Friday, 16 November 2012

The Proust Phenomenon

Last night at the Memory Network, we explored the work of the neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd who has disputed the idea - regularly rehearsed by Proust writers -  that the memories that emerge in the famous Madeleine cake passage of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu are involuntary. As Gordon’s daughter, the drama historian and literary scholar Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (University of Oxford)  explained, the memories of Combray don’t simply pop up from the tea cup as he tastes his tea-dipped cake.
The narrator is depressed by the gloomy weather and this makes him better disposed for the experience.  He follows a deliberate process to will the memory to rise by carefully spooning the tea-soaked cake to his lips. This creates a moment of joy and elation and a feeling of immortality.  The moment fades as he becomes desensitized to the flavours and he wills it to return. He clears his mind and attempts to pull the memory and emotions up from the depths of his mind, but it remains out of his grasp.  It is only after beginning again ‘ten times’ that the memory resurfaces. This extraordinary moment is the result of an ordinary, routine action of taking tea and cake, after a struggle of effort. The memories therefore are the result of 'metonymic expansion' that also draws on voluntary memory - something that I hope to understand better after reading Kirsten and Gordon's article!

The Memory network is an AHRC funded project to foster engagement with new critical perspectives from biosciences, psychology and computer science by exploring memory in literature.  It is researching memory, consciousness and cognition as a subject of literary-scientific enquiry.  After hearing from the Memory Network team we were invited to participate in a number of experiments – smelling various things to see if we could identify them, whether they inspired memories etc.   It was suggested by one of the panel that the problem of recognizing a smell and being unable to identify it may be due to the brain competing for the same resources for different uses at the same time.  Apparently, in the situation where you are struggling to name a smell it may be easier to write it down than to try to say it. 

I’ve come away from The Proust Phenomenon with a desire to read the madeleine passage much more carefully, to share my chapter on Sadakichi Hartmann’s perfume concert (in Art, History and the Senses, Ashgate 2010) with Kristin who has written on Paul Fort’s multisensorial performance experiments held at the Théâtre d’Art in the 1890s, and to try out my new party trick on you all....
Hold your nose tightly, pop a jelly bean into your mouth and start to chew.
What do you taste?    Salt, sweet and sour…
 Now let go of your nose.    Notice how all the delicious fruity tastes burst forth!
Remember our tongue detects salt, sweet, sour and bitter.  Much of the taste of food comes from its smell.
I’m looking forward to reading Kristin’s article ‘Madeleines and Neuromodernism: Reassessing Mechanisms of Autobiographical Memory in Proust’ published in Auto/Biography Studies published in Spring 1998 (vol 13, no 1) and to more @memory_network events.      
The only thing sadly missing was madeleines and tea.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Learning to write an academic book

Nearly every idea and scrap of information needed to write my book Scented Visions
is already in my head, my doctoral thesis, my files or on my bookcase. The process of transforming my PhD into a book is less about learning about smell in nineteenth-century art and much more about learning how to improve my writing and the structure of my arguments and to recognise the true significance of what I have to say.

Back in May, I wrote an article about the key things that I was thinking about in making the transition from a dissertation to a monograph. Having spent several hundred hours writing since then (around my job at Sotheby’s Institute), I have reached some new conclusions. I would love to hear from other academics about what they have learnt about their writing quirks and how they have made the transition from PhD to book, but here are my most recent discoveries.

Until recently I found it almost impossible to ask for help, but in the last few months I have found getting feedback on my writing from my colleagues incredibly helpful – leading me to realize that drafts that I thought were nearly finished were in fact anything but!  

One person who gave me feedback made me realize that in editing my work I have to listen to the little voice in my head much more. Almost every note that she had scribbled in the margins of my manuscript had flittered through my head at some stage already, only to be batted away as too difficult.  Now I know that I need to attend to even the vaguest of my doubts. My gut instinct is right.  Another colleague suggested that they would like me to give more of my Victorian quotes directly rather than in paraphrase - and this led me to realise that where this was the case, I was sometimes masking the fact that I was stretching a point further than the original text would allow for.

