from Compound Interest
Archive for the ‘Book Perfume’ Category
I have recently disappeared down a rabbit hole of reading about, sampling and buying perfumes. I was already a bit of an addict, but when I hosted my book club last month, we read The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr, and it took me off on a journey to discover all kinds of new scents. This is not a cheap habit. I’ve ordered dozens of samples of fragrances I want to experience. I’ve discovered new loves. I’ve bought enough perfume that, believe it or not, I have stopped browsing in book stores because, really, I can only have one obsession in need of an intervention at a time. Friends have asked me if they should stage an intervention. Of course not. I’m not going into bookstores anymore, right? (Well, there was that quick trip into the Bob Miller….)
Both books and perfumes give me a down to the tips of my toes kind of joy, and it is really wonderful when my obsessions complement each other. When I read this passage about E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View from the wonderful How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, I knew just the perfume to go with the scene. Here is Ellis:
channelling Helena Bonham-Carter in the luscious Merchant Ivory film, I cultivated bird’s nest hair and set off for a month in Florence, just before my final year [of university]. I was there to learn Italian, but the classes at the fusty stuccoed British Institute were just in the mornings. The sun-drenched afternoons and the cool, lazy evenings were for awestruck wandering, gazing at frescoes and eating gelato. I tried to give myself up to beauty, as Forster advises. He sends Lucy to Santa Croce without her Baedeker guide, and at first she’s frustrated by not knowing which tomb is the most beautiful, which most praised by Ruskin. The church feels enormous, and cold. (It is.) Then suddenly ‘the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy.’ … A friend was passing through Florence, and we took the orange bus out to Fiesole, in the hills above the city. It’s in those hills, covered in violets, that George kisses Lucy. We made for the Roman amphitheatre and sat on the stage, and read out my play. He read the boys, I read the girls. We had the whole arc of honey-coloured stones to ourselves, the whole blue sky. Later I’d direct it in Cambridge and on the Edinburgh Fringe, but that afternoon in Fiesole was where it startled into life. At Fiesole, Lucy sees the violets and feels spring, really feels the sun and the flowers blooming and opening, and suddenly feels that she can see the world ‘beautiful and direct’–and then George kisses her. Because of Lucy, and because of Fiesole, I felt that too: that things were clearing, that I could see. (141-145)
I read that passage and got up to spritz myself with Room with a View by Christopher Brosius for C B I Hate Perfume before reading it again. Here is Brosius on Room with a View:
This perfume captures the scent of the hills above Florence – the vineyards, the wild grass, the finocchio, the hot dusty Florentine earth. And of course a torrent of violets.
And it does. Just as Ellis gets inspiration to write from Lucy and from the setting in which her fictional heroine feels, so, too, did Brosius create from the spring that Forster’s setting provides. He cites this passage as the inspiration for his perfume:
[Lucy] did not answer. From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems, collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion; the terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth.
Standing at its brink, like a swimmer who prepares, was the good man. But he was not the good man that she had expected, and he was alone.
George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who has fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her.
And there was I, smelling Brosius’s dusty earth and torrent of violets, rejoicing in Ellis’s seeing the world beautiful and direct.
London: Chatto & Windus, 2014.
Was there ever a book so meant for me to read? It’s been a long time since I’ve finished a book and wanted to get right to the computer to write about it, but this book gave me that wonderful sense of urgency. I must spread the word. Others must know how wonderful this book is.
I heard Samantha Ellis read from and discuss her book on The Guardian books podcast. I ordered the book right away, but had to wait for its publication date in Canada. It arrived this week. I devoured it in a day.
Ellis begins the book on the Yorkshire moors, with her best friend Emma, and they are arguing about who they’d rather be, Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. (Emma and I agree; Jane Eyre, of course.) Ellis is adamant that Cathy Earnshaw is the heroine for her. Emma has made her think, though, that she should revisit the question.
…. when we reached Top Withins, the skies cleared. The clouds vanished and the sun shone, as if this was the backdrop for some moment of revelation. Which it was. I was wrong.
My whole life, I’d been trying to be Cathy, when I should have been trying to be Jane.
As we leaned against the warm stone, basking–actually basking–in the sun, drinking flasks of tea, I wondered why I’d written Jane off. She is independent, and brave, and clever, and she really does stay true to herself. And while Cathy ends up a wandering ghost, Jane ends up happily married. The brilliant sunshine was very Jane weather, I thought; pleasant, clear and rational. It would have rained for Cathy, there would have been thunder and lightning. And (said a small, but firm Jane voice) we would have shivered and eaten soggy sandwiches hunched under the hoods of our waterproofs. …
I decided that when I got back to London, I would dig out my copies of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and read them again, with more scrutiny and less sentiment. I would find out how I really felt about Cathy and Jane. But maybe that wouldn’t be the end of it. After all, if I’d been wrong about Cathy, had I been wrong about my other heroines too?
And so begins 18 months of re-reading and writing about all of her favourite books and heroines. Ellis begins with fairy tales and works her way through children’s books, racy reads, “the classics” and classics of first and second wave feminism; from The Little Mermaid, to Anne of Green Gables, from Lizzy Bennet and Flora Poste, from Esther Greenwood to Lucy Honeychurch. She revisits, among many others, Louisa May Alcott, Barbara Pym, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Angela Carter. Having read and relied on these books and their heroines to shape her growing self, who, she asks, is the heroine she needs today.
The title is a nod to Louis May Alcott’s “She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain,” and this idea of reading spoiling not just one’s eyes and brain, but marriage prospects too, comes up often in the book. As an Iraqi Jew, whose parents fled to England as refugees, the marriage plot features heavily in Ellis’s own life. Her parents want her to settle down with a nice Iraqi Jewish boy, but Ellis chafes against the marriage plot both in life and in literature. She wants adventure, independence, a model for a writing life. Ellis herself is a playwright, and a huge appeal of her book is that she traces the fates of women writing in fiction.
There is a perfect balance of autobiographical material and discussion of the books on hand. Ellis is not just well read, she has a genuine desire to right by books and their authors. She is a generous reader, but totally unafraid of calling herself out or her beloved writers out for failing their own heroines. I loved her arguments with her younger self and with the authors who let their women writers sacrifice writing to marriage and children.
I loved every minute of reading this book. It went too quickly. I gobbled, as I often do, but this book sent me back for seconds, it sent me to my own bookshelves to pull down my own copies of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Cold Comfort Farm, The Bloody Chamber, To the Lighthouse, I Capture the Castle, and and and. It also sent me looking for books I haven’t yet read: Lolly Willowes and South Riding. It did, in other words, what all great books about books should do: it gave me the pleasure of revisiting old favourites and the joy of anticipating new reads.
Imagine: a monthly gathering of poets and perfumers whose crafts inspire one another. It happens. And out of those happenings, comes this anthology: Penning Perfumes. From The Guardian: “Poets wrote in response to mystery fragrances …, while perfumers created new scents based on poems written for the purpose.” I wish they had also created an anthology of the perfumes.
Read the Guardian article here.
It’s here. The book perfume by Karl Lagerfeld. Paper Passion. I am currently wearing Room with a View, which is inspired by the E.M. Forster novel, and smells like “the hills above Florence – the vineyards, the wild grass, the finocchio, the hot dusty Florentine earth. And of course a torrent of violets.” Ways to put books into bottles….
via Kerry Clare