at ice cream” (P. 200)
“While others publicly celebrated the end of the rampage as if the murderer were already hanged and had soon fully forgotten about those dreadful days, fear crept into Antoine Richis’s heart like a foul poison.” (P.201)
“And of late –he noticed this with uneasiness –of an evening, when he brought her to her bed or sometimes of a morning when he went in to waken her and she still lay sleeping as if put to rest by God’s own hand and the forms of her hips and breasts were molded in the veil of her nightgown and her breath rose calm and hot from the frame of bosom, contoured shoulder, elbow, and smooth forearm in which she had laid her face –then he would feel and awful cramping in his stomach and his throat would seem too tight and he would swallow and, God help him, would curse himself for being this woman’s father and not some stranger, not some other man, before whom she lay as she lay now before him, and who then without scruple and full of desire could lie down next to her, on her, in her. And he broke out in a sweat, and his arms and legs trembled while he choked down this dreadful lust and bent down to wake her with a chaste fatherly kiss.” (Suskind, p. 200)
This quote is significant because it characterizes Laure, and her father, Antoine Richis. It shows the extent of Laure’s beauty. A beauty so powerful that even her father has lustful feelings towards her. It characterizes Antoine, because it shows how powerful his affection for his daughter is, and explains why he is so protective over her. It also shows how he is not the loving father figure that may have previously been assumed. His passionate desire for Laure correlates with Grenouille’s desire for her smell.
Posterity –all descendents of one person
Latifundia –a great estate
Scruple –an ethical consideration
Richis sees his daughter Laure, and recognizes once again her extreme beauty. When she is out of his sight he is grasped by fear that she has been murdered. At night, he has nightmares of her being murdered, violated, and shorn. He then starts to use his analytical skills and enlightened thinking to get in the head of the murderer. He sees that all of the previously murdered girls had been beautiful in their own ways. He saw that the murderer seemed to be collecting something, rather than acting in a brutal manner. He was focusing more on visual aspects, rather than those of smell. Nevertheless, he realized that Laure, being the most beautiful girl around, would be the final piece of the puzzle for the murderer. Instead of this fact scaring him, he became calm. He felt superior to the murderer because he had gotten inside of the man’s head.
Significant Literary Features
Atmosphere: When Richis’s fear is described, it builds the atmosphere of the general feelings inside of the Richis house.
Character: In this chapter, Richis’s character is developed. It shows his analytical power in understanding Grenouille’s intentions and purpose. It also shows how he is in someway connected to Grenouille in how he can put himself in Grenouille’s shoes.
Significant Literary Devices
Foreshadowing: “Laure had quite obviously been the goal of all the murderer’s endeavors from the beginning. And all the other murders were adjuncts to the last, crowning murder.” (P.204)
Hyperbole: “Bathed in sweat” (P.202)
Simile: “an admiration, admittedly, that reflected back upon him as would a polished mirror, “ (P.204)
“If he, Richis, had been the murderer and were himself possessed by the murderer’s passions and ideas, he would not have been able to proceed in any other fashion than had been employed thus far, and like him, he would do his utmost to crown his mad work with the murder of the unique and splendid Laure.” (P.204)
This quote is important because it shows the connection between Richis and Grenouille. Richis imagines himself as the murderer and sees eye to eye with the actions of Grenouille. This is important, because throughout the book, Richis is the only person who can predict the actions of Grenouille.
Anathema- a person or thing detested or loathed
Blasphemous - profane
Olfactory - of or pertaining to the sense of smell
Waive – give up
Adjunct - something added to another thing but not essential to it
Mutatis mutandis – Latin: the necessary changes having been made
Wrest - to take away by force
Edifice - any large, complex system or organization
Despondency - depression of spirits from loss of courage or hope
Doddering – shaky or trembling
At the start of chapter 45 Grenouille is preparing his tools for when he captures Laure’s scent. He prepared the linen by applying a fatty paste to it. This was important because the oil had to be applied in thinner or thicker layers depending on what part of the body would end up lying on the particular part of the cloth. He was creating a model to transfer onto the linen a scent diagram of the body. This entire process was done with his nose as it was done in complete darkness. Grenouille then carried a ladder to Laure’s bedroom window. It was easier for him to capture her scent in La Napoule than it would have been in Grasse, where the house was tightly guarded and a maid stayed in her bedroom with her.
Grenouille finds Laure facing downwards on her bed, an ideal position for the “blow by the club”. He hit her with the club, this being his least favourite part because it broke the soundless procedure. Grenouille then removed the bed sheets, and using scissors removed her nightgown. He placed the oiled Linen over top of her and rolled her up in it. Her hair was all that was visible. He cut off her hair and tied it into a bundle. He placed cloth over her head. No part of her was visible; there were no holes in the package. He then had to wait. He sat in an armchair thinking about the nights he used to stay awake at Baldini’s. He thought about his past, but not about the future. He loved waiting. He had not made a single mistake. He said absorbing the peace and the wonderful scent he had just captured.
Chapter 46 Plot Summary
Well before the break of dawn Grenouille removed the cloth from Laure’s corps. He placed her back into her bed, her body having no effect on him; her scent was all he had wanted. He climbed down the ladder and left. A half hour later a maid started a fire in the kitchen. She noticed the ladder but was too tired to think anything of it. When Richis awoke he went to wake his daughter, thought she was still sleeping so he opened her door and found her dead. It was just like the nightmare he had had a few nights before.
Tone is eminent in this section as the author describes how Grenouille prepares to and captures the scent of Laure. It is also important when there is the description of how Laure is killed. The author uses a great deal of description to create and use Imagery. An example from the section that demonstrates the authors tone and style is from page 214.
“Grenouille was creating a model, as it were, transferring onto the linen a scent diagram of the body to be treated, and this part of the job was actually the one that satisfied him the most, for it was a matter of an artistic technique that incorporated equally one’s knowledge, imagination, and manual dexterity, while at the same time it anticipated on an ideal plane the enjoyment awaiting one from the final results.” (214) This quotation demonstrates how the author, using description, creates an image for the reader. This quotation also demonstrates the author’s style.
One of the literary devices used throughout the section is sentence length. As demonstrated in the quotation used in question 2, the author uses very long sentences filled with description. The author’s word choice creates an eerie atmosphere for the chapter. A quotation that demonstrates this “He would not have to bother with eliminating the maid.” (217)
Pomade (214): a perfumed ointment
Threshing shed (215): The place where one would complete the threshing (To separate seed from a harvested plant.)
Effluvium (218): an invisible emanation, an offensive exhalation or smell
CH 47 + 48
1 quotation in total for all chapters: Page 227:
“He simply did not look like a murderer. No one could have said just how he had imagined the murderer, the devil himself, ought to look, but they all agreed: not like this!”
Summarize : plot, each 1-2 paragraphs
This chapter begins with new of Laure Richis’s murder spreading like wildfire as fast as if the king had died. The people of Grasse begin to panic, as if Laure how had been so well protected died, then who is safe. Assuming the murder must be the devil, they all seek solace in whatever comfort is available to them, church, the occult, modern scientific methods. And yet in all this panic they were all waiting for the next murder, a feverish desire to know that it wasn’t them the victim. However the civil services did not follow suit, rather, keeping their calm as this time they had a clue.They had a witness, one who could describe and point out the murder. They finally had a hold on him and they sent out mounted troops to search as town criers shouted three times a day, promoting the large reward and the arrest warrant posted at every inn, in every town. Tanners were arrested, tortured and released until Grenouille fell into their hands, and singled out, as the murderer. The hair of the girls is found, the wooden club used to kill the girls, found, the linen knapsack also found, The evidence, overwhelming, he is Arrested, he is to be brought back to Grasse and announced to the public as the “infamous murderer of young girls, sought now for almost one year” (226).