A third colleague made me realize that I had attended too much to luring the reader and thinking about what they might want to read about (something that I had very consciously set out to do) at the expense of laying down the building blocks of my argument. My introduction read as an excited “come with me and I will take you on a magical mystery tour and you will love everything I show you” rather than as a roadmap for the journey. This realization meant that I have just spent two weeks leave placing my work under anaesthetic and opening it up for major surgery to insert a much stronger backbone. I had previously thought of the piece as nearly finished, so the idea of cutting it open took all the courage I could muster, but it all came together again and is now much stronger for the changes.  

It seems to me that a kind of magic occurred during those two weeks. Sentences and paragraphs which I had long been very happy with, and which had locked into place, hard as toffee, suddenly became molten again, enabling me to get my spoon in and start moving things around or removing, as needed. I need to try not to get too attached to any one sentence or passage, as it may not be serving me in the wider context of the shape of the chapter. I realised that in places, I was holding on too tightly to certain ‘power quotes’ - fascinating, strongly worded and often seductive phrases by others that are highly relevant to my argument – but which were not allowing me the flexibility to mould my paragraph in the way that I needed. I have to put my voice up front more in order to better signal the direction of my argument. During my PhD I often thought of writing my thesis as like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle, fitting together all the wonderful research material that I have gathered. The problem with that approach is that it allows the material to be in charge – rather than me. I must set my agenda, and not let the lovely quotes take control!  Doing away with this jigsaw strategy allows me to mould my paragraphs my way, and not be tied to finding pieces that interlock. Does that make sense to anyone but me?!

Near the end of the two weeks there had been big improvements but something still wasn’t quite working and I decided to try something different that had worked for me once in the past. I printed out my chapter in a small font with single line spacing, one paragraph to a page, and trimmed the excess white paper. I then laid it all down on the hall floor, so that I could look at it differently, and feel free to move things around to see how they worked best. This brought a real breakthrough for me - leading to a new and better opening for the book.

I do still agree with most of what I wrote back in May, but I would suggest that those key points  be followed in moderation. For example, I wrote before that I was trying to convey more of my own character but since then I have done away with most of the ‘I’s’ and the more personal touches, because I am writing for an academic press. Thanks to one of my colleagues, I realise that in the interest of attempting to write for a wider academic audience, I had fallen into the trap of making my writing match the seductive quality of some of the Victorians that I cite! In fact my writing is stronger when it works a little less hard.

Developing the characters in my research more - even the 'bit part' ones, has however proved very successful.  For example, I quote various art critics who wrote about the idea of smell in nineteenth-century art. Previously, they had mostly been faceless names, who served me only in that they made comments pertinent to my argument. But I have found that even a little research into their lives has led me to make all sorts of relevant discoveries into their motivations, which can in turn strengthen my argument.

I expect I will be back in a few months, to say that this is all nonsense! It is certainly a learning curve and I see now that doing the PhD was only the beginning.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Pre-Raphaelites and the Olfactory Anti Camera

An early concept design
“Camera phones being as ubiquitous as they are, it’s common at any public gathering – firework display, festival, parade or sunset in a beer garden – to see a forest of arms raised above heads, awkwardly waving miniature, two-dimensional proxies of the spectacle ahead. Everyone with their arm in the air is not looking at the point of interest, but their own screen, carefully making sure they are ‘capturing’ every detail for some assumed posterity. The problem is, we become so distracted, busy trying to record these memorable events, that we’re actually missing out. Ironically, whilst making sure an imagined ‘future self’ has access to a tinny, shaky-cam approximation of what once occurred, we’re actually divorcing ourselves (our ‘current self’) from the moment, and any consequential sensory or emotional attachment.”Pan Studios

