Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

by Kristopher Cook
Time to Read: 5 minutes

Published in 1985, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer tells the tale of just that.

Synopsis

Grenouille is born in Paris during 1738, where his mother immediately tries to leave him behind. She’s subsequently arrested for infanticide and executed, leaving Grenouille an orphan.

During several fostering periods he’s passed from pillar to post, with several making reference to his lack of smell (body odour).

However, Grenouille has a special gift. He’s able to smell the many scents around him; not just the rotten fruit or the sewage but distinct smell of human sweat.

Thinking he’s smelt and memorised, every smell there is, he stumbles across an entirely new phenomenon; the scent of a young virgin girl. Spellbound by the girl’s scent, he believes he must own it, strangling and killing her in the process.

Grenouille passes from Baldini’s Perfumery to Madame Arnulfi’s Perfume shop in Montpellier, learning the trade of perfumer as he goes.

Here he creates a scent that allows him, for the first time, to blend into society as a normal human being. The perfume makes him somewhat ‘invisible’ to those around him.

Grenouille realises he possesses the ability to develop a scent that will make him ‘superhuman’ and will affect those who happen to smell it, immediately changing how they feel about him.

He sets about creating such a scent, going on a serial murdering spree in order to gain the exact ingredients; the scent of a virgin.

Patrick Süskind

Often masked by secrecy, Süskind never gives interviews and much less talks about his own work, only doing so once in his self-written essay, ‘Amnesie in litteris’.

When speaking of his influences, he claims complete bliss as his memory is poor beyond repair. He barely remembers what he’s read and/or written along his way, hence the title ‘Amnesia in Literature’. He claims this is a fortunate side effect for a creative writer as it frees him up from any restraints he may have felt otherwise.

Nevertheless, Süskind still insists that nothing original can be written, thus crossing the plagiarism border regardless.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer remains his highest-selling book to date, with over 20 million copies sold worldwide, making it one of the largest-selling German novels of the 20th Century.

Is Grenouille’s sense of smell a gift or a curse?

In this essay, I’ll take a look at Scent and how it plays a role in influencing others. I’ll refer back to Perfume: The Story of a Murderer for further quotations and criticisms, as well as looking at other scientific sources along the way.

I believe that scent plays a huge part in people’s opinions.

Remember the last time you were in the office, that guy from accounting lent across you to show you the spreadsheet he’s working on? You catch a whiff of his rancid coffee infused breath and gag! Or the time you ordered garlic bread and became paranoid that you’d turn away the last of your friends?

It also works as an opposite.

You meet an attractive girl in a bar, you get chatting and before you know it you have her number. Did you ever consider that one of her main appeals was her scent? Probably not. You were too focused on her tits to pay any attention, but the truth is, fragrance has a huge role in people’s understanding/desires towards others.

Known as an ‘Olfactory Memory’ your sense of smell can also transport you back to a previous time. The sweet perfume sitting on Granma’s dressing table, the hot smoke of last year’s bonfire, the freshly baked bread of the local bakery.

No matter what the smell you can attest meaning to it.

One of the key starting points in Grenouille’s life is the scent of a new-born, or in his case, the lack of. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that he can’t smell. In fact, he can smell way beyond the average human.

The average person can detect at least one trillion distinct scents.

He can not only smell something from miles away, due to its lingering scent, but also store these smells in his memory. He can call upon them in the same way you would a memory, ordering them in his head and bringing them to the forefront when he needs.

Human Scent and Personal Odour

Like fingerprints, every person has their own distinct odour. The distinct odour you have comes from the same genes that determine tissue type.

Malaspina

Grenouille recognises that each individual has their own human scent. He begins to lusts for the perfect scent; not only one that will make him more human but a smell that will give him total power. One that’ll have people falling over themselves to be near him.

With Great Scents Comes Great Power

Fragrance can elicit many emotions; ranging from fear and desire to vigour and power. Perfumers use these emotions to their advantage.

Ever wondered why perfume ads are so vague?

Our sense of smell is the most evocative sense but it is often overlooked because we rely so much on what we see and what we hear.

Daily Telegraph

Well, there’s no way for them to let you smell it through the TV, so they convey the emotions that come with it instead. Often happiness, luxury and acceptance by the love of your life.

Grenouille not only creates a scent that makes him invisible, per-say but in the final chapters, one that turns an angry crowd into a mass orgy. Now I’m in no way stating that smell has that level of effect on people, after all this is fiction, but it goes without question that smell is prominent to our senses.

Citations

Press dossier Patrick Süskind. Diogenes Verlag Zürich, Stand November 2012

https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/incredible-facts-about-your-sense-smell/

Groot, J. H., Smeets, M. A., Kaldewaij, A., Duijndam, M. J., & Semin, G. R. (2012). Chemosignals Communicate Human Emotions. Psychological Science, 23(11), 1417-1424. doi:10.1177/0956797612445317

Bushdid, C., Magnasco, M. O., Vosshall, L. B., & Keller, A. (2014). Humans Can Discriminate More than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli. Science, 343(6177), 1370-1372. doi:10.1126/science.1249168

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