This announcement was greeted with disbelief, denounced as ruse by the general population. However this belief was smashed when the following day the when the twenty-five garments and twenty-five crops of hair were display as macabre scarecrows proving the murder had been caught. The crowd whom the state hope would be appeased by this display, was only infuriated by this, demanding to see the murderer. So they where shown. Grenouille appears in the court window, silencing the sea of cries beneath him. Not out of fear nor shock, but of disbelief. The crowd, calmed by his presence “could not comprehend how this short, paltry, stooped-shouldered” mediocrity could have done this monstrous act. Then he was gone, the crowd recovering from their stupor, demanding him. The judge attempts to calm the crowd, stating the trial will be swift and implacable in its justice. The crowd only disperses after several hours and the town several days.
The trial of Grenouille was quick, overwhelming evidence and his admitting of all his crimes wit undisturbed ease. When questioned of his motives, he said only that he needed them. Torture would extract no more information from him so on April 15, 1766
He was to be hung, beaten with and iron rod and buried in an unmarked grave. When asked if he had one last wish, he said he had everything. (229) The preparations were for a grand event, the scaffold the nicest the town had seen and citizens the nicest the town had ever seen them, donning their holiday and formal attire, anticipating the event, liberation day they called it. Richis however was not swept up in this fervour, he was disgusted by this fear and joy that plagued the population, he did testify and brought home Laure’s hair and clothing, but his appearance was brief and composed. He laid Laure’s keepsakes on her bed and he beside them, guarding them even though it was too late. He had no wish to see the murder until he dies and then he would stand over him day and night pouring his disgust into him, but what then, to live a normal life, marry again or die? He questions, does it even matter?
Talk: lit. features atmosphere, characters setting etc…
47: Suskind builds an atmosphere of fear and chaos, making a large kafuffle of people pray to whatever god or saint in order to save themselves from an evil that all worldly powers such as wealth and power could not. He builds this atmosphere to be all consuming and universal, no one left out in order to show the intoxicating effect Grenouille invoked upon the town of Grasse. His status as a notorious celebrity, the fact that the society was obsessed with him, yearning for the next development.
48: Suskind uses the same style as the last chapter, (see the explanation of chapter 47) but also adds one other touch, a stream of consciousness style narrative on page 227. This style is used to explicitly explain the feelings of confusion that the towns people had for this monster, who turned out to be a mediocre man.
47/48: Suskind use diction couple with sentence structure effectively in this chapter in order to mirror the reaction of those he is describing. The words used are simple and effective but still clear enough to give a precise understanding of the events. The sentence structure switches from a long winded style to a short and concise style to emphasize points. For example on pg 223, “ Thus, with feverish passivity and something very like impatience, the people of Grasse awaited the murderer’s next blow. No one doubted it would fall. He also use oxymorons or paradoxes to emphasize the confusion of the population caused by the event, such as “feverish passivity”.
Define any new vocab
Maréchaussée – The old gendarmerie of France, the old police force.
Ten thousand people have gathered from all around the city and country at the center of Grasse by five o’clock in the afternoon when the execution was scheduled. Everyone was in a good mood; they chatted, ate and danced. Then, a carriage arrived to the grandstand with Grenouille in it. It was an odd way to transport a man on a death row but it was a good way to assure his safety before the execution. Grenouille was surprisingly wearing nice clothing and then all of a sudden, the public thought that he “could not possible be a murderer”(235) The public suddenly started loving Grenouille because he put on some of his greatest perfume that he collected and mixed earlier in his jail cell. The people became so taken away, had such lustful feelings towards Grenouille and considered him to be the reincarnation of God himself, their savoir and lover of their most intimate fantasies. The people had so much desire that an orgy erupted in the town square where everyone participated, not caring with whom they did it, like hypnotised. Grenouille was not satisfied with what he saw. Even though he achieved his goal, he still did not find comfort or enjoy being loved. The only thing he felt was hate.
Setting is well described in the chapter as this square with a lot of people. The place itself did not have much description but the atmosphere and the mood of the people does. It is very evident how it changed after Grenouille arrived. From being exciting and anticipating for a show to bewildered, surprised and then to very animal-like, uncivilised flow of lust and desire. The reader does not know what is going to happen and whether Grenouille was successful in making his perfume so there is also this feeling of anticipation and then bewilderment and then quite perhaps some sexual emotions there as well. So the reader also parallels the feelings of the crowd.
Grenouille is developed as a character since he realises that he is not enjoying himself at all and all he can feel is hate towards people that love him.
“Yes, he was Grenouille the Great! Now it had become manifest. It was he, just as in his narcissistic fantasies of old, but now in reality. And in that moment he experienced the greatest triumph of his life….
He was terrified because he did not enjoy one second of it…. in that moment his whole disgust for humankind rose up again within him and completely soured his triumph, so that he felt not only no joy, but not even the least bit of satisfaction. What he had always longed for—that other people should love him—because at the moment of its achievement unbearable, because he did not love them himself, he hated them. And suddenly he knew that he had never found gratification in love, but always only in hatred—in hating and in being hated.
…. For once, just for once, he wanted to be apprehended in his true being for other human beings to respond with an answer to his only true emotion, hatred.”
This quote talks about Grenouille’s thoughts and the start of his demise. This is the climax of the book when he discovers himself.
The tone in the chapter is quite intense. In this chapter brings out the climax of the book where Grenouille finally releases his greatest creation. There is a good build-up in the beginning of the chapter as people are eager to see the execution. The tone and the tempo of narration speeds up towards the time when Grenouille arrives to the grandstand. The sentences get shorter in 2nd paragraph of page 235. The intensity rises: “…could not possible be a murderer. Not that they doubted his identity!”(235) There is a good use of exclamation marks for the intensity of the tone and its build-up. Short sentences to end paragraphs often with exclamation marks. A lot of punctuation like commas in sentences to transmit the quickness and scale of the climax – intensity again.
The descriptions in the chapter are very intense. The adjectives come streaming in every sentence. The reader experiences this great sensual moment just like the people in the square. On 239 there is a description of Grenouille’s smile with plenty of adjectives. This brings much intensity to the chapter. It is interesting that there are no smell descriptions though. The chapter has more to do with Grenouille’s effect on the people.
The stream of consciousness is used towards the end of the chapter when Grenouille is having his realisation that he is not enjoying himself even though he achieved his goal of being “Grenouille the Great”(240).
At one time the author compares people’s hearts being liquefied by the perfume. This is a metaphor. “These people were now pure liquefied, their spirits and minds were melted; nothing was left but an amorphous fluid…”(236).
What relation does the author have to the story? Can we believe him what he says? It is evident that he is talking in the third person throughout the novel but how can we be sure he could correctly write about Grenouille’s personality and his reasoning?
Grenouille awakes and finds himself in Laure Richis’s bed, under the care of her father, Antoine Richis. Shortly after he awakens, Richis enters and tells Grenouille how similar he was to Laure, and asks him to be his son. Grenouille nods in agreement so that Richis will leave him to rest, but instead gets up and sneaks off the property. Meanwhile, the people of Grasse awaken from the event of the day before, and immediately try to put it behind them by pretending that it never happened and that Grenouille never existed. Because of this though they still needed to arrest someone for the murder of the 25 maidens and it fell to Druot, whose house the clothes and hair of the victims were found at. Although he debated this at first, after being tortured he confessed and was executed the next day. Afterwards, life returned to normal in Grasse, as if none of the past while had even happened.