An experience-production company, Pan Studios have recently been wrestling with the problem of how to enable people to live in the moment, whilst also fulfilling the need to capture memory. One solution they have come up with is the Olfactory Anti-Camera. “The Anti-Camera doesn’t record …. Rather, it coerces our mind into recollecting the essence of a moment – something less tangible than an image can capture. The device is designed to tag a moment in time with a unique olfactory identifier code – a bespoke smell. Then, when wishing to recall the moment at their leisure, the user of such a device could recreate the unique smell.” The prototype contains three ‘magazines’ representing top, middle and bottom notes. Each of these three compartments contain a choice of 8 notes.  By choosing one note from each of the magazines, there are 512 possible scents that the user would be able to create. Whilst this may enable the sharing of similar memories, amongst others who were present at the original event, it will not enable the past to be captured for future audiences.

Despite this problem, I like to think that the Victorian sculptor, poet, critic and writer John Lucas Tupper would have seen the value of the olfactory-anti camera. In 1850, he observed in the Pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ, that some years previously, on his first visit to the British Museum, he had found the whole museum permeated with the smell of camphor and that this smell was ‘suggestive of things scientific or artistic.’ Years later a chance whiff of camphor had brought to his mind ‘the whole collection from end to end,’ starting with an enormous stuffed walrus. This prompted him to suggest the idea of attributing an artwork or museum object with a smell, in order to enhance not only the viewer’s memory of the piece, but perhaps also their reverence of the artistic or scientific importance of the piece. It leads me to wonder, could his call to artists and writers to ‘let a poem, a painting, or sculpture, smell ever so little of antiquity and every intelligent reader will be full of delightful imaginations’ have had some bearing on the Pre-Raphaelite interest in the depiction of scent in works such as Millais’s painting Autumn Leaves (1856) or Rossetti’s poem Lady Lillith?

Certainly, Tupper’s influence upon his peers at the Royal Academy schools , Holman Hunt, Millais and Rossetti has been undervalued. Eight years before the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood formed, he published an article in the American journal Crayon 1841, in which he wrote that “the painters before Raffaelle's time were better, i.e. more Christian, than Raffaelle himself; and that [Raphael] introduced the heathen element into modern art."

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Funky smells and the Victorians

Whilst I was writing up my PhD Scented Visions: The Victorian Olfactory Imagination, I had the amazing fortune to be able to live onsite for a year at The Watts Gallery in Surrey, the wonderful time-warp gallery dedicated to the Victorian artist G. F. Watts. One day, I was viewing the paintings with my friend (the Assistant Curator) and one of the Elders of the gallery - a patron or a trustee, I forget - who I had met for the first time that day. As we came to Watts’s painting Eve Repentant (one panel of a triptych) my dear friend announced, “Christina has a very interesting theory about this painting....”  Now this was acutely embarrassing to me, because I only have one tentative theory about this painting and it is that the chestnut leaves in the paintings may be a veiled allusion to the smell of semen - and thus to Eve's shame. The idea had come to me after I had found a few mentions in Victorian books on fragrant plants about Chestnut trees having this smell. Having joked about this to my friend, I was now in the unexpected position of having to relate this charming piece of information to this rather Victorian gentleman!

