Today I have my first guest post! As you may be aware, as per a post I’ve written previously, I have another interest other than books: My fascination with scents which are not only limited to fragrance alone. It feeds my imaginations and the sense of smell is nothing sort of fascinating to me. If you are a book worm like me, you have to admit that one of reasons we love old books are not only because of their tattered beauty, but also the way they smell. The last classic I’ve read was a 1960s edition and I spent more time smelling the book than reading it.
I met Kristin in a fragrance forum that we both belong to and one day she posted pictures that drew my attention. It was pictures of her beautiful books that she paired with scents. Not only was I envious of her beautiful personal library, but I was intrigued. I spent a few minutes looking at her pictures trying to figure out her reasons behind pairing certain smells/scents with certain books. Which character in the book does she envision to smell like the scent she paired it with? So I asked her to let me in on her thoughts and analysis:
My earliest and most lasting love in life are books. If heaven forbid my house caught fire and all my family were safe outside, the firefighters would have to pull me kicking and screaming from my library frantically tossing armfuls of books out the windows. Reading for me is up there with food, water, and air to breathe-absolutely vital for my survival. I fell in love with perfumes at an early age as well. I loved sniffing my mother’s White Linen, my dad’s Polo, my grandfather’s Old Spice, and my grandmother’s Chloe. For my small self, these fragrances comforted and reassured me just like my tattered copies of Nancy Drew, the Narnia series, and Anne of Green Gables. I suppose for a perfume lover and a book worm, it became natural at some point to start wondering what my beloved heroes and heroines would choose to wear. Perhaps the book itself is evocative of a particular fragrance? Perhaps a story has me craving a certain scent to give me comfort, re-assurance, or allow me to sink deeper into the plot? I decided to choose some well-known classic novels and find the perfume(s) that in my mind best evoke the characters, plot, setting, and feeling of the books.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Jane possesses a quiet determination, intelligence, and a little bit of grit and fire that sees her through a loveless, solitary childhood and a tragic engagement and broken heart. The sad, love-starved Jane who loses her best friend and the love of her life wears Guerlain’s Apres L’ondee. Apres L’ondee combines rain-soaked iris, violet, and heliotrope into an exquisite fragrant sadness. I can think of no other more fitting perfume for the woman who wanders feverish and half-starved across the moors. But when love at last reigns supreme and Jane finally get to start her happy beginning with Rochester, she lays aside the tears and rain of Apres L’Ondee. She keeps that tall, quietly triumphant purple iris, adds a cluster of pink roses, and just a hint of Rochester’s soft leather gloves, and sprays on Chanel’s 28 La Pausa.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Was there ever a novel that better personified excess, frivolity, and depravity? The love triangles, the scandals, the lavish parties, the moral ambiguity, and the yawning gap between the very very rich and the very very poor to me are redolent of perfumes that leave a trail of sparkling florals with a walloping dose of nasty just below the surface. Perfumes that contain the fizzy champagne pop of aldehydes, like Chanel No. 5 and Lanvin Arpege, would be perfect in the era of Speakeasys and bathtub gin. A more modern take on a twenties flapper would be Etat Libre d’Orange Jasmin et Cigarette, which is exactly what it claims to be. Sweet, almost indecent jasmine with a touch of cigarette smoke to muddy up an otherwise innocent fragrance. I can see Daisy Buchanan leaving traces of this scent on Jay Gatsby’s beautiful shirts. And lastly, the air at Gatsby’s over-the-top parties would be thick with Molinard Habanita. Not for the faint-hearted, this is brimming with leather, smoke, face powder, and just a touch of fruit and flowers from the buffet table. This is bold, unapologetically old-fashioned, aloof, and hard to pin down, perhaps not unlike Gatsby himself.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The quintessential sprawling epic of the Civil War, but the true heart and soul of the book is Scarlett O’Hara. We watch her grow from spoiled, selfish, love-foolish Southern belle holding court at the local barbecues and balls into a tough as nails, determined woman who will stop at nothing to hold on to the war-ravaged Tara and the man she finally recognizes as the love of her life, Rhett Butler. Scarlett and the entire book absolutely reek of lush, buttery, sweet white flowers. You can practically smell the tuberose, gardenia, and magnolia just turning the pages. Scarlett O’Hara is a Piguet Fracas woman for sure. Fracas is the queen of tuberose fragrances. Floral, sweet, creamy, and one or two squirts will last for days on a certain green velvet dress cut from curtains. Scarlett mentions many times smelling lemon verbena on her mother and I think Chanel #5 Eau Premiere or Vero Kern Mito have just the softness combined with the tart lemon to suit Ellen O’Hara perfectly. Melanie Wilkes is so sweet and innocent, I doubt that she’d wear anything that Ashley didn’t give to her, but I’d scent her with some light and gentle rosewater or perhaps a squirt of Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose on a handkerchief.