Grenouille travels toward Paris in the same manner in which he left, by night and eating whatever he found on the way. As he passed the place where his spot in the cave had been he thought about how neither life alone nor the life among humans were livable. He still had with him the flacon in his pocket with his perfume in it, enough to enslave the world, but that was not what he wanted. As he continued his travel, he smelled his perfumed once more, and thought about how no one else in the world knew how good the perfume really was. How they thought it was him they desired, while it was only the scent that was enslaving them. When he arrives in Paris, it is a hot day, with all kinds of strong scents around. He goes to a cemetery and waits there until after midnight, when the gravediggers have left and the outlaws gathered to one place where they were accepted. Grenouille approaches the fire they have started unnoticed, and pours the remaining perfume over himself. The outlaws immediately take notice of him and start to close in on him, closer and closer, until finally they collapsed in on him, literally ripping him apart and eating him until he was no more. These outlaws, despite the fact that they thought that eating a human was disgusting, were happy with what they had done, feeling like finally in their lives they had done something out of love.
The setting in chapter 50 is in Grasse, showing the aftermath of the event the night before. Throughout there is a feeling of guilt and embarrassment displayed by all the people with the exception of Grenouille and Richis, who is showing a very loving side to Grenouille. When Grenouille leaves he sets up the final stage of the plot, which is in Paris. In chapter 51, the setting is constantly changing, as Grenouille is traveling to Paris, and we hear many of Grenouille’s thoughts on the events that have past. The point of view is mostly third person, but switches to first person of Grenouille on several occasions during some of his thoughts. This final development of his character shows how he no longer wishes to live, as well as concludes the plot when he is eaten.
Irony – When Richis asks Grenouille to be his son, because he reminds him of Laure, while Grenouille both killed Laure, and smells like her because of his perfume.
Allusion – The criminals after eating Grenouille “for the first time they had done something out of love”(255) alludes to the effects of scent, particularly the perfume on humans, and how it can make them feel like anything.
“No one knows how good this perfume really is, he thought. No one knows how well made it is. Other people are merely conquered by its effect, don’t even know that it’s a perfume that’s working on them, enslaving them. The only who has ever recognized it for its true beauty is me, because I created it myself. And at the same time, I’m the only one that it cannot enslave. I am the only person for whom it is meaningless.” (Süskind 252) – This quote is significant because it shows the reason why Grenouille no longer wanted to keep on living. What he ultimately wanted was for people to know that he made the perfect perfume, but they did not even recognize that it was a perfume that was so great, so if he was the only one who could recognize it’s beauty and he had already made the perfect perfume, he had nothing left to live for.
Festering (253) - to form pus
Voluptuous (254) - derived from gratification of the senses
Frock (255) - a loose outer garment worn by peasants and workers
The central figure Jean-Baptiste Grenouille initially evokes respect and interest, which then turn to fascination and horror. He is not a three-dimensional literary creation but a grotesque antihero, who moves through society in an obsessive pursuit of aromas. Lacking an odor himself, he devises various scents which enable him to dominate other people and finally learns to steal the aromatic soul from a living creature, the scent of pure beauty from women who inspire love. After Grenouille is captured for the murder of dozens of young women, Suskind eliminates the bond of empathy, and he intends for readers to no longer want Grenouille to escape and survive. He steps from the bonds of his captors by overwhelming them with aroma provoking an orgy of love. At this instant he is Prometheus creating the divine spark, a self-made God, who is, however, filled with disgust and revulsion for mankind. Bearing no identity of his own, he seeks death at his birthplace among people crazed by the aroma who devour him.
The other characters exist as stick figures for Grenouille's purposes; they offer him a role or provide a context in which he learns a skill or otherwise demonstrates his abilities; there is no motivational interaction among them or with Grenouille. These figures include the orphanage mistress Madame Gaillard, Grimal the tanner, the perfumer Guiseppe Baldini, and the amateur Enlightenment philosopher marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse.
The main character of the novel. Grenouille is orphaned as an infant and raised in strict conditions by a woman named Madame Gaillard, who takes in orphans. He is a small man, ugly, and with a crippled foot. He possesses a superhuman sense of smell, which he can use as other people use sight to perceive objects and other people. He does not give off any scent himself, however, which makes him nearly invisible to others. He grows up without any sense of right and wrong, it seems, and he does not hesitate to kill a young girl when it suits him in order to experience her scent. Later he will kill twenty-five other girls in the same fashion, and for much the same reason.
Grenouille is cold and ruthless in his cunning, and is able to maneuver and manipulate others into helping him, largely by letting others think they are exploiting him. He uses subtle flattery to ingratiate himself to people, taking from them what knowledge he needs to complete his own schemes. In this way he enters into the service of
Baldini, who helps him become a journeyman perfumer.
Grenouille does not realize that he lacks a scent until he has spent seven years as a young man living in a dark cave, away from all human contact. When he does realize it, he panics at first, then sets out to create a scent for himself that will fool others into smelling him as another person. He achieves this goal, but ultimately is not satisfied because he will never be able to have a scent of his own. Grenouille ultimately commits suicide.
Antoine Richis is the only person in the novel who comes close to understanding
Grenouille and his motivations, although the two characters meet only briefly near the end of the story. He is a very wealthy widower living in Grasse, with aspirations to ally his fortunes with the French nobility. To do this, he plans first to use his wealth to arrange a marriage of his daughter, Laure, with the son of a Baron, and then to perhaps marry a noblewoman himself.
Richis's daughter, Laure, is his most treasured love. Without ever having seen him, he comprehends that the person who is murdering young women in Grasse is ultimately after his daughter. He is correct in this, for Laure is Grenouille's final target. Richis is also correct in guessing that the killer is somehow collecting his victims for some larger purpose.
He is a successful businessman and his competitive drive leads him to devise a plan to outwit the unseen killer. He plans to make his daughter an undesirable target by marrying her as soon as possible to the Baron's son. This, he guesses correctly, will ruin the killer's plans.
Richis cannot know the extent of Grenouille's abilities, however, and his plan fails. He is shocked, but subdued in his response. He wants only for justice to be done and for Grenouille to be executed. Following the miraculous transformation at the execution, however, Richis forgives Grenouille and even asks him to be his adopted son. He does not know why, but Grenouille reminds him of his own daughter.
A master perfumer of Paris. Baldini was once very successful, but he is aging along with his traditional clientele, and his business is waning when he meets Grenouille. He changes his plan to retire to Italy in order to take in this genius of scent, who makes him very rich.
Baldini is a vain man, and is very conscious of his place in society compared to Grenouille's. He gives Grenouille almost complete freedom, but Grenouille is careful to earn it by degrees from Baldini, lest his sensibilities be offended. Baldini is a religious man, but his plans to show his piety are interrupted by other events.
Baldini eventually dies when his home and entire perfumery fall into the Seine River shortly after Grenouille leaves Paris.
Marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse
A comical figure of a French nobleman, given to developing offbeat scientific theories. Taillade-Espinase believes that the earth gives off a fatal gas and that the farther one is from the ground, the healthier one will be. When he learns that Grenouille has been living in a cave for seven years, he seizes the chance to test his theory. He "rehabilitates" Grenouille with fresh air and diet, or so he imagines. He does not know that Grenouille has created an illusion through scent. Grenouille uses Taillade-Espinasse to gain access to a perfumer's workshop, where he concocts his first mixture of human-smelling perfume.
Madame Gaillard is the woman who raises Grenouille after he is brought to her by
Father Terrier. She has no sense of smell herself, and so is not bothered by the fact that Grenouille gives off no odor. She is a harsh but fair mother to Grenouille. When the church stops paying her for keeping him, however, she immediately sells him to Grimal the tanner as a worker.
The journeyman perfumer who works for Madame Arnulfi in her former husband's perfume workshop in Grasse. He is a large man, and is the lover of Madame Arnulfi. He marries her after her period of mourning is over and becomes a master perfumer. After Grenouille is acquitted of the string of murders in Grasse, Druot is tortured into confessing and is hanged.
