Monthly Archives: March 2017

Dorian Gray’s Perfume

Dorian as physical perfection on a summer day.

Dorian as physical perfection on a summer day.

Some writers set the scene of a novel with visuals, others like to give us a sense of how their characters feel, as in the ghost’s cold little hand at the beginning of Wuthering Heights, but Oscar Wilde decides at the very beginning of The Portrait of Dorian Gray to tell us how things smelled.

“The studio was  filled with the rich odor of roses,” the novel begins,” and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate scent of the pink flowering thorn.” It’s a very odd way to begin a novel.  Possibly Wilde felt that if you know how a place smells you know automatically how it looks and that a long description is  therefore unnecessary.

Instead Wilde continues his olfactory description. Lord Henry Wotten is lying on “Persian saddlebags” which implies a smell of old wool, and is smoking cigarettes, so a nicotine haze blurs this atmosphere. Through the  open door come more flower fragrances, laburnum  in bloom, and the flowering woodbine, which are just other names for gold chain trees and honeysuckle. Continue reading

At Hello

The coup de foudre isn't common even with perfumes

The coup de foudre isn’t common even with perfumes

There is a quote about perfume, and for the life of me I can’t remember to whom it’s attributed, but the translation is, “Perfume should be like love, it should strike a person from the very first contact.” Which is a pretty fair description of infatuation.

This is one of those experiences perfume lovers are always on the lookout for and enjoy inordinately when they do happen.  How often though does it really strike?  In my own case I have to say very few times.

Continue reading

Witchhazel Witchcraft

Witch hazel "Primavera" from

Witch hazel “Primavera” from

March has come and with it high winds and unpredictable weather.  In my neck of the woods the witch hazels are in bloom.  They are one indispensable part of this very early spring season, a harbinger of the end of winter. They give  a touch of color to nearly bare flower gardens.  Once you see a well grown little tree festooned with its party blowout flowers, you are intrigued, but when you smell their  fragrance you are hooked.

Yesterday I drove some twenty miles to a specialist nursery in Hamden CT.  (Broken Arrow Nursery, and no, I’m not affiliated) which has quite a selection of witch hazels.  I wanted to see them in bloom and breath in, because I knew that the fragrance was going to be a big part of my decision. Continue reading

Musk and Victoria

Victorian looking soulful and wearing a sapphire. Winterhalter is the painter

Victorian looking soulful and wearing a sapphire.
Winterhalter is the painter

Sometimes the Victorians are good fun.  Not intentionally fun, you understand  because they took themselves pretty seriously. They’re fun in the sense that they are always jostling one another to take home first prize in the propriety contest.  That competition was such a feature of the 19th century, “I’m really much more respectable than you dear.”  The losers were not respectable, and their behavior was not in good taste, or “not for common consumption”, as my mother used to say.

Well it seems that Victoria herself came in for some criticism from those dreaded taste doyennes of the 19th century: parisiennes.  You see the queen had musk in her perfume. Continue reading