Perfume Part one Patrick Suskind Age of Reason or The Enlightenment

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Perfume Part one

Patrick Suskind

Age of Reason or The Enlightenment

  • A period of time where Science ruled – rational thought and logic were held superior to emotion. 17th and 18th Centruy (Mid 1600’s to 1700’)

  • Proliferation of education – common man able to read and develop

  • Perfume mocks the age of reason – the belief that everything could be understood through logic and rational thought. This mocks the Scientific advancement and push that believed all mysteries of the world could be known through this belief.

  • This is before the Romantic period which was a reaction against the Age of Reason also known as the Enlightenment period.

Bourgeois (person) Liberal Revolution

  • During the time when Grenouille lives--the mid-18th century--France is in the beginning stages of what is called the Bourgeois Liberal Revolution (Guerard 151). The old feudal chaos had been put into some kind of organization, and while the aristocrats still had great power and prestige they were not the primary controllers of government. Nor was the king, who still ruled "by divine right"--nor the church, nor the magistracies.

  • The bourgeoisie (the middle class, mostly consisting of merchants and artisans – the caste) had made so much money during the first half of the century that they were now in a position to dictate much of the government's policy, especially those policies which governed daily life and trade. There was also significant social fluidity during this time--the old castes were more porous--so particularly successful bourgeois, for instance, were able to buy or be granted titles.

  • It is important to note that it was easier to be upwardly mobile in Grenouille's time than it would be a generation later. Nearer to the French Revolution there was a reactionary movement, (Guerard 153), and Grenouille's rise from foundling to journeyman parfumier would have been far more difficult in those later years.



  • Perfume presents the idea that love is a trick, emotion is a trick that can be created and not necessarily real. When you wear perfume you (in a sense) are baptized or inducted into the spirit of the creator – in Grenouille inducted into the spirit of evil and maniacal ways.

  • All of Perfume’s characters that take in Grenouille have a conniving side -

  • Make sure to jot down what the characters do and the persona they present versus the part that makes them ‘conniving’. Madame Gaillard is the first person who takes him in, Monsier Grimal, Baldini…

Realism vs. Fantasy

  • he degree of realism, too, varies greatly in the novel, with entirely believable and almost painfully realistic episodes (such as the sad story of Grenouille's childhood) juxtaposed with fanciful impossibilities, such as Grenouille's supernatural sense of smell. That the gritty realism is put next to seemingly silly fancies serves several purposes, most of all giving the story a framework of reality which makes the reader less distracted from the fantasy narrative. Since a person like Grenouille could exist with a heightened (though perhaps not as heightened as described) sense of smell, the premise of the story has enough reality to anchor it for the reader, while making the extremities of fantasy a flourish and even a metaphor rather than integral to the plot. That such things as in this story could happen, overall, is certain. An abused and friendless orphan coud easily become a depraved fetishist and murderer, especially during a time in 18th-century France when law enforcement was underdeveloped. That such a murderer would have a sense of smell more acute than any bloodhound is not absolutely necessary to the progression of the plot, however. Thus the characteristic becomes something of a metaphor: the reduction of the human being to a function of their odors is perhaps a metaphor for the dehumanization of the unwanted orphan Grenouille.

Themes/motifs and elements in the novel

  • 1. Sensory perception

  • 2. Love (romantic, filial, platonic)

  • 3. Death

  • 4. Black Humor

  • 5. Misanthropy

  • 6. Asceticism

  • 7. Religion

  • 8. Science

  • 9. Age of Reason

  • 10. Dehumanization

  • 11. Empathy

  • 12. Destruction

  • 13. Obsession

  • 14. Children’s Rights

  • 15. Society

  • 16. Sexuality

  • 17. Abomination / Monsters

  • 18. Deception

  • 19. Justice

  • 20. Bourgeoisie Liberal Revolution

  • 21. Enlightenment

  • 22. Apprenticeship

  • 23. Identity

  • 24. Christianity / Christ Motif

  • 25. Hubris

  • 26. Postmodernism

  • 26. Intertextuality


  • 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. This idea provides, for many readers, an entirely new intellectual inquiry into one's public persona. It leads one to ask, "Does my own scent, consciously or unconsciously perceived by others, govern how people act toward me? Is my scent unique?" In the world of Grenouille smell certainly affects others, for he is able to elicit the most extreme reactions from people just based on the scents he creates.

  • This novel thus can also reveal or explain something of the irrationality of human behavior. To the extent that we believe we make most of our decisions about others using reason and conscious choice, the existence of prejudices based on smells perceived unconsciously throws this view into chaos. This kind of foundation-shaking existentialism is a powerful feature of Süskind's work.

rue aux Fers and rue de la Ferronnerie

Cimetiere des Innocents

Types of Imagery to explore

  • Visual: to evoke a picture in the mind – visualizing an event, character, setting, etc.

  • Olfactory: to evoke a sense of smell – being able to imagine the smells that exist around you.

