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Literary-cultural context of Perfume

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Joyce Wu

on 2 December 2013

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Transcript of Literary-cultural context of Perfume

Literary-cultural context of "Perfume"

Literary works that influenced "Perfume"
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Explores sins through a piece of art
Damned souls of early 19th century gothic literatures:
Dracula, Melmoth the Wanderer
Also feature themes of death and supernatural horror
Also satirize the aristocrats
Scents and irrationality of human behavior
"The world of scent, thought to be quite closed to human beings in comparison to many other animals, governs our actions more than we might suppose", posits Süskind.

Most of the time people make decisions through conscious choices and reasonings.
However, there are many factors of our surroundings that affects those reasoning unconsciously, such as the illusion of scent.
Patrick Suskind
Modern German writer
(born in 1949)
He had refused all interviews and any awards for his writing
"Perfume" was his first novel (published in 1985)
His works:
black humor
E.g. "Perfume" satirizes the actions of priests and the rich
Mainly focus on protagonists who are
social outcasts
(e.g. Grenouille in "Perfume" and the orchestral musician in "The Double Bass")
foundation-shaking existentialism
Grenouille tries to find meaning in his life by creating the ultimate perfume, but realizes that his life is pointless because this perfume can't make him "smell himself"
Linda Sze-To, Joyce Wu, Whitney Tso
Historical cross-genre novel
A combination of:
Magic Realism
The story focuses on death and evil, like other horror novels
It features the repulsive and horrible protagonist Grenouille (french word for "frog")
Grenouille's unnatural personality and his murderous actions frighten readers
Grenouille's goal in life was to create the
ultimate perfume
that would force every person in the world to love him
However, after he achieved that goal, he realized that:
He is the only person that realizes how his perfume works AND the only person that it cannot affect
The perfume
cannot make him "smell himself
" or give him a purpose to live
his life was meaningless and he had no reason to continue living
, he allowed himself to be eaten alive
Magic Realism
"Perfume" contains an
implicit criticism of society
, particularly the elite
Page 4 emphasizes that even the priest, the rich people and the king stank
Page 222 also shows that even the priest and the richest man couldn't do anything to stop Grenouille
The degree of realism varies greatly throughout the novel
Magical realism: Supernatural elements seem to be a natural part of the realistic environment
Both historical
realism and fantasy
are represented
Gives the novel a
framework of reality
that makes the reader less distracted from the fantasy narrative
The reduction of human beings to a bunch of odors is a
for the dehumanization of Grenouille
Based on actual historical background of 18th century France (mentions French revolution, king, etc.)
Includes entirely believable and almost painfully realistic episodes
E.g. Grenouille's childhood experiences (orphaned, ignored, beaten, tortured, punished and friendless)
Fanciful impossibilities including:
Grenouille's supernatural, unbelievable sense of smell
The absurd deaths of many characters (e.g. Baldini), almost as if they were "cursed"
Grenouille forcing tens of thousands of people to their knees, just with one drop of perfume
Grenouille being eaten alive by
a mob
synonym: detective fiction or crime fiction
Focus on
gritty realism
To be sure, Richis did not know what the murderer actually craved from his victims...
In any case, it seemed to him, as absurd as it sounded, the murderer was not a destructive personality, but rather a careful collector...
the magic that radiated from it would no longer be of human, but of divine origin. (P.g. 203)
Logical thinking/Reasoning
But the truth would never be discover because "he was not thinking in olfactory catergories"
puzzle and suspense elements:
Baldini's mystifying death (anathema)
Marquis de La Taillade- Espinasse never returned

the intention of Grenouille's muders still remain a
thrilling skepticism
to the people in his society
1. Imaginary Space
2. Feel pitiful for those unenlightened and those who fooled by fate
The belief of god is absent
JBG can decide his own faith/path with the perfume he creates
most-read German novel
since Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks
Literary influence: N/A
Suskind claims to be a blissfully ignorant epigone
he could not even remember the books and author he had read before
it frees him from the anxiety of influence and creates an uncomplicated relation to plagiarism
Black Humors

Jean Baptiste
(ironic: Saint John the Baptist)
Ridiculous endings
for Characters who involved in JBG's life:
Madame Gaillard-
->want to die but she couldn't
the tanner-->drowns in the Seine
-->sleeping smugly in his bed in his house with his great future plan and sank to the bottom of the river because of his haughty address
Marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse
--> went up to the top of a snow mountain with lightly clothed to prove his fluidum letale theory (arrogant/ conceited)
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