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Perfume and Fragrance in Literature

Below is an extract from the novel, The Master Butcher's Singing Club, which may not immediately appear to be directly related to perfume. However, it conveys the rituals involved in bathing habits and bathrooms, in which perfume plays a very large part.
Some books manage to convey smell, taste and as well as atmospheres and moods perfectly. Louise Erdrich's The Master Butchers Singing Club is one of those books. Here's an extract about the bathroom in the Waldvogels' house, set in America in the 1920s:
"... Over the tub, there hung an array of cleaning implements: a brush with a handle of polished apple wood to scrub the back, a smaller and brisker brush for the fingers, a large pumice stone for callused feet, and a tiny, hair-soft, blue handled brush for the face. There was also a stash of soaps, from the harshest lye soap to the French-milled lilac ovals that Eva used. These soaps were kept in a square cedar box with a slatted floor to drain away excess water, so the soaps would last. Next to the tub on another wooden shelf, behind curtains made of ticking material, towels were stacked — the cloth worn thin, but bleached to a sunny whiteness. The entire room was painted a pleasant yellow, and as its wide glass block window faced southeast, it caught the morning light. It was a comfortable and generous sort of room that would lead a person to think that the Waldvogels were wealthy. They were not. It was Eva's doing. She had a knack for saving money and making a good effect out of nothing. "
This paragraph describing the bathroom is intensely evocative. A private bathroom is a highly personal place, so it's intriguing to have such a clear picture of somebody else's bathroom, even if it's fictional. The sense of detail in phrases like, "a slatted floor to drain away water, so the soaps would last", emphasises the importance of ritual and repetition in bathroom habits.
The juxtaposition of meagreness and luxury creates a vivid scene. For instance, 'the towels were stacked... ' implies luxury. It suggests an almost hotel-like heap of fluffy white towels. But immediately afterwards the author writes, '... the cloth worn thin — but bleached to a sunny whiteness'.
The suggestion that the fictional character, Eva, "can create a good effect out of nothing" is surely every domestic goddess's dream. Don't we all want to create a home environment that looks 'wealthy' purely through the careful cultivation of the right details?
Although the fragrances in the bathroom aren't described in this brief extract, there are constant references to cooking, tastes and smells thoughout The Master Butcher's Singing Club. So much of life is unspoken and undiscussed. Sadly, perfume and smells very much fall into this unmentioned category. However, our senses of touch, feeling and smell have such a huge impact on our appreciation of life, that's it's verging on tragic that we don't pay more attention to them.

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Perfume and Fragrance in Literature + review