  • Auditory – sound

  • Gustatory – taste

  • Tactile – sense of what something feels like (touch)

  • Organic – internal status like feeling so hunger, physical pain.

Imagery Continued…

  • Kinesthetic - Kinesthetic imagery can be further divided into: sense of touch, temperature, movement, and feelings.

  • Touch - imagine the feelings of: Standing barefoot on a sandy beach

  • Temperature: Sunlight falling over your arm

  • Movement - feel yourself engaged in an activity: Swimming

  • Feelings - what does it feel like in your body to be:Peaceful, Angry

Creating titles for a chapter or multiple chapters:

  • Please create a title for each chapter - that would point to the heard of its significance.

  • For examples chapter One might be: The Birth of Scent or Abomination Born

  • Chapter 31-33 might be: Impersonation

Chapter One

  • Comment on the tone established in the opening paragraphs, especially in relation to the following:

  • “one of the most gifted and abominable personages”

  • “a domain that leaves no traces in history”

  • Word choice: blackguards, arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, wickedness

  • The second paragraph is especially effective in describing the awful smells found in major cities in 18th century France. What is the purpose of the repetition of ‘stank’ and ‘stench’? Write down the denotation of stench. What are the connotations?

  • Regarding the fourth paragraph:

    • Rarely does a novel begin with such a graphic, “in-your-face” description. Does this paragraph draw you into the novel or repel you? Or both? Explain briefly.
  • From “Tumult and turmoil” to “decapitated at the place de Greve”:

    • Why do you think Suskind moves to the present verb tense in this section?
    • The mother is “tried, found guilty of multiple infanticide, and . . . decapitated.” Why is this information related to us in such a matter-of-fact tone?

Chapter one

  • Re-read the third paragraph. Why do you think Suskind introduces death early in the novel? What does this paragraph tell us about cultural attitudes towards death in 18th century France?

  • Paragraph Four- A baby is born – an unlikely protagonist. Remember that the term protagonist refers to the character who faces some sort of obstacle – it’s not necessarily the “hero” or “good guy”. Consider the protagonist’s name: Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Breaking it down, we see that the first name alludes to John the Baptist and the surname is French for “frog”. Comment on the possible significance of these name choices.


Jean Baptist Grenouille

  • What is in a name?

  • Jean – Baptist – was a saint who let a movement of baptisms in the name of Jesus Christ and God to be freed from original sin.

  • Jean-Baptiste" means John the Baptist. Grenouille’s mother, who worked at the fish market, didn't bother to name him and was executed soon after his birth. Since only baptized children were accepted into orphanages, an officer called La Fosse decided to let him be christened at the Saint-Merri cloister. 'Grenouille' means 'frog' in French. Frogs are cold-blooded, which Grenouille is also said to have been in the book. Frogs hibernate and survive on what they've stored within themselves, which hints at Grenouille's 'living' on his olfactory memories during his 7 years in a cave. This name may have many relations to the plot, such as the way in which Grenouille 'leaps' from person to person on his journey to create the perfect perfume.

Chapter TWO

  • Character development: compare/contrast Jeanne Bussie with Father Terrier. In your DnB display some of your understanding of these two characters based on what they say and do in Ch. 2. Include direct quotes for each character with an explanation of what each quote reveals.

  • Smell – discuss the smells linking to certain diseases that Father Terrier mentions – what is the difference between the smell he mentions and Jeanne Bussie’s attempt at explaining what babies smell like. List the olfactory images she provides (there are 5).

  • Discuss how this use of olfactory imagery to describe babies makes us question the baby Grenouille.

Chapter Three and Four

    • What makes the infant Grenouille so horrifying to Father Terrier? What makes the theologian so ashamed?
  • What are the life-and-death hazards of eighteenth-century France, and to what level do they reduce the value of human life?


  • Discuss the “tick” imagery and think about what it says about the protagonist of the story. Why is this analogy used? What does it reveal about his character?

Madame Gaillard

  • Madame Gaillard lacks humanity and emotion, which was the prevailiant belief of the time period.

  • She represents that belief of the Age of Reason/Enlightenment through her logical set of goals. What were her goals?

  • How does her end mock this ‘Age of Reason’ and her logical/rational goals/thoughts for her end?


    • How would you describe Grimal’s character? What values does he hold dear?
    • How does the use of imagery to describe Grenouille foreshadow his future as someone to fear? Again in this chapter we are introduced to the image of the tick – how does this link?

Chapter eight

  • We are introduced to the idea of innocence and this is done through the sense of smell. How is innocence described?

  • What is the significance of ‘He, in turn, did not look at her, did not see her delicate, freckled face, her red lips, her large sparkling green eyes’ (42)?

  • Is Grenouille a born monster or was he made into one by society and circumstances? Be specific and provide quotes to support your view.

  • What motivates Grenouille to commit his first murder? What does he discover about himself and his destiny after he has killed the red-haired girl?

Chapter nine and ten

  • Note the representation of Baldini and his shop. What are our impressions?


  • Why might perfume be so crucial in this society?