A widow whose husband had been a master perfumer, and the owner of the perfume workshop where Grenouille finds employment in Grasse. She is a careful businessperson and is quite well-to-do.
Chenier is an assistant to Baldini, watching over the perfume shop when he is working. He has worked for many years for Baldini and hopes one day to inherit the business. He has a nervous breakdown when Baldini dies and his shop and all his papers are lost in the river.
Grimal is the rude tanner who employs the young Grenouille. He gives the boy the worst chores, not expecting him to survive for long. Grenouille is tough, however, and Grimal begins to hold him in higher regard. He eventually sells Grenouille to Baldini.
Jeanne Bussie is the wet nurse who refuses to care for the infant Grenouille because he has no scent. She returns him to Father Terrier.
Father Terrier is a monk charged with taking care of the infant Grenouille when his mother is executed. He imagines himself the father of the baby boy for a short time, until he gets the impression that Grenouille is smelling him intently. He becomes terrified of the infant and carries it away at once to Madame Gaillard.
Papon is the executioner at Grasse, in charge of killing Grenouille as sentence for murder. He finds he cannot perform his duty when Grenouille emerges wearing his ultimate perfume.
Laure Richis is the daughter of Antoine Richis and is the most beautiful young girl in
Grasse. It is her scent that Grenouille prizes above all others. She is killed by Grenouille.
Grenouille's mother is never named. She is a fish merchant in Paris. She has had several children before Grenouille, all of whom she left to die. Grenouille is saved from a similar fate when his mother faints and he begins to scream. She is eventually executed for her crimes.
The Redheaded Girl
The unnamed girl who is Grenouille's first murder victim in Paris. He follows her scent from across the city and finds her peeling plums in a courtyard. He kills her for her scent.
Baldini's rival perfumer in Paris and the creator of the perfume "Amor and Psyche", which Baldini tries to imitate but cannot.
The group of vagrants in the Cimetiere des Innocents that attack and devour Grenouille out of pure love when he douses himself with his amazing perfume.
Themes and Motifs
Overview Two themes, or motifs, develop the qualities of Grenouille that evoke admiration and fascination. A metaphorical comparison suggests his resemblance to an insect, namely the tick, which perches alone in the tree until the appropriate moment to fall upon its victim beneath. Qualities shared by Grenouille and the tick are unobtrusiveness, persistence, toughness, and resistance. Encapsulated within himself, Grenouille, like the insect, gives nothing to the world and endures hard days awaiting a change for the better. The motif is particularly prominent and appropriate during the period of the young man's brutal apprenticeship to the tanner; the stupor of the work renders him numb and yet enables him to preserve himself inviolate; in the first hours gained free for himself he reawakens to the odors of Paris. Ultimately gaining insight into the metaphor as it applies to him, Grenouille realizes why he has clung so tenaciously and savagely to life: fate has picked him to be the greatest perfumer of all time. Contributing less to the admiration of the reader for Grenouille is an additional aspect of the tick metaphor in the parasitic nature of the man's relationship to other characters, whom he uses as hosts to be sucked dry.
The sensual appeal of this character and his unbridled egocentricity evoke a fascination with evil associated with the devil. Described as an abomination from the day of birth, the infant is identified with the devil by his wet nurse, not because he stinks of sulphur but because he has no odor; moreover, he walks with a limp. Since Grenouille needs nothing for his soul — not security, attention, tenderness, or love — the suggestion is that he may have none. He is predisposed towards darkness and night, at which time he becomes active. His extraordinary olfactory powers gain him the reputation of possessing second sight, a power which in the popular mind is associated with misfortune and death. The unexplained murders of twenty-five women are recognized as the work of the devil.
The novel's sales figures strongly suggest thatPerfume spoke, and continues to speak, to the sensibility of the general reader — to expectations, needs, and moods, both conscious and subconscious. The central figure Jean-Baptiste Grenouille inspires respect for his abilities and workmanship, his perseverance, and his success in surmounting his social origins. Further, the creativity of Grenouille evokes a mass appeal which is less rational in its origins; his art generates a sensuous intoxication that envelops the figures about him and finds its vicarious effect in the imagination of the reader. He shares the qualities of a child, narcissistic, egocentric, and irresponsibly self-indulgent. Savoring the headiness of unlimited self-gratification, he is absolutely autonomous and beholden to no one for his power; unfettered by moral constraints, he works his will upon society. The Nature of Love
Suskind examines the nature of love throughout the novel, both what love is and what love means. By connecting the emotion of love directly with the fleeting world of scent, Suskind is perhaps suggesting that, like scent, love is something difficult to grasp or to express in language.
Grenouille grows up without love. SÃ.skind writes that given the circumstances of his younger life, Grenouille has a choice of demanding to be fed or to be loved, but not both. This is largely because of his lack of scent. The first person to try to care for him, the wet nurse Jeanne Bussie, rejects him because he does not smell like a child should. He has no scent at all, and she believes him to be evil because of it. Father Terrier, who takes Grenouille back from the wet nurse, at first shows tenderness toward the child, even imagining that he is the father of the infant Grenouille. Once he also finds the child to have no scent his tender feelings evaporate and he does everything possible to be rid of the child.
As Grenouille discovers himself as a young man, love is closely tied to scent. His rapture at the scent of the redheaded girl is a kind of love, and it is the evocation of love that Grenouille sees as the highest achievement of his art as a perfumer and of his life.
Yet Grenouille does not really seem to be wishing for love for its own sake, but only for the experience of evoking it in others. He is the only person alive who realizes the powerful connection between scent and love, and so is also the only person who knows that he himself could never be truly loved, for he has no scent. Suskind is perhaps suggesting that the practice of analyzing love as Grenouille has carefully analyzed the scent that causes it also destroys it, as he destroys the young women whose scent he steals.
The Power of Scent
The primary theme throughout the novel is the subject of scent and the sense of smell and how they relate to our social interactions. Suskind suggests that we rely on scent far more than we are aware, even using it to tell other humans apart from other living things. The well-established connection between scent and memory is referred to. The raw power of scent is also examined.
Grenouille possesses a superhuman ability to smell and discern the individual odors that make up more complex scents. He is able to commit these scents to memory and create entirely new ones in his mind. He notices that humans are greatly affected by scent, although they are not aware of it. Grenouille is very self-aware of how scent affects his own feelings, although his range of emotion is limited, perhaps because his highly analytical sense of smell does not let him "feel" scents as others do.
There is one scent that Grenouille does "feel" more than others, however--the scent of young, innocent women. When he smells the redheaded girl from across the river and follows her scent to her, enraptured, he is so greatly affected that he kills the girl to possess her scent. This is of course how Grenouille himself meets his end. He douses himself with the concentrated scent of twenty-five virgins and a small crowd kills him to possess him, although they are unaware that they do so out of love for his scent. Suskind hints that those sensitive enough, like Grenouille, or those faced with a powerful enough odor, like the cannibal vagrants, will even kill.
But to those unaware of the power of scent, this passion is indiscernible from the scents themselves. Grenouille has the ability to tell the difference, an ability that becomes a curse as he comes to realize that scent is a kind of mask, and that beneath this mask, he does not even exist to the world.
The Ambiguity of Morality
There is no question that Grenouille is evil. He arrives at this conclusion himself, and it is his own motivation for the acts he commits to create his ultimate perfume. Yet Suskind does not condemn the character in his narrative, he simply states his evilness as a matter of fact and leaves the interpretation to the reader.
Grenouille is evil but not in a conventional sense. It is not that he is immoral, but that he seems to have no morals at all. He is driven only by the practical requirements of completing his plan to create the most beautiful scent in the world. Stated in this way, his goal seems almost heroic, but of course his method of achieving it requires the murder of twenty-five innocent young women.
