Grenouille’s scent is discussed in detail. He would lean against a wall and smell the odors coming in. He went to the spot where his mother was beheaded, as well as the bank of the river. The dream of sailing pleased him. Grenouille smells perfume in the quarters of Sorbonne and the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where the rich people lived.
On Sept 1, 1753, the anniversary of the king’s coronation, Grenouille tracks down a particular scent to a thirteen year old girl in a courtyard and proceeds to strangle her. This new scent makes Grenouille want to concoct a great perfume that is delicate, powerful, stable, various, and terrifyingly irresistible in beauty.
6 perfumers lay on each side of the river bank in Paris , with one in the middle being the Pont-au-Change, one of the finest business addresses. Giuseppe Baldini works in Port-au-Change, buying only the finest ingredients for him perfume. His perfume shop works like an orchestra.
In a style written as though it were a play, Baldini talks with his assistant Chenier over the Amor and Psyche scent from Pelissier, a rival perfumer and vinegar maker. Baldini’s failure to produce a scent of a Spanish hide for Count Verhamont causes him to shamefully buy the previous scent from Pelissier. Only at a young age did Baldini create wonderful scents such as Rose of the Sound and Baldini’s Gallant Bouquet at his old age, it appears that he has run out of ideas.
It’s revealed that Baldini had never invented any new scents and that he would have wanted to copy his rival’s scents. Baldini can only stay out of debt by making house calls. Astronomy, and the people’s discussions over it, is detailed in the rest of the chapter. Baldini takes walks on the bridge to think about his life.
Baldini agrees that Pelissier’s scent is good. Two rules of perfume are discussed: “Judge not as long as you’re smelling” and “Perfume lives in time; it has its youth, maturity, and old age. It can only be successful if it’s pleasant in all stages of life. Baldini writes up a list of ingredients of Pelissier’s perfume after smelling it constantly.
Two hours later, Baldini gives up after his nose swells up in an allergic reaction. After making the scent imitation, Baldini decides to sell his house and business. But before any of that can happen, Baldini answers the door and meets Grenouille, a deliverer of goatskins.
Grenouille is lead inside to see his first perfumery. Later, he demands (through hissing) to work as Baldini’s apprentice, going so far as to call out Baldini’s attempt to use Pelissier’s perfume by listing the ingredients that he smells. Yet, Grenouille cannot produce estimations of the amount of ingredients used to make the perfume, “talent [being] next to nothing.” But in 10 minutes, Grenouille uses 9 ingredients (orange blossom, lime oil, attars of rose and close, jasmine, bergamot, rosemary, musk tincture, storax balm, rectified spirit). to make a half beakerful of the perfume.
Grenouille is successful in making the imitation perfume, befuddling Baldini. Grenouille later makes a better concoction of the same perfume, but Baldini makes him leave straight afterwards. Baldini smells the perfume and keeps on repeating “incredible”. He becomes lost in his dreams after smelling the perfume.
The next morning, Grenouille goes to Grimal, pays for the goatskin, and invites the tanner to the Tour d’Argent to negotiate the purchase of Grenouille for the large sum of twenty livres, saying that he needs unskilled help. Grimal would later become so drunk that he would mistake one road for the other and dies in the waters of the Quai des Ormes.
Grenouille sleeps content in his bed.
Baldini’s reputation grows to a national level. Nuit Napolitaine is sold out over the course of a day. Every month would a new perfume be made under Baldini’s “division of labor and increased productivity”. Baldini would jot down the formula of Grenouille’s perfumes after they had been made, satisfying “his thirst for rules and order”, in two book, one locked in a fireproof safe and the other carried with him at all times. Grenouille learns how to jot down the formulas himself after a few weeks at work. Two prerequisites had to be met, however, to make the scents within Grenouille: Grenouille had to obtain the cloak of middle-class respectability in order to carry out his true goals; the other being the knowledge of the craft itself for higher ends. Grenouille had the best nose in the world, but he did not have the ability to make his scents realities.
The process of making perfume is detailed in this chapter, with speed being the alpha and omega of the process. The “scented soul, that ethereal oil” was the best thing for Grenouille. Baldini tells stories involving perfume, namely lavender. Grenouille images himself as an alembic.
Grenouille is now the specialist in the field of distillation after discovering that the heat of the fire was significant in the quality of the distillate. Grenouille distills everything he sees, from brass and porcelain to his own hair. After realizing that some things do not have the essential oils to make perfume, Grenouille becomes mortally ill.