  •  What is Baldini’s attitude towards his profession? What has happened to him? What is the difference between an artist and a craftsman?


  • What is ironic about how Baldini views himself?

  •  What is Baldini’s attitude to the features which we recognise as Enlightenment values? Can we list these values? (eg speed, novelty, discovery…)

Psyche and amor – chapter 12

  • Psyche is the ancient Greek word for soul or life. The soul was personified in ancient iconography as a goddess with butterfly wings (because psyche is also the Greek word for 'butterfly').

  • Read the story of Psyche and Amor (Cupid).

  • What is the relevance of the name of the perfume to the larger message of the story? In what way might Grenouille’s improvement on it foreshadow events to come?

Chapters 12-15

  • Psyche is the ancient Greek word for soul or life. The soul was personified in ancient iconography as a goddess with butterfly wings (because psyche is also the Greek word for 'butterfly').

  • Read the story of Psyche and Amor (Cupid).

  • What is the relevance of the name of the perfume to the larger message of the story? In what way might Grenouille’s improvement on it foreshadow events to come?

  • Discuss the religious imagery that exists. Think about that in relation to the Enlightenment and what Suskind might be saying about both religion and Enlightenment.

What does Baldini experience when he smells Grenouille’s creation: the new,

and improved Amor and Psyche? What is being said about the sense of smell and music? Think about the imagery used to describe the power of perfume.

The Olfactory sense

  • Grenouille is born with a supernaturally developed sense of smell. He can smell the approach of a thunderstorm when there's not a cloud in the sky and wonders why there is only one word for smoke when "from minute to minute, second to second, the amalgam of hundreds of odors mixed iridescently into ever new and changing unities as the smoke rose from the fire" [p. 25]. He can store and synthesize thousands of odors within himself and re-create them at will. How do you interpret this extraordinary ability? Do you think such a sensitivity to odor is physically possible? Do you feel Süskind wants us to read his novel as a kind of fable or allegory? Why do you think Süskind chose to build his novel around the sense of smell instead of one of the other senses?

Chapters sixteen and seventeen

What is a tick? How does this continue image of the tick characterize Grenouille? Of What does Grenouille dream?

 How is Grenouille’s technique and in part Grenouille himself described in chapter 17? How have science and religious been juxtaposed within this chapter and what is the effect?

Look at the exchange which takes place here between Baldini and Grenouille. What are the motives of each character? How can we describe this relationship? (Parasitic??)

Chapter nineteen and twenty

What frustrates him about the distillation process?

  •  How is Grenouille’s suffering body described?


  •  Note Baldini’s ambitions: what is the relationship between art and celebrity?



These pages are rich with many interesting issues

  •  choose one to examine in depth!

  • Artistic theft/exploitation/parasitism/preying upon people and things;

  • The body: corpse and sickness imagery;

  • Distillation as a metaphor for extracting “soul”/secrets;

  • Relationship between the physical and the mental: intellectual anxieties expressed physically;

  • destruction and self-destruction; resurrection; preservation: keeping and returning;

  • the preternatural; the supernatural.

Food for thought

  • When the wet nurse refuses to keep Grenouille because he has no smell and therefore must be a "child of the devil" [p. 11], Father Terrier takes him in. But he is exasperated. He has tried to combat "the superstitious notions of the simple folk: witches and fortune-telling cards, the wearing of amulets, the evil eye, exorcisms, hocus-pocus at full moon, and all the other acts they performed" [p. 14]. In what ways can Perfume be read as a critique of the eighteenth century's conception of itself as the Age of Reason? Where else in the novel do you find rationality being overcome by baser human instincts?

  • Grenouille is introduced as "one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages" [p. 3]. Does Süskind manage to make him a sympathetic character, in spite of his murders and obsessions? Or do you find him wholly repellent? How might you explain Grenouille's actions? To what extent do his experiences shape his behavior? Do you think he is inherently evil?

End of Part One:

  • Do the descriptions of life in eighteenth-century France—the crowded quarters, the unsanitary conditions, the treatment of orphans, the punishment of criminals, etc.—surprise you? How are these conditions related to the ideals of enlightenment, reason, and progress that figure so prominently in eighteenth-century thinking?

  • . Religion

  • 2. Science

  • 3. Age of Reason/Enlightenment

  • 4. Children’s Rights

  • 5. Society

  • 6. Bourgeoisie Liberal Revolution

  • 7. Apprenticeship

  • 8. Christianity

Paper 2 questions

  • How valid is the assertion that literature is a voice for the oppressed?

  • To what extend do male and female characters accurately reflect the role of men and women in society?

  • The time and place where a literary work is set are of crucial importance to understanding the work as a whole.

  • How important is the ending of a work of literature?

  • The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe argues that “any good story, any good novel, should have a message”. Identify at least two works studied that have a clear message and suggest how that message is conveyed.

  • We often learn the best lessons through characters individual weakness?

  • What do you think of the assertion that the meaning of a text is fixed and does not change over time?

  • If beauty is a relative term, how does the text explore this idea? 

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