Indeed, there is an ambiguity to the whole arc of the narrative, which follows the path of a more conventional rags to riches story, where a hero born into poverty and deplorable conditions improves his condition through hard work and a little luck until he emerges at the end of the novel a successful, wealthy man. This is the path that Grenouille follows, even to the point where he is to be adopted by a very wealthy perfume merchant and become rich himself.
But riches do not tempt Grenouille, and this is one way in which he is more like a character from a heroic epic. He serves a higher purpose. He is striving toward beauty, an ideal that is often associated with morality, and there is no doubt that he achieves the realization of this beauty. He does this by means that the rest of the world finds unacceptable, except when they themselves experience this beauty first-hand. On the one hand, this causes them to drop their morals temporarily and have unabashed sexual relations with one another. On the other hand, however, they also offer a kind of forgiveness to Grenouille, which is recognized as a virtue by most in society. This ever-changing definition of morality raises questions about traditional definitions of morality
Two themes, or motifs, develop the qualities of Grenouille that evoke admiration and fascination. A metaphorical comparison suggests his resemblance to an insect, namely the tick, which perches alone in the tree until the appropriate moment to fall upon its victim beneath. Qualities shared by Grenouille and the tick are unobtrusiveness, persistence, toughness, and resistance. Encapsulated within himself, Grenouille, like the insect, gives nothing to the world and endures hard days awaiting a change for the better.
The motif is particularly prominent and appropriate during the period of the young man's brutal apprenticeship to the tanner; the stupor of the work renders him numb and yet enables him to preserve himself inviolate; in the first hours gained free for himself he reawakens to the odors of Paris. Ultimately gaining insight into the metaphor as it applies to him, Grenouille realizes why he has clung so tenaciously and savagely to life: fate has picked him to be the greatest perfumer of all time. Contributing less to the admiration of the reader for Grenouille is an additional aspect of the tick metaphor in the parasitic nature of the man's relationship to other characters, whom he uses as hosts to be sucked dry.
The sensual appeal of this character and his unbridled egocentricity evoke a fascination with evil associated with the devil. Described as an abomination from the day of birth, the infant is identified with the devil by his wet nurse, not because he stinks of sulphur but because he has no odor; moreover, he walks with a limp. Since Grenouille needs nothing for his soul -- not security, attention, tenderness, or love -- the suggestion is that he may have none. He is predisposed towards darkness and night, at which time he becomes active. His extraordinary olfactory powers gain him the reputation of possessing second sight, a power which in the popular mind is associated with misfortune and death. The unexplained murders of twenty-five women are recognized as the work of the devil.
Settings / Objects
The largest city in France, where Grenouille grows up. At the time the story takes place, Paris is a crowded, bad-smelling city, and Grenouille lives in one of the foulest-smelling parts of it.
A town near the Mediterranean coast that is the center of the French perfume trade. It
is located in a valley isolated from the sea, surrounded by flower fields.
The Cimetiere des Innocents
The "Cemetery of the Innocents". A large, open cemetery in Paris near where Grenouille is born. Bodies are often placed in shallow or open pits, and the stench of decay is strong.
A long, lightless cave where Grenouille isolates himself from all human scent for seven years. No living thing has ever lived in it prior to Grenouille.
A bridge over the River Seine that has fashionable shops along each side. It is the location of Baldini's perfumery where Grenouille first finds work in the perfume trade.
A large Catholic cathedral in Paris. Baldini tells himself he will light a candle at the cathedral to give thanks to God several times, but he never does.
A major river that runs through the city of Paris.
Rue des Marais
The narrow street where Grenouille tracks down the redheaded girl, his first murder victim, by her scent.
A castle on the Mediterranean Sea. It is in the village near the castle that Grenouille tracks down and murders Laure Richis
A mountain range in France where Grenouille finds isolation in his dark cave.
Amor and Psyche
A fashionable perfume created by the perfumer Pelissier. Baldini tries to discover the formula, but cannot. He is amazed to learn that Grenouille can recreate it.
The name Baldini gives to the first perfume that Grenouille creates for him, and which starts his rise to fortune and fame.
The perfume that Grenouille creates from the personal scents of Laure Richis and twenty-four other young women, and which causes anyone who smells it to become uncontrollably in love with the wearer.
Perfume shares several traditions of the novel genre. The work at the outset presents itself as historical in nature, purporting to deal with a French figure of the eighteenth century no less brilliant than the Marquis de Sade, Louis Antoine Saint-Just, Joseph Fouche, and Bonaparte — and no less arrogant, misanthropic, immoral, and wicked.
And while the focus is upon Grenouille as the central figure, Perfume is divided into four parts which treat his development in the fashion of the educational novel (bildungsroman). Part I concludes with the end of his apprenticeship to Baldini and departure from Paris: II deals with his years of isolation and his introduction to the Enlightenment society of Montpellier by the marquis: III represents residence in Grasse while developing techniques for the manufacture of perfumes; and the final Part IV details flight from the site of his scheduled execution to die as on the day of his birth among the odors of Paris. The skills of Grenouille suggest an additional tradition in the genre of the novel where an artist serves as the central figure (ktinstlerroman).
That richness and variety manifested by drawing upon several traditions in the genre of the novel are reflected in the use of the techniques and styles of various literary-historical periods. An omniscient narrative voice that is somewhat aloof predominates in text containing almost no dialog. The eighteenth-century narrative practice which destroys the illusion of objective distance is employed when the author includes the reader in the first person plural, "Since we are to leave Madame Galliard behind us at this point in our story . . ."
In his relationship to Baldini, an allusion to sixteenth-century historical circumstances is made in Grenouille's perceived need for journeyman's papers that will allow him to travel and take work; for this reason he readily agrees to Baldini's conditions, recalling romanticism in his desire "to empty himself of his innermost being, of nothing less than his innermost being, which he considered more wonderful than anything else the world had to offer."
That same literary-historical vein is preserved in the scene of the solitary Grenouille wandering over the landscape beneath the moon and avoiding all human beings in order to be at one with nature; in a solitary, uninhabited region he retreats to a cave atop a mountain in the Auverge to seek proximity to himself.
The style and technique of nineteenth-century realism are reflected in the detailed catalogues as, for example, that of all the foul smells generated by eighteenth-century Paris and its dwellers at the time of Grenouille's birth. At Baldini's we are provided with an elaborate list of all the materials used in the preparation of perfumes and a marvelous description thereof.
Point of View
The author's point of view is as an omniscient outside voice, observing the actions of all the characters and witnessing their inner thoughts. Using this point of view allows Suskind to quickly demonstrate the characters' motivations, and to describe events that are not directly witnessed by the main characters, such as the birth of Grenouille and the death of Grimal.
The novel is written from the point of view of a later period in time, suggesting that the events being described are perhaps better understood now than they were when they took place. The author occasionally moves forward in the story to events that take place after the end of the novel, such as the gradual death of Madame Gaillard and the mass denial of the murders by the people of Grasse many years after they took place.
At times, the narrative voice moves away from describing the events of the story and addresses the reader directly. These passages are used to elucidate some of the details
of the story, or sometimes to make reference to modern events that are somehow connected to the ones related in the book.
While this point of view allows the author to efficiently describe the motivations of the characters, it is also detached from those characters and makes it more difficult for the reader to identify with any single character by sharing their point of view.
Revolution, while France was still ruled by a monarch. The first part of the novel takes place in Paris, which at this time is a crowded city, one of the largest in Europe.
Within Paris, Grenouille begins his life in a neighborhood near a large, foul-smelling cemetery. He then gains employment in an area of fashionable shops on a bridge over the River Seine. Grenouille returns to Paris at the end of the novel, where he commits suicide near the place he was born.
