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The Ephemeral History of Perfume

Hardback
, 280 pages

15 b&w illus.

ISBN:
9781421402345
September 2011
$65.00

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The Ephemeral History of Perfume

Scent and Sense in Early Modern England

In contrast to the other senses, smell has long been thought of as too elusive, too fleeting for traditional historical study. Holly Dugan disagrees, arguing that there are rich accounts documenting how men and women produced, consumed, and represented perfumes and their ephemeral effects. She delves deeply into the cultural archive of olfaction to explore what a sense of smell reveals about everyday life in early modern England.

In this book, Dugan focuses on six important scents—incense, rose, sassafras, rosemary, ambergris, and jasmine. She links these smells to the unique spaces they inhabited—churches, courts, contact zones, plague-ridden households, luxury markets, and pleasure gardens—and the objects used to dispense them. This original approach provides a rare opportunity to study how early modern men and women negotiated the environment in their everyday lives and the importance of smell to their daily actions.

Dugan defines perfume broadly to include spices, flowers, herbs, animal parts, trees, resins, and other ingredients used to produce artificial scents, smokes, fumes, airs, balms, powders, and liquids. In researching these Renaissance aromas, Dugan uncovers the extraordinary ways, now largely lost, that people at the time spoke and wrote about smell: objects "ambered, civited, expired, fetored, halited, resented, and smeeked" or were described as "breathful, embathed, endulced, gracious, halited, incensial, odorant, pulvil, redolent, and suffite."

A unique contribution to early modern studies, The Ephemeral History of Perfume is an unparalleled study of olfaction in the Renaissance, a period in which new scents and important cultural theories about smell were developed. Dugan’s inspired analysis of a wide range of underexplored sources makes available to scholars a remarkable wealth of information on the topic.

Holly Dugan is an assistant professor of English literature at the George Washington University.

"A wonderful piece of work that will engage a wide readership. The subject of scent is central to so many attitudes and opinions in early modern culture, and Dugan does a splendid job of reminding us of its importance to canonical and noncanonical works. I know of nothing quite like this book."

"An extraordinary and thoughtfully presented addition to British history shelves, covering an almost universally overlooked topic."

"Full of surprising, colourful detail, The Ephemeral History of Perfume sheds new light on Renaissance bodies, environments, and the relationships between them forged by various kinds of 'stinkinggere'."

"This book is both a useful scholarly reference and a genuinely interesting read."

"The six chapters are like the gilt chambers of a pomander, each bearing a rich fragrance."

"Dugan's book is as subtle and penetrating as the scents with which she structures her cultural, material, and literary history of perfume... The structure of the book is ingenious, sagacious even... It is a rich heady cloud of images and ideas, and will deservedly find a wide readership."

"Scholars of the early modern Europe should read this book."

"[Dugan's] book not only redresses the imbalance of sensory scholarship toward vision and hearing... but also further interrogates the significance of scent as a marker of early modern identity. After reading this book, it is difficult to understand how smell could have been neglected for so long."

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