I seem to have a strange fascination for plants that have a human smell. For example at the Eden Project, you can currently find flowering The Titan Arum, often known as the Corpse flower because, when it finally gets around to flowering (it takes about 13 years), it stinks like rotting flesh. The Gingko tree apparently smells of vomit. Then there is Phallus Ravenelii – the Common Stinkhorn - a toadstool that smells of faeces. The phallus part of its latin name apparently comes from the fact that the stalk is supported by pressurized fluid rather than solid tissue, in a manner similar to an erection - well that and the way it looks, obviously! Apparently, Charles Darwin’s daughter Etty wished to protect the modesty of her maids by going out in to the nearby woods, ' nostrils twitching' on the hunt for these stinking phalluses!  When 'she caught a whiff of her prey' she would pounce 'upon her victim and and poke its putrid carcass into her basket' before burning it in 'deepest secrecy, on the drawing room fire, with the door locked.'   Gwen Raverat, Period Piece (1952).
Twentieth century ideas about Victorian prudity, come up again in Mitchell and Webb's crude but amusing comedy sketch about the scent of linden trees, in which Queen Victoria comments on their rather peculiar 'male' smell.     The joke for Mitchell and Webb is imagining Queen Victoria commenting on such a thing. But I just know that there WILL be Victorian and nineteenth-century popular and literary references to such smells, out there. Think for example of Des Esseintes' syphilitic orchids in Huysmann’s Against Nature or of La Sariette's fruit stall in Zola’s account of the Les Halles markets, in which the intoxicating scent seems to both evoke and provoke her sexual ripening. Much as the painter George Elgar Hicks, I believe, makes a joke about the putrid smell of fish and the sexual morals of fish wives in Billingsgate Market (1861), (something that would have been evident to Victorian readers of various commentaries on the sexual morals of London market stall holders and fish wives in particular), there are surely more smelly visual puns out there. Not from Queen Victoria though I suspect. I went through her online diaries the other day looking for references to smell and perfume, in the hope of being able to write a good Jubilee post, but disappointingly, it seems that apart from the occasional problem with the Palace drains and the odd gift of a scent bottle, she didn't have too much to say about odours, and nothing at all about linden trees! 

Monday, 14 May 2012

PhD to Monograph

What are the key differences between a Phd thesis and a book?
I'd love to know your thoughts on this.

For a long time, I didn't quite get what the difference between my PhD thesis "Scented Visions: The Nineteenth Century Olfactory Imagination" and my monograph "Art and Perfume: The Nineteenth Century Olfactory Imagination" would be. I read books like William Germano's From Dissertation to Book and the posts on PhDtoPublished but despite all the great advice I still felt some uncertainity, which made making the transition really hard. Lately, I think, it has started to click into place.

These are the things I am thinking about:

Persuading the reader that my book is worth reading – rather than that I am qualified to write it.

When I was writing my PhD (beautifully written as I like to think it is), I was desperate to prove to my supervisor and external examiners that I was smart enough to be awarded a PhD. But now that I have my PhD in hand (my thesis was awarded Birkbeck's Anne Humpheries Prize and I went on to undertake a 6 month postdoctoral fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre), I am assuming my readers will not doubt my credentials to write this book. This means I can relentlessly cut whole paragraphs of bullshit, literary review, the less interesting theory and many footnotes and much more can be said in my own voice, rather than relying on quotation of secondary sources. However, whilst I have no need to prove my academic authority there are so many other things my readers could be doing with their time, and for that reason I need to use all the tricks in the book to persuade my readers to keep on turning the pages! 

Widening my scope
Although I am not broadening the dates of my project (c.1850 - 1910), I am including more familiar material than I did in my PhD. In my PhD thesis I was very focused on producing original material to the point that I avoided the more well trodden domain like synaesthesia, Baudelaire and the more obvious smell art works/literature like Alma Tadema's The Roses of Heliogabalus or Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray. Now I see such works/themes as important for luring my readers and making them feel comfortable, before introducing new ideas/art works to them.

Including stories and developing characters
I am trying to incorporate more narratives, ensure that my chapters start with a hook and to bring to life more of the characters that appear in my research. What was it like to be Rossetti, living and painting in his Cheyne Row, Thames-side studio, during the height of the Great Stink?!

Imagining I am writing for an academic in another humanities department
I am aiming to produce a Uni Press book, but I want it to reach as wide an audience as is feasible, within the realms of possibility for a monograph by an emerging scholar. So I am imagining that my audience is cleverer than I am, but that because they work in a different department they know little about the subject.