Once Grenouille leaves Paris, the setting changes to the rural French countryside as he wanders, trying to avoid humans as much as possible. He eventually ends up in the
Massif Central mountain range in the province of Auvergne, where he lives in a lightless cave for seven years.
After leaving the cave, Grenouille makes his way to the town of Grasse, located in an inland valley near the Mediterranean Coast of France. This town is a center for the production of perfume, both in the novel and in actuality. Its climate is well suited to growing the flowers from which many scents are extracted. Grasse is the setting for most of the murders that Grenouille commits, and where he is sentenced to be executed.
The final murder Grenouille commits takes place in a small village near a seaside castle on the Mediterranean Sea called La Napoule. This is where he climbs into the room of the inn where Laure Richis is sleping and steals her scent.
Language and Meaning
Perfume was originally written in German and then translated into English. As with all translated works, some of the language and meaning is changed during the translation to fit the language.
Translated differences aside, Suskind's choice of subject matter presents a challenge as the written word is a very visually-oriented medium not easily tailored to describe the sense of smell. Suskind refers to this difficulty in a few passages in the novel, such as when Grenouille is learning to speak and finds language inadequate for describing the thousands of scents he can discern. Suskind relies on poetic descriptions to convey smells in writing, such as when he describes an infant's scalp as smelling like caramel, or the scent of the redheaded girl as a pastry soaked in milk.
Suskind's prose is otherwise straightforward, often strikingly so. He sums up seven years of Grenouille's isolation in the cave with one sentence. His description of the murders that Grenouille commits in a plain, direct style, which both accentuates the coldness of the character and makes his actions that much more chilling. The novel begin with an announcement that the story will be told of an abominable man, and the book frequently reads like a biographical news story in precisely descriptive terms. This style creates ambiguity around the moral questions in the novel, leaving the reader to make the determination.
The book is divided into fifty-one relatively short numbered chapters over four parts.
Part One describes the birth and youth of Grenouille up through the point where he leaves the service of Baldini to strike out on his own. Within Part One, the first eight chapters cover Grenouille's upbringing and apprenticeship with Grimal the tanner. The larger portion of Part One concerns Grenouille's apprenticeship with Baldini, the perfumer. It is during this period that he first begins to apply his amazing power of scent toward creative endeavors.
Part Two of the novel describes Grenouille's entrance into the cave and his eventual return to society. As he leaves Paris at the beginning of Part Two, he meanders in the path that is the least likely to bring him into contact with humans and ends up on a desolate mountaintop, where he remains for seven years living inside his own mind in a dark cave. Chapters twenty-three through twenty-nine describe his isolation. Chapters thirty through thirty-four concern the events after he leaves the cave to find a way to create a scent for himself and describe his rehabilitation and reintroduction into society with the help of Taillade-Espinasse.
Part Three contains some of the most dramatic scenes in the novel, as Grenouille moves to Grasse to perfect the art of extracting scents and develop his ultimate perfume. Chapters thirty-five through forty describe how he obtains a job in a workshop and learns to extract the scent from living things. At the end of this section, Grenouille begins killing young women systematically to make his ultimate perfume. He terrorizes the town, and then stops the killings to lull them into feeling secure that the killer has gone. Chapters forty-one through fifty describe the efforts of Antoine Richis to protect his daughter from the unseen killer, without success. The climax of the novel appears at the end of Part Three, when Grenouille is caught and sentenced to be executed for the murders, but at the execution he reveals his ultimate perfume, which causes the entire town to fall in love with him and believe that he could not be the killer. Part Three ends as Grenouille steals away from the mansion of Richis, who has not only come to believe Grenouille is innocent, but has begged him to become his adopted son.
The final part of the book, Part Four, consists of only one chapter in which Grenouille makes his way to Paris to commit his bizarre suicide, where he causes a band of vagrants to eat him by subjecting them to his ultimate perfume.
Important Quotations "In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. . ." Part One, Chap. 1, p. 3
"'You priests will have to decide whether all this has anything to do with the devil or not, Father Terrier. That's not for such as me to say. I only know one thing: this baby makes my flesh creep because it doesn't smell the way children ought to smell.'" Part
One, Chap. 2, p. 11
"Looked at objectively, however, there was nothing at all about him to instill terror.
As he grew older, he was not especially big, nor strong - ugly, true, but no extremely ugly that people would necessarily have taken fright at him. He was not aggressive, nor underhanded, nor furtive, he did not provoke people. He preferred to keep out of their way." Part One, Chap. 5, p. 23
"She was so frozen with terror at the sight of him that he had plenty of time to put his hands to her throat. She did not attempt to cry out, did not budge, did not make the least motion to defend herself. He, in turn, did not look at her, did not see her delicate, freckled face, her red lips, her large sparkling green eyes, keeping his eyes closed tight as he strangled her, for he had only one concern - not to lose the least trace of her scent." Part One, Chap. 8, p. 42
"Behind the counter of light boxwood, however, stood Baldini himself, old and stiff as
a pillar, in a silver-powdered wig and a blue coat adorned with gold frogs. A cloud of the frangipani with which he sprayed himself every morning enveloped him almost visibly, removing him to a hazy distance." Part One, Chap. 9, pp. 45-46
"Grenouille stood there cowering and gazing at Baldini with a look of apparent timidity, but which in reality came from a cunning intensity. 'I want to work for you, Maitre Baldini. Work for you, here in your business.' It was not spoken as a request, but as a demand. . ." Part One, Chap. 14, p. 70
"Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it." Part One, Chap. 14, p. 82
"If ever anything in his life had kindled his enthusiasm - granted, not a visible enthusiasm but a hidden one, an excitement burning with a cold flame - then it was this procedure for using fire, water, steam and a cunning apparatus to snatch the scented soul from matter." Part One, Chap. 18, pp. 95-96
"He would flee farther, increasingly sensitive to the increasingly infrequent smell of humankind. Thus his nose led him to ever more remote regions of the country, ever farther from human beings, driving him on ever more insistently toward the magnetic pole of the greatest possible solitude." Part Two, Chap. 23, p. 118
"He lived only within his mountain, only within the self-made empire of his soul. And he would have remained there until his death (since he lacked for nothing), if catastrophe had not struck, driving him from the mountain, vomiting him back out into the world." Part Two, Chap. 28, pp. 122-23
"As he came out onto the street, he was suddenly afraid, for he knew that for the first time in his life he was giving off a human odor. He found that he stank, stank quite disgustingly." Part Two, Chap. 32, p. 151
"The scents of the garden descended upon him, their contours as precise and clear as the colored bands of a rainbow. And that one, that precious one, that one that mattered above all else, was among them." Part Three, Chap. 35, p. 169
"In May of that same year, the naked body of a fifteen-year-old girl was found in a rose field, halfway between Grasse and the hamlet of Opio east of town. She had been killed by a heavy blow to the back of the head." Part Three, Chap. 40, p. 194
"The most precious thing that Richis possessed, however, was his daughter. She was his only child, just turned sixteen, with auburn hair and green eyes. She had a face so charming that visitors of all ages and both sexes would stand stock-still at the sight of her, unable to pull their eyes away, practically licking that face with their eyes, the way tongues work at ice cream, with that typically stupid, single-minded expression on their faces that goes with concentrated licking." Part Three, Chap. 41, p. 200
"He pushed up the casement, slipped into the room, and laid down his cloth. Then he turned to the bed. The dominant scent came from her hair, for she was lying on her stomach with her head pressed into the pillow and framed by the crook of her arm -presenting the back of her head in an almost ideal position for the blow by the club."
