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Anomie's Bonhomie: Un salon littéraire de parfums or THE REAL IN THE LIBRARY

Dear, Redolent Reader

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Scent as mood/focus for reading really adds something to the experience. As much as pop science touts the scent-memory connection perennially, everyday experience suggests smells and their associations are inextricable. Marcel had his madeleine cookie (taste + smell + texture). Lavender is often recommended to foster vivid dreams. Sage is supposed to be good for studying. Carnation is the "poet's flower."

Reminded of my intention to come up with a few fun, maybe sometimes literal or period accurate "read while wearing" combos by Jujy and Whitefluffy's excellent ideas for associating novels with certain scents to wear while reading on the Weil Sample pass, I did a fast brainstorm.

I went only with my favorite classic, well-known novels:

1. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, is quite 1960s in atmosphere. Being as it is a fictionally-authored epic poem as introduced and annotated by a fictional critic/academic, something of multiple realities and a meta-sensibility, a changeibility would have to be inherent in the scent worn while reading. Supernatural, awe-inspiring images vie with basic humanity throughout, so I'd say Onda by Vero Profumo is up to the heavy, fiery, strange task. But if I was going to go time and gender appropriate for Pale Fire - Habit Rouge.

2. And if we're mentioning Nabokov, we have to talk about Lolita, which the obvious and time-appropriate joke would be Youth Dew. More likely Ambush would fit Lo, Shalimar for Charlotte, and 3eme Homme for Humbert, but this is more about what to wear while reading than what characters would wear, I suppose ...

3. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor White Shoulders for the drugstore Southern shamelessness of it all layered with a CDG incense for tongue-in-cheek religion. Tabu also seems (in)appropriate as does Djedi for the Egyptian artifact associations.

4. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers ... Southern Gothic but tender. O'Connor famously said McCullers' freaks weren't really freaks. Well, no, because McCullers actually felt sympathy for even her most ridiculous characters, tackled real issues and wasn't entirely dedicated to the grotesque. Any scent conducive to reading McCullers would have to be a little melancholy but soft, wise, and compassionate. The more common, well-loved Nina Riccis come to mind there. Agua Florida/Florida Water is mentioned and worn by Alice in the book.

5. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh ... Jicky, Mitsouko, Acqua di Parma for when Sebastian and Charles go on holiday in Italy, Tabac Blond or another beautiful, bold classic Caron for my favorite character in all of literature, as flawlessly portrayed for television below with an inspired stutter: Anthony Blanche. . .

6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, ambergris, as derived from whales, is discussed for a chapter or more and no irony is lost on its dual nastiness/elegance, so those Creed fragrances that contain it would be okay but might clash with the book's mood. Balmain's non-ambergris containing Ambre Gris might be a clever alternative, as it also has some non-calone marine vibes.

7. American Pastoral by Phillip Roth - Histoires de Parfums 1969 fits the rebellion-meets-familiarity of the novel. The main character Seymour "Swede" owns a glove factory, so something leathery from Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier.

8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë Aromatics Elixir for swamps and moss layered with Tea Rose. Heathcliff is classic Habit Rouge.

And there's many more I have to think about. How about what would go best with your favorite classics?: perfume first or novel first, doesn't matter ...

Updated 27th August 2012 at 11:46 PM by anomie et ivoire



  1. Hojji77's Avatar
    Ok, I would be interested in what you might propose for any of the following. I'm making you do the heavy lifting because your vocabulary, especially in feminines, is far wider then mine.


    The Sound and the Fury


    Bonjour Tristesse

    Death in Venice

    'Tis Pity She's a Whore

    Tess of the D'Urbevilles
  2. anomie et ivoire's Avatar
    I'll take the challenge, but you've chosen some that fantastically transcend all possibility of just one or two scents, at least TMN.

    L'amant ... probably seems like it's just to match the title, but Coty's L'Aimant in vintage parfum fits the "past present time" of the novel--when the writer is a young girl and cannot yet appreciate the full extent of her love as it unfolds. For another kind of obvious but I think suitable suggestion (sometimes the first thought is best with these...) vintage YSL Opium could represent her grown/future self's nostalgia enshrining memory (also Opium was released not too far from when the novel was). Opium sums up all of the well-meaning romanticizing of orientalism inherent in this work while Coty's aldehydic classic suggests a growing up too fast air.

    The Sound and the Fury ... difficult to associate a perfume-type scent with this book ... but vintage Arpege for the dusty gothic faded grandeur, plainspoken yet also dizzying virtuosity.

    Neuromancer I'm not well-versed enough in the extensive world of niche (that is so far, barely at all) to pick a fitting match for this one, but CDG Odeur 71 could work on the more matchy-matchy tech-atmospheric end while strangely, the excesses and post-modern assault on the senses/hacker prank-like Angel or A*Men might also do.

    Bonjour Tristesse ... Mon Peche de Lanvin "sin is a sin is a sin" don't they say? ... is in.

    Death in Venice ... Mitsouko because it smells medicinal, a bit like disinfectant but beautiful ... mixed with L'Heure Bleue (said to be Duchess of Windsor so and so's sig mix, but I can't be bothered with royalty, unless if only fictive and mostly satirical!). Some strange and unsettling bit of youth must be thrown in there, should keep it Guerlain: Chant D'Aromes (never have smelled it, heard it would fit the purpose).

    'Tis Pity She's a Whore ... I've never read this (tis a pity that!) nor seen it performed. Having now looked it up on wiki: perhaps too obvious a suggestion, but original Dior Poison (pre-reform, super damascone-laden for a blooded wine scent full of danger, forbiddenness, high drama).

    Tess of the D'Ubervilles Nina Ricci Fille D'Eve or maybe any other of the Germaine Cellier compositions: her nature vs. progress struggle in fragrance works for Tess. Niki de Saint Phalle also: earth mother but cold and out of control.

    Some I can't decide on:

    The Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp
    The Magic Mountain
    The Cherry Orchard
    Play It As It Lays
    Updated 1st September 2012 at 03:27 PM by anomie et ivoire
  3. Hojji77's Avatar
    Magnificent selections! Your take on Duras--fragrance issues entirely aside--is very right and elegantly concise...

    Of the titles you offer I am only really versed in a few. For some reason I have never liked John Irving and punted on those books before I got very far--this was a long time ago. I also stalled on the lower slopes of the Magic Mountain; I'm rotten, or at least have become rotten, on long novels, and this ADD quality is perhaps why I began focusing on poetry instead.

    The Cherry Orchard on a literal level makes me want to do do cherries (M7) or Russia (Cuir de Russie) but neither of those work on a level beyond the joke. I'm going to go with vintage Ungaro III for its aura of sad and ineluctable decline with a glimmer of humor...and also for its vanishing act...

    Valis I have not read; I couldn't abide PKD's prose style in Electric Sheep and that put me off anything else. But in this vein of speculative fiction more generally I'm tempted toward Kerosene's Copper Skies for its astringent yet elegaic possibilities.

    Play It As It Lays: Brilliant problem, one that I must think about further. Right now I got nothing, but it beckons.

    Have you ever read:

    How German Is It (Walter Abish)

    The Alexandria Quartet (Lawrence Durrell--from back in the days when I could make it through massive novels. I revisited it a decade ago and it seemed rather embarrassingly overwrought, but the perfume possibilities are endless)
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