Making my audience feel smart
As academics, writing for other academics, we want to appear smart. One way we achieve this is is by excluding from our writing anything we think might sound banal or apparent to our scholarly peers in our discipline. Now that I am writing for a wider scholarly audience, I cannot assume my audience knows anything much about the subject, but I certainly don’t want to talk down to them. This means I am careful not to say things like "The Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti" which would suggest that I think that the reader may not have heard of him. However, I do need to ensure that everyone is with me. So instead I might say something more subtle along the lines of “in common with the other Pre-Raphaelite painters, Rossetti…”  That way, I am suggesting… "of course, I know you know really, but I am just jogging your memory, or adding information as a by the way."
Thinking about what my readers might want me to refer to next whilst not being entirely audience driven
When I tell people my research they will invariably say one of the following:
·         Have you read Patrick Suskind's perfume?
·         Victorian London must have really smelt
·         Are you writing about synaesthesia?
·         I think smell is the most evocative scent

I know my readers want to read more about these areas and so I am aiming to at least touch on all these things within the first few pages. Once again the idea is to make my readers feel more comfortable as we move into less well-known territory.

Audience driven content versus shaping taste is an issue that we discussed at the Emerging Clore Leaders training programme with regards to arts programming. How do you get audiences to come to see art that is completely new to them?

Conveying something of my own character
To some extent, people will be interested in me as a writer. Therefore, I am aiming to make my personality more present in my writing. For example, I am sharing my passion for what drew me to researching smell in nineteenth-century art in the first place, and even including a couple of personal anecdotes about that.

Shedding much of the academic lexicon 
I am increasingly angry with academics who fail to give due consideration to the need to communicate their ideas simply and clearly – whether in an academic article, book, conference paper or when speaking to the wider public. I am against dumbing down ideas but I believe that communicators have a duty to help their readers/audience follow what they have to say.

I am hoping that I am getting better at writing plain English. As Director of Career Services at Sotheby’s Institute of Art and as the former Acting Head of Art History at Godolphin and Latymer School, I have written many A Level handouts and careers "how to guides," which I think have helped me to learn to state things more clearly than perhaps I did whilst I was a student. 

Building my platform
This blog and my linked tweeting (@artandperfume) is aimed at building my profile as an art historian writing about smell in art. In addition to giving conference papers I have also started giving some more popular talks and I will give details of these as and when they arise.  Although I haven’t pursued this I am also mulling on the fact that journalists need stories.

What I have missed?! Am I doing the right things in turning my PhD into a book?

Monday, 30 April 2012

Scent and Memory, Dementia and Ghosts

Imagine the aroma of roast chicken wafting into the living room, to remind you to get our of your arm chair and cook dinner, or being lured out of bed and into the kitchen, by the smell of bacon and eggs. 

Lizzie Ostrom spoke on the Today Programme (8.52 am) last week about her idea for applying the power of scent in a social care situation to reawaken appetite. According to Lizzie - @odettetoilette - one of the biggest problems of dementia is weight loss. Her innovation, Ode, is designed to stimulate appetite by releasing three mouthwatering aromas to to coincide with the user’s mealtimes. Whilst smell is often considered a luxury and the sense we could most spare, it can, as Lizzie is proving, be lifesaving.

I'd love to find out whether Victorian doctors came up with any similar inventions or wrote about smell as a combative to weight loss. It wouldn't surprise me all that much. Victorian physiologists wrote about how even thinking about a smell could trigger memories that ran along the same neural tracts as when the person had actually experienced that smell, and that since all the same physical responses were triggered, including salivation or nausea, the experience was really no different. 

Laundry smells revive memories of loved ones
Lizzie's invention inspired Anne Atkins to focus her next day's Thought for the Day (27th April) on the power of smell to trigger powerful reminiscences. She spoke for example of the potential of the scent of bluebells to bring back a memory of a lovers picnic in the woods or the aroma of a worn tshirt to conjure before us an absent loved one. For me the fragrance of Daz laundry power will always bring me close to my beloved, but now departed, nan.