Part Three, Chap. 45, p. 216
"The proceedings against Grenouille did indeed move at an extraordinarily rapid pace, not only because the evidence was overwhelming, but also because the accused himself freely confessed to all the murders charged against him." Part Three, Chap. 48, p. 228
"What happened was that from one moment to the next, the ten thousand people on the parade grounds and on the slopes surrounding it felt themselves infused with the unshakable belief that the man in the blue frock coat who had just climbed out of the carriage could not possible be the murderer." Part Three, Chap. 49, p. 235
"For a moment they fell back in awe and pure amazement. But in the same instant they sensed their falling back was more like preparing for a running start, that their awe was turning to desire, their amazement to rapture. They felt themselves drawn to this angel of a man. A frenzied, alluring force came from him, a riptide no human could have resisted, all the less because no human would have wanted to resist it, for what that tide was pulling under and dragging away was the human will itself: straight to him." Part Four, Chap. 51, p. 254
Ideas for Discussion The richness and diversity of Siiskind's writing enables it to speak to the reader upon several levels coincidentally. Complexity lends itself to a variety of interpretations which may be enhanced by analogy. Literary or historical personalities and events are suggested by Siiskind's fictional figures and episodes. Moreover, the author's marked orientation toward literary traditions and his occasional borrowing from other authors contribute additional layers of meaning in instances which may be characterized as irony or parody.
1. The work has been widely hailed as a social history. What aspects of eighteenth century Paris and France are captured most vividly?
2. Can one justifiably interpret the work as political allegory dealing with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, a subject which Siiskind suggests that all writers of his generation treat willy-nilly, if subconsciously?
3. What is the relationship between that absence of odor which characterizes Grenouille and his well-developed olfactory powers?
4. Does the author know how to finish off his central character? Is the conclusion aesthetically and psychologically satisfying?
5. Perfume is widely compared with The Name of the Rose (1983; Nome delta rosa, 1980) by Umberto Eco. Although the Italian novel is not strictly speaking, a literary antecedent of Perfume, some similarities exist. Do such bases for comparison suggest themselves to you?
Further Questions What challenges does the author face when writing about the sense of smell?
What role does the personal human smell play in the novel? How does the author relate it to morality? To innocence?
Is Grenouille immoral? What about those who exploit him, such as Baldini, Taillade-Espinasse, and Druot?
How does Suskind treat religion in the novel?
What connection does Suskind suggest between the sense of smell and emotions such as love and passion?
What purpose does the episode in the cave serve in the narrative of the novel? Is it necessary?
Suskind repeatedly refers to Grenouille as tick-like. In what ways is this the case?
How does this attribute of his character affect the story?
Is Grenouille a hero?
Should Grenouille be excused or forgiven for his actions?
Perfume is a study of the darker side of human nature. It centers on a superhuman, Grenouille, whose extraordinary nose shows him certain truths about the world to which others are oblivious. His view of life is inevitably “colored” by his sense of smell, and he is determined to use this sense to achieve his ambitions as no other human can.
It is important to note that Patrick Süskind is a German author brought up in the post-World War II era. His writing is dark, and his characters are like those in the Grimm fairy tales, with heroes as guilty as the villains. Heroes are heroes only because circumstances favor them.
Grenouille apparently is evil by nature. Those around him are not necessarily any less evil. Circumstances simply favor them, giving them the social position, money, or background to exploit people like Grenouille. The Grenouilles of the world must rely on their wits and will in order to succeed. If he were alive today, Grenouille likely would become a rags to riches hero, a respected virtuoso, and a scientific curiosity. It is doubtful that he would be much happier, given his nature.
Grenouille may bring evil, but it is not undeserved. His victims are not innocent bystanders. Even the girls he kills are all part of the society that at best ignores and at worst hates him for being different. Grenouille’s mother killed her other babies and tries to kill him. Grimal the tanner, the Marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse, Maître Baldini, and Maître Druot are all selfish cheaters, taking advantage of Grenouille for their own profit. Fortunately for Grenouille, these people are so self-centered that they do not notice that he is using them for his own selfish plans. Like a tick, he takes what he needs from others, living off them and accepting some amount of discomfort in return.
Perfume actually is a satire of a cautionary tale. Its moral is that no one is innocent. Even though people may identify one person and call him evil, he really is no more evil than anyone else—he simply does not hide it as well. Süskind’s implication is that although the incidents of Perfume might have taken place two hundred years ago, the results would be the same today.
Perfume – Sanitising Tales
Excerpted and adapted from: www.scu.edu.au/schools/hmcs/core/ waysknowing/pdf/topic07.pdf. No author listed.
The sense of smell was highly valued prior to the seventeenth century. Religious scholars spoke of the stench of sin, and the public associated certain odours with the risk of disease. Perfume: the Story of a Murderer (1986), by Patrick Suskind, is set in France during the 18th century. It is the story of a child who is born with no smell - that is, the body of the child has no odour. The child, however, has a strong sense of smell. This child is born under a fish stall to a woman who sells fish. She abandons him at birth. This abandoned baby who is born with no smell to his person becomes a famous perfumier – and a murderer.
In this excerpt, Father Terrier - as a man of the modern church – symbolises reason and civilisation. The child who doesn't smell - yet has a strong sense of smell - symbolises nature, animality, and evil. Father Terrier fears the power of what he cannot name - the absence of smell. He seems to fear that reason cannot contain nature or the modern church evil.
Then the child awoke. Its nose awoke first. The tiny nose moved, pushedupwards and sniffed. It sucked air in and snorted it back out in shortpuffs, like an imperfect sneeze. Then the nose wrinkled up, and the childopened its eyes. The eyes were of an uncertain colour, between oyster greyand creamy opal white, covered with a kind of slimy film and apparentlynot very well adapted for sight. (Father) Terrier had the impression thatthey did not even perceive him. But not so the nose. While the child's dulleyes squinted into the void, the nose seemed to fix on a particular target,and Terrier had the very odd feeling that he himself, his person, FatherTerrier, was that target. The tiny wings of flesh around the two tiny holesin the child's face swelled like a bud opening to bloom. Or rather, like the
cups of that small meat-eating plant that was kept in the royal botanicalgardens. And, like the plant, they seemed to create an eerie suction. Itseemed to Terrier as if the child saw him with its nostrils, as if it werestaring intently at him, scrutinizing him, more piercingly than eyescould ever do, as if it were using its nose to devour something whole,something that came from him, from Terrier, and that he could not holdthat something back or hide it... the child with no smell was smelling athim shamelessly, that was it! It was establishing his scent! And all atonce he felt as if he stank, of sweat and vinegar, of choucroute andunwashed clothes. He felt naked and ugly, as if some one were gaping athim while revealing nothing of himself. The child seemed to be smellingright through his skin into his innards. His most tender emotions, hismost filthy thoughts lay exposed to that greedy little nose, which wasn'teven a proper nose, but only a pug of a nose, a tiny perforated organ,forever crinkling and puffing and quivering. Terrier shuddered. He feltsick to his stomach. He pulled back his own nose as if he smelledsomething foul that he wanted nothing to do with. Gone was the homelythought that this might be his own flesh and blood. Vanished thesentimental idyll of father and son and fragrant mother - as if someonehad ripped away the cosy veil of thought that his fantasy had cast aboutthe child and himself. A strange, cold creature lay there on his knees, ahostile animal, and were he not a man by nature prudent, God-fearingand given to reason, in the rush of nausea he would have hurled it like aspider from him
This child knows with his nose! Father Terrier's desire is for the attainment of the respectability expected of him as a man of the 18th century church: a church in the throes of rationalising its existence in the liberal state. This tiny child threatens the attainment of Terrier's desires. The appearance of this innocent babe - this child who has no smell yet has astrong sense of smell - ruptures the fragile surface of the new civic order: its institutions, its philosophies and its beliefs. This babe is the epitome of the abject - it stands on the very boundaries of civilisation and nature: of cleanliness and dirt; of goodness and evil, of innocence and bodily knowledge. The child threatens Terrier's complacency. It threatens his desire for godliness (with all its 18th century connotations) and gives rise to an experience of the senses, which he finds repugnant. Terrier is in terror of the child's ability to smell, its `animal nature', which he as a mirror of the civic body and the body of the church must repudiate. For the child knows Terrier in an animal way; he senses - smells - his feelings, his weaknesses. Yet in an ironic twist of nature, the child who does not smell, who has no body odour, represents the attainment of that which godliness has come to represent: the repudiation of the body.