Grenouille suffers from high fever. Baldini goes all out to take care of him, from moving him to a clean bed on the top floor, made of damask, to sending for the most renowned physician in the neighborhood. The doctor diagnoses Grenouille’s illness as syphilitic smallpox with measles in stadio ultimo. Baldini thinks about going to Notre-Dame to light a candle for his recovery, but he was unable do so. Taking notepaper and a wet pen, Baldini prepares himself to write Grenouille’s perfumatory confession. But Grenouille recovers in a week and asks Baldini for other ways to extract scent. There are three ways: enfleurage a chaud, enfleurage a froid, and enfleurage a l’huile. They help extract jasmine, rose, and orange blossom in the southern town of Grasse .
In three years, the 70 year old Baldini has realized his dreams of building a factory and receiving a royal patent. Baldini informs Grenouille of releasing him under three conditions: he could not produce anymore scents under Baldini’s roof or sell the formulas to third parties; he has to leave Paris and not return until Baldini’s death; he has to keep the first two conditions secret and swear by all saints, his mother’s soul, and his own honor. Grenouille, having none of the previous things, swore it. Grenouille cares less about leaving and about competing with Baldini, setting off in the spring early one May morning. It’s revealed that Baldini, although having much sympathy for Grenouille, had never shaken his hand.
Baldini contemplates working with Grenouille and wonders if this is retribution against Pelissier by Divine Providence. 600 hundred formulas were recorded in the book. Baldini plans to Notre Dame to cast a gold coin in the alms box, light three candles, and thank the Lord for his good fortune. But on that same afternoon, a rumor spreads of the English declaring war on France . Baldini cancels his shipment of perfume to London and, later that night, has a brilliant idea of launching a perfume under the name “Prestige du Quebec” in order to recoup the costs of losing business in England . He falls asleep, unaware that a royal decree requires all the building on all the bridges of Paris be torn down. Baldini is killed in the process, his book of perfumes lost. Chenier weeps at the thought of losing his inheritance of the perfume shop after thirty long years. It takes weeks for Baldini’s smell of musk, cinnamon, vinegar, lavender, and a thousand other things to float above the river Seine .
2. What intrigues you about these pages?
The incredible amount of smell imagery in every single page of this novel intrigues me to the point of sheer fascination and glee. I really take delight in reading about the scents and smells of everything in this novel, from the musky aroma of Baldini as he frantically prepares his imitation perfume to the disgusting, yet oh-so delightfully, descriptions of 18th Century France in the first pages of the novel.
3. What literary devices are particularly notable?
Suskind’s use of smell imagery is the most notable literary device in the novel. It’s used to settings such as the “streets [stinking] of manure” to people like Baldini’s smell of “musk [and] cinnamon” and Terrier’s smell of vinegar. In all this smell imagery, Suskind makes his main character, Grenouille, stand out from the rest of the novel by having him born with no scent of his own. This fact concerns many people up to the point of unexplained loathing; some of those same people take this loathing to the extreme and try to smother Grenouille to death. However, the loathing is also justified through Grenouille’s greediness, with Bussie the wet-nurse calling him “the bastard”.
Another notable literary device is Suskind’s writing of a conversation in Chapter 10 as though it were a play. Dialogue tags are added to the conversation between the perfumer Baldini and his assistant Chenier, making the conversation seem as though it were incredibly nonsensical. Even the content of the conversation alludes to such nonsensicality, with Baldini exclaiming that he “give[s] birth to [perfumes]”. It’s an amusing change of pace in Suskind’s writing and establishes the liveliness of the perfume shop.
4. What connections do you see to Crime and Punishment or any work you read last year?
Grenouille’s birth during “one of the hottest days of the year” can be linked to the main setting of Crime and Punishment, where the novel takes place during one of the hottest summers in St. Petersburg.
Suskind’s devotion to detailing all sorts of olfactory imagery can be linked to the intricate details Flaubert put forth in his writing of Madame Bovary. Free, indirect discourse is used throughout the novel as well, a narrator-related link to Madame Bovary.
5. Select a chapter from Part II and reflect on what you have read:
Plot, Style, Culture, Author
Plot wise, the first chapter of Perfume establishes the setting of the novel and introduces the main character, Grenouille, as he is born. His mother gives birth to him underneath a butcher’s table and is promptly executed after revealing that her previous four births were left to die in the sun, just as she had tried to do with Grenouille. Grenouille avoids possible death from being sent to Rouen after Officer La Fosse hands him over to a cloister in Saint-Merri, where he is baptized as Jean-Baptiste.
The style of the chapter is written in a free flowing sort of way, with Suskind writing such incredible imagery of smells in a rather surprisingly compelling list form.