But now I am talking like a Victorian Spiritualist. For seance goers, smells were imagined as a vehicle for telepathic communication between the dead and the living, acting as a bridge between the known range of human sensory experience and transcendental realms.

The Victorians were fascinated with the power of scent to stir the visual imagination, stimulating dreams and reveries, hauntings and hallucinations. Perfumes, it was widely held, bewitched the mind. They influenced dream imagery, roused the imagination and reawakened dormant memories of past scenes or surroundings. They created instant shortcuts to distant ages and exotic lands and raised the spectres of long-deceased loved ones.

This Christmas, I gave a talk at the Association of Art Historians Art History in the Pub event entitled "Scented Spectres and the Smell of Ghost", which explored Victorian ideas about the relationship between smell, memory, ghosts and visual hallucinations. Using fragrance sticks to accompany my talk and raise a few ghosts along the way, I discussed how the extraordinary immediacy and potency of smells for unleashing the visions of the mind’s eye held a particular imaginative appeal for popular Victorian writers. I recounted ghostly tales that draw upon a scientific interest in the power of scent to arouse memories and stimulate the mental faculty of visualisation. For Victorian ghost writers, unseen and intangible scents signified an almost unknowable presence hanging in the air, which altered moods and swayed emotions, endowing the ‘unseen world’ with a detectable, sensual presence.

Let's hope that through the scent of cooking, Ode, conjures only welcome ghosts and a pleasant change of mood.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Scents and Sensibility: The Fragrance of Decadence

“As perfume doth remain
In the folds where it hath lain,
So the thought of you, remaining
Deeply folded in my brain,
Will not leave me: all things leave me:
You remain.”
~Arthur Symons

The field of smell in 19th century art and literature certainly seems to be growing!  Indeed, I am meeting up with Dr. Catherine Maxwell to discuss the crossovers between my work on smell in 19th century art and her new book project on smell in 19th century literature.

Catherine is Professor of Victorian Literature in the School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London and has published widely on sight, aesthetics and decadence in Victorian Literature - and has made important contributions to scholarship on Swinburne and Vernon Lee. Her book Second Sight: The Visionary Imagination in Late Victorian Literature (MUP, 2008) sounds right up my street.

Catherine is giving her inaugural lecture on Tuesday 29th May 2012 at 6.30pm at Queen Mary University on the theme of Scents and Sensibility: The Fragrance of Decadence - and her lecture will be chaired by one of the kindest, loveliest academics I have ever met - Dr. Hilary Fraser from Birkbeck's English department.

About Catherine's lecture... This lecture examines perfume in decadent writing with special reference to two male authors Oscar Wilde and Arthur Symons, both of whom have a strong awareness of fragrance and present themselves as olfactifs, individuals with a refined sense of smell. Establishing the prevalence of references to scent and perfume in Wilde and Symons writing, I ask what purpose do these references serve and what do they signify? And, in answering these questions, I consider whether such references to perfume reflect the taste and use of the time, taking note of the scents liked or cultivated by both writers.

Tickets are free for the inaugural lecture - and can be booked here
Please let me know if you hear of smell-related lectures or events that you think I would be interested in!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Floral Asphyxiation - Death by Perfume