(Note that the civic face of godliness was, in the 18th century, the ability of the town fathers to rid the public domain of the dangers of the body: to sanitise public space, to cleanse the world of obnoxious human odours – to banish smell!).
One reading of the above tale by Patrick Suskind is to argue that together the figures of the Church Father and the strangely sanitised child represent the fearful possibility that reason cannot, after all, control nature - nor all that nature has come to represent. One could argue that the moral of this tale lies in its warning that civilisation is always in danger of a return to that which it must deny in order to exist.
Do you agree with this reading of the moral intent of Patrick Suskind's story?
The child in Suskind's tale grows up to be a murderer - he kills in order to possess forever the natural perfume of a beautiful woman.
What meanings might be drawn from this?
Do you detect a relationship between this story of renaissance France and other literature you’ve read?
The valorisation of sight as a way of knowing, beginning with Plato and the Greeks, came to fruition in the concepts and beliefs of the European Enlightenment. Sight as a way of knowing, along with its visual technologies, ordered knowledge. As a metaphor for knowledge and for godliness, sight also became a metaphor for cleanliness. At the same time the other senses became associated with dirt, animality and ignorance. Suskind's novel of the 18th century draws out some of the concerns of the day in a literary mode. It is also indicative of late 20th century concerns.
The next reading by Alain Corbin considers the French social imagination in the 18th century, its focus on bad air, and its preoccupations with abolishing odour. The sanitary policies and contraptions used by the public health systems of this period are described in this text in wonderful detail. The overriding concern of the author, however, is the way in which the desire to abolish smell gave rise to a particular ordering of bodies and society. Some sites for this ordering included prisons and hospitals, civic buildings, the workplace and the home, and the movements of bodies within these spaces:
Ventilation was not enough; individual behaviour patterns had to bechanged... the hospital became a place of discipline... Regulationsbecame stricter... the aim was uniformity, the destruction of age-oldhabits, the prohibition of spontaneous behaviour, henceforth consideredanarchic and dangerous. (109)
The connections between smell, bad health and dirt led in the 18th century to an obsession with the circulation of `good air', and the abstraction of `bad air'. This unwanted air, the cause of hygiene problems, lay below the good clean air. Ventilation was the answer to this problem:
Ventilation `swept away' the lower strata of the air restricting the wildcirculation of miasmas.Ventilation henceforth formed the crux of public health tactics. The flowmost important to control was the flow of air. Even more than drainingaway filth, ensuring the circulation of the aerial fluid was a response tothe terror of stagnation associated with the coldness and the silence ofthe grave. ( 94)
The association of smell with the corpse and with death brings to mind notions of the abject—that which must be expunged; something which is `brought up and spat out'; a ritual in which something is r/ejected from the centre. One could consider the public health strategies as ways of performing civic rituals (complete with alchemic potions) as ways of rejecting smell from the centre: a ritual of death and new life.
Deodorization would ensure the appearance of a new body... the goalwas no longer to mask but to destroy foul odor; `the chemist... regardsmasked odor as nothing more than the confused product of a mixture ofelements that continually tend to separate; whereas the destruction ofodor is the result of a combination whereby the foul-smelling body iseither decomposed or linked to a base that changes its properties.'(104-5)
Politics and the Senses
Classen et al (1994) `examine how... olfactory codes create and inform power relations between social classes, ethnic groups, and women and men in the contemporary West' (161). Classen's argument is that smell can play a role in many different forms of social classification. At times it is an actual smell which triggers an experience of difference on the part of the perceiver. Often, however, the odour of the other is not so much a real scent as a feeling of dislike transposed into the olfactory domain. In either case, smell provides a potent symbolic means for creating and enforcing class (gender) and ethnic boundaries (169.)
(If you read Classen, note her discussion of and the classifications of women into good and bad women.) Note also her discussion of the `hygiene' movement in Nazi Germany:
The Hygiene Institutes set up in Germany during the Nazi era had as their responsibility - along with the control of epidemics and the studyof bacteria - the distribution of the deadly gas used to `eliminate' Jewsand others at Auschwitz' (173).
Classen recalls the work of German writer and philosopher Myona Salomon Friedlander:
In 1911... Salomon Friedlander published a short story entitled, `On theBliss of Crossing Bridges'. In this story a German scientist, DrK rendelen, invents a chemical formula to purify the planetaryatmosphere of bad air: `For bad air is the misfortune of mankind... Theimprovement of the air is the surest way to improve humanity, betterthan all philosophical moralizing!' The scientist realizes that only a fewpersons will be able to survive in the rarefied atmosphere; none the lesshe resolves to go ahead with his plan for world purification. Almost atonce people begin to die. Their bodies, however, `burn without a trace ofcorrupting odor in the delightful air of early spring'.At last the purification is complete. `Nothing was left of corruption.Victoriously it was all banished and masked by the scents of fresh puritythat now virtually exploded!' Death is dispelled along with stench and,with no foul odours to remind them of how things used to be, the past ispromptly forgotten by all, `so that Dr Krendelen did not even becomefamous!' (176)
A piece of fiction such as Perfume takes on sinister connotations when considered in its historical context.
Film and the Senses
Classen notes that `In twentieth century Western culture, the ideal society is presented as deodorized. Indeed the fantasy worlds created for us by Hollywood on film are totally inodorate, existing only in the sensory domains of sight and hearing' (175).
Is this the same for literature? What about memory and smell?
Havelock Ellis considered smell to be the `sense of the imagination' (cited in Redgrove, 1987: 73).
Do you agree with this claim by Classen? How much `space' do you think cinematic fantasy worlds allow for the imagination - and to what extent might the imagination work on the `other' senses?
There is no doubt that visual technology has a great potential for sanitisation. What looks dirty can be made to look clean in an image. Smell, less easily `managed' outside the cinema, can, along with dirt, be banished from the image. Yet, film also has the potential to re-connect the ways of knowing which use seeing as a process of the mind and ways of knowing which use `other' bodily senses.
In a review of a film, TheCook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, the reviewer, Peter Greenaway, suggests that while it is a difficult film it is one worth attention, analysis, and active critical engagement. As astudy in transgression it contests borders, limits, and eludesinterpretive finitude. Beyond the beautiful and the sublime, asimulacrum of abjection.
(Note that `abjection' is used here in its psychoanalytic sense to mean something which is rejected or denied, but which remains central to the meaning of that from which it has been expunged (see for instance, the work of Julia Kristeva and Jacques Derrida). `Simulacrum' is that which represents the real and in so doing becomes more real than the real (for instance, Disneyland and the work of Jean Baudrillard andUmberto Eco).
Corbin, Alaine (1994) The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social
Imagination London: Picador.
Classen, Constance, Howes, David and Synott, Anthony (1994) Aroma: theCultural
History of Smell. London and New York: Routledge.
Petrie Ducan (1993) ed Cinema and the Realms of Enchantment. London: British
Redgrove, Peter (1987) `Extra-Sensuous Perception' in The Black Goddess andthe Sixth
Sense. London: Bloomsbury Press.
Sinnerbrink, Robert `The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover: a Discourse on
Disgust' in Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media andCulture. Vol 5. No 2.1990.
Suskind, Patrick (1986) Perfume: the story of a murderer. Translated from the German by