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When I think of Sherlock Holmes the first thing that comes to mind is that magnificent none-too-tidy study of his that encompasses all of his passions and pursuits. In my mind there’s a red velvet sofa, sagging leather armchairs, battered oriental rugs layered on top of old creaky floorboards, well-thumbed books on dusty bookshelves, richly patterned wallpaper covered over by tacked-up newspaper clippings, a smoking fireplace, tins of tobacco, yesterday’s untouched dinner left by Mrs. Hudson, pots of tea, and a certain often-played violin standing in the corner. The room itself smells smoky, woody, spicy, slightly dirty, and lived in, much like Piquet Bandit or Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque. Bandit’s primary impression is a sharp leather with a base of civet and oak moss to add a touch of earth and just a hint of skin. Fumerie Turque is a high quality honey-sweet tobacco with a touch of suede and patchouli. I can also envision Irene Adler vacating that velvet sofa, wafting Guerlain’s Mitsouko, the spice-soaked peach chypre classic, while Doctor Watson quietly takes notes in the leather chair wearing the gentlemanly Guerlain Vetiver. Holmes himself would never wear fragrance as it would interfere with his many disguises and investigations.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” From the very first line begins a book of dreams. The dream of romantic love by an innocent, sheltered young woman. The dream of a second-chance at love and life by a sophisticated and jaded man. The dream of a beautiful centuries-old estate on the edge of the Cornish coast. The dream of the perfect, lovely, and much-loved first wife. The dream of a twisted and obsessed housekeeper of her flawless and irreplaceable Rebecca. Early in the book, the second Mrs. De Winter laments the fact that she can’t bottle memories and keep them forever like a perfume that she can uncap and inhale to re-live a treasured memory. Mrs. De Winter’s perfume can be nothing except Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, an exquisite powdered bouquet of violet and iris that seems to change with each wearing. Some days it is gray, melancholy and hopeless and at other times it sweetens and the flowers bloom and the sun peeks ever-so-slightly through those gray clouds. Rebecca’s perfume is dark, heavy, unique, and slightly sinister. Blood-red roses and earthy patchouli, like Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady or L’artisan’s Voleur de Roses are perfect for the mysterious woman who inspires such passionate love and hate.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. This single line serves to tidily sum up the plot, but this book is so much more than match-making and husband-hunting. The characters live and breathe, the witty one-liners zing back and forth. Don’t we all know a Jane, a Lydia, a Wickham, or a Mrs. Bennett? And how many who read this fancy themselves Lizzie falling reluctantly but steadily and most-assuredly fathoms deep in love with the leading-est man of them all, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy? A houseful of so many unique women deserves a silver tray filled with perfumes resting on a vanity. The lovely Jane, so beautiful and kind-hearted, would reach for Dior’s Diorissimo. This classic lily of the valley fragrance is like stumbling across a plot of the delicate bell-like flowers growing in a sunny spot in a forest. Kitty and Lydia are all about what is fashionable, trendy, and popular. Between the two of them, they could have started the trend of sweet, candied patchoulis that are currently so popular 150 years early. Aquolina Pink Sugar, Juicy Couture, or the very latest hot pink celebrity scent would be sprayed in clouds over those demure dresses. Mrs. Bennett would need a fragrance outspoken, slightly frivolous, and forthright to match her overbearing personality. The trumpeting blast of the creamy, sunshine yellow tuberose found in Givenchy Amarige, Mackie by Bob Mackie, or that 80’s powerhouse Giorgio would be a perfect match. Lizzie would bypass the innocent flowers, sweet patchoulis, and the bold white flowers of her sisters and mother. Her fragrance is grounded in the rain-soaked hills and forests that she traipses around her home. Yves Saint Laurent Y, a classic with a green composition of galbanum, oakmoss, and aldehydes, or Chanel Cristalle’s twist of lemon with it’s grass and flowers would definitely appeal to Lizzie’s independent, witty, and thoughtful nature. Mary would never own perfume. Fragrances would be entirely too frivolous and silly to maintain the stoic and pious airs that she likes to wear. But when no one is looking, she would dash up the stairs and take whiffs of the fragrances on that silver tray. I have a feeling Mary would prefer the Pink Sugar.
Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy. Sweet, innocent, lovesick Tess! Definitely a heroine more sinned against than sinning, her life takes a tragic, heartbreaking turn the day her impoverished family sends her to claim kinship with the wealthy and ruthless D’Ubervilles. Throughout the book, Tess maintains an almost childlike naivety and innocence that sends her straight into the gaping jaws of those more ruthless and selfish than herself. Over the course of the book, she grows from a sweet innocent child dancing in a hayfield into a heartbroken woman who at last meets her fate with a bittersweet happiness because at long last she has her beloved Angel. With her beauty, honesty, and optimism, Tess would smell as sweet as the strawberries she is fed by Alec D’Uberville, with a touch of cream. Hanae Mori and Miss Dior Cherie both possess that woody strawberry sweetness that would so perfectly suit Tess. Another option would be Parfums de Nicolai Kiss Me Tender, an almond and heliotrope perfume whipped through with vanilla.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. This book is a masterpiece of written emotions. Jealousy, ambition, thwarted love, revenge, and atonement interweave throughout a large cast of characters and sub-plots. Trusting and guileless, Pip is unknowingly used as a ploy in other people’s plans. Miss Havisham wants to seek revenge on all men after her heart is broken on her wedding day and the escaped convict Magwich seeks to atone for past sins and wants to reward the one person who was kind to him. Miss Havisham also uses the coldly beautiful Estella to become the object of unrequited love for poor Pip. Pip is a ship in a storm buffeted by the emotions and machinations of the waves surrounding him. I see the book in varying shades of gray, green and white. Miss Havisham, in her tattered graying wedding dress (once white), molding wedding cake, and jealous heart would wear Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew, a bold and assertive perfume of amber, spices, and smoke with a trace of yesterday’s beauty and glamour. Estella has been shaped and molded into an aloof and heartless woman who uses her beauty to devastation would wear Chanel 19, a glimmering green iris, rose, bergamot and leather blend. At first sniff, it’s cold and distant, but underneath the shivering greens is a barely-there pink rosebush warmed by the sun.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This is the classic story of four sisters and the bonds that hold them together despite differences in character, hardship, love, loss, and of course the Civil War. Who didn’t read this book growing up and long to act in one of Jo’s plays, toss a snowball at Laurie, or sit around the fireside in the comforting presence of Marmee? Sweet Meg, who longs to wear pretty dresses and dainty gloves, fall in love, and have a family and home of her own would love Jean Patou’s Joy. The combination of jasmine, rose, and civet personify the loving and safe embrace of a wife and mother-feminine and floral, with a touch of hidden warmth buried beneath the flowers. Shy gentle Beth with her love of music and home would be drawn to the hidden flowers of the forest, like violets, wild hyacinths, and bluebells. Penhaligon’s Bluebell or Borsari’s Violetta di Parma would be perfect dabbed behind her ears. Amy the artist, globe-trotter, and eventual Mrs. Laurence is the sophisticate of the sisters. Guerlain’s Shalimar has the right flair of exotic French chic with it’s bergamot, citrus, and vanilla to stand out among the more traditional floral perfumes. Lastly Jo, the outspoken, ambitious, hair-selling, non-conformist who eventually achieves her dream to become a writer would eschew smelling like a flower. She would be drawn to something woody, earthy, and smoky with just a hint of rose that would let her imagination roam to far-off lands she so desires to see while at the same time reminding her of her Yankee roots. Amouage Epic Woman is all those things with a dash of incense and a warm cup of tea added to the mix. It is contemplative, confident, and adventurous with a definite story to tell for those willing to take the journey.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Anyone who picks up this book expecting a romantic love story is in for a shock. Cathy and Heathcliff love in such a way that warps, mutilates, and demolishes everything and everyone that crosses their path, including themselves. In love and best friends since childhood, somehow they manage to miss the opportunity to be together. Cathy puts class and social-climbing ahead of her heart and kills any humanity and kindness remaining in Heathcliff. Henceforth their intense unhappiness and bizarre love/hate relationship destroys many innocent people who unwittingly get tangled in their warped passion. Cathy would smell wild and untamed, of the saddle on her horse, the heather in her hair, and the mud on her boots. Chanel Cuir de Russie brings together aldehydes, leather, and flowers while Reminiscence Patchouli evokes wet earth with a slight sweetness. Isabella Linton would reach for Balmain Jolie Madame, not because she likes it, but because she hopes the leather, earth and flowers will make Heathcliff fall in love with her. While the fragrance would mostly be chosen in imitation of Cathy, the note of sweet violet is indicative of Isabella’s delicate, sensitive nature. Heathcliff undoubtedly wears CB I Hate Perfume and Alan Cumming’s Cumming, a fragrance of leather, rich soil, whiskey, pine, and tobacco.
For me, fragrance enhances my reading experience. I much prefer doing my book-browsing in a second-hand bookstore and being surrounded with the smells of old paper, ink, coffee, dust, and polished wood rather than stepping into a brand-new sparkling chain store. I would join the strike with Meg Ryan to save The Shop Around the Corner from Fox Books in a heartbeat. Much like a used book retains some of the personality of the people who have read it before, finding the right fragrance for a book in my mind reveals a depth and realness to the characters and story. It gives it history, place, and personality. The characters leave the page and walk beside me, just out of sight. But I can smell their perfume.
Written by Kristin Szalay
Thank you so much Kristen for writing this for me. I enjoyed your writing and your insights. A lot of thought went into it and your passion for analyzing the characters in this unique and interesting way was a joy to read. When I read Rebecca by Du Maurier I felt sorry for her, I wanted to hug her. Next time I read this book I will envision what she smells like if I were able to. If you ever decide to write your own blog I would be reading it regularly and with great interest!
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All images are the author’s own pictures
First image source here