My own paper at The Society of Dix-Neuviémiste's conference on the Senses (held last week at Mary Immaculate College) explored the theme of Floral Asphyxiation in Nineteenth-Century Paintings and Literature.
In particular I examined a little known painting by the Victorian artist John Collier called The Death of Albine (1895).
The painting takes as its subject the bizarre suicide of the female protagonist of Zola’s novel, The Sin of Father Mouret (1875). In the novel, Albine, an innocent and uneducated village girl, fills her bed with flowers and suffocates, intoxicated under an intense cloud of scent.  She is heartbroken as her lover, the devout curate Père Serge Mouret has forsaken her – and returned to the cloth and his beloved idol of the Virgin Mary. In a scene of  frantic intensity, Albine plunders her beloved gardens of Paradou of all its blossoms, heaping great mounds of petals and blossoms about her room, until the bed is ‘completely buried …under hyacinths and tuberoses’ and the mattress ‘overflows on all sides’ with streams of flowers trailing to the floor.Only when the boudoir is decked with roses, violets, carnations, stocks, primroses, heliotropes and lilies - flowers of every kind - and she has sealed her tomb, cramming aromatic herbs into ‘every crack’ and ‘every hole in the door and windows’ does she arrange herself on her bed 'to die with the flowers'.
Collier’s painting has been languishing in Glasgow museums storage and had been widely thought by art historians to be lost, and known only by its reproduction in The Graphic of 1895. In its day, it was a very popular painting. It hung at the Royal Academy in the summer of 1895 alongside such well known Victorian paintings as Leighton’s Flaming June and Waterhouses’s St. Cecelia  and later in the 1890s 40% of children visiting the collection at Toynbee Hall in East London voted it their favourite painting on display!  It was through The BBC Your Paintings (Public Catalogue Fund) website that I was able to ‘rediscover’ the painting.
My talk gave a critical analysis of the painting, in the context of both the novel, 19th century interest in the physiological effects of odour upon the body for both stimulation and tranquilisation and even popular accounts from the period of women suffocating from the fragrance of flowers. As it turns out, Zola himself was one of the first to write such an account.  As a journalist for the L'Evenement Illustré, he reported in the 1860s on an unusual murder case in England, in which a woman, sleeping in a closed room, died in the night from the toxic emanations of an Oriental flower placed at her bedside.
Although I didn’t say this in my 20 minute paper, I can’t help thinking it ironic that Zola himself died of asphyxiation – from gas poisoning in his flat.
What do you notice or think about when you look at this painting? 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Perfume Injection

Last week I spoke at the The Society of Dix-Neuviémiste's conference on The Senses, held in Limerick at Mary Immaculate College.

My paper was on Floral Asphyxiation in Victorian art and my next post will talk more about this.

A paper that particularly grabbed my attention was by Cheryl Krueger (University of Virginia) on the Uses and Abuses of Perfume.

Cheryl explored the startling accounts in American (and then British) newspapers in the 1890s about decadent, bohemian Parisian women injecting perfumes such as patchouli into the skin and even the blood stream in order to perfume the body. This is an area that I have also been exploring in recent times, and I was relieved to find that like me, she has not found much concrete evidence that such a craze existed.  Nevertheless the idea of excessive use and abuse of perfume as a solitary transgressive bedroom activity endured in the popular nineteenth-century century imagination and in literature including Edmond de Goncourt's Cherie (1884), and I would add Swinburne's Lesbia Brandon in which Lesbia 'kills herself by inches by opium and perfume.' Interestingly, we both showed Mucha's art nouveau poster for Lance Parfum Rodo as suggestive of perfume abuse - and Cheryl noted that this perfume was in fact made from ether.  Having felt a bit anxious about the fact that someone is working so close to my own area, I am now looking forward to working closely with Cheryl in the future, as there are strong crossovers between our work. Cheryl is writing a book about scent in 19th century French literature and it is interesting that a French literature scholar and a Victorian art scholar can find themselves poring over much of the same material. It is very exciting, but also a spur to action, to know that so many others are now working in the area of smell in nineteenth-century culture. Have you come across the idea of perfume injection before and if so where? Do you know anything more about Lance Parfum Rodo or of other advertising images for this scent?

Art and Perfume

Welcome to my blog about smell in Nineteenth-Century Art, and my journey towards transforming my doctoral research into an academic book, entitled Art and Perfume.

I aim to share with you my passion for my research into Perfume and Art and to hear your insights and ideas about smell in art.