Read FIRST LINES from Perfume:The Story of a Murderer
By Patrick Suskind
In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an ear that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name—in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade’s, for instance, or Saint-Just’s, Fouche’s, Bonaparte’s, etc—has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, to wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were r estricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent.
In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, t he courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and timorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplaces stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces. The peasant stank as did the priest, the apprentices as did the master’s wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter. For the eighteenth century there was nothing to hinder bacterial busy at decomposition, and so there was no human activity, either constructive or destructive, no manifestation of germinating or decaying life that was not accompanied by stench.
Translation of Das Parfum
© 1986 by Alfred A. Knopf
Vintage ISBN: 0-375-72584-9
You can read selected chapters of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer on Amazon.com.