Literature and olfaction  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
thematic literary criticism, olfaction

"Mon âme voltige sur les parfums comme l'âme des autres hommes voltige sur la musique" is a phrase attributed to Charles Baudelaire. The first time it appeared in print was in an article on Baudelaire by Théodore de Banville in the journal 'L'Artiste', published on the first of January 1868. Théophile Gautier cites it in his préface des Fleurs du Mal.

A translation is "My soul hovers over perfumes as the souls of other men hover over music!"

Just as Émile Zola before him, Baudelaire was obsessed with smell, evident from such poems as "Le Chien et le Flacon".

The sense of smell in the work of Baudelaire has already been noted in Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 4, the work of British sexologist Havelock Ellis:

It is certain also that a great many neurasthenic people, and particularly those who are sexually neurasthenic, are peculiarly susceptible to olfactory influences. A number of eminent poets and novelists--especially, it would appear, in France--seem to be in this case. Baudelaire, of all great poets, has most persistently and most elaborately emphasized the imaginative and emotional significance of odor; the Fleurs du Mal and many of the Petits Poemes en Prose are, from this point of view, of great interest. There can be no doubt that in Baudelaire's own imaginative and emotional life the sense of smell played a highly important part; and that, in his own words, odor was to him what music is to others.


Baudelaire on connecting poetry with cooking and cosmetics

Que la poésie se rattache aux arts de la peinture, de la cuisine et du cosmétique par la possibilité d’exprimer toute sensation de suavité ou d’amertume, de béatitude ou d’horreur, par l’accouplement de tel substantif avec tel adjectif, analogue ou contraire. -- Baudelaire, projet de préface pour la seconde édition des Fleurs du Mal (1859),[1]
"That poetry is like the arts of painting, cooking, and cosmetics in its ability to express every sensation of sweetness or bitterness, of beatitude or horror, by coupling a certain noun with a certain adjective, in analogy or contrast" --translation by Marthiel Mathews, Jackson Mathews

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

In Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, a 1985 novel by German writer Patrick Süskind, the sense of smell and its relationship with the emotional meaning that scents may carry is explored.


See also

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