The scent of beauty

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Eighteenth century France. Grenouille‘s early life had not been easy: abandoned to die by his mother,emotionally abused, exploited; he needs to be loved but the entire world seems to ignore or feel repulsion for him. Grenouille has a peculiarity:he was born with no scent, but at the same time he has the most gifted nose in the world. One day his mind, for the first time, seems to be intoxicated by the most delicious scent he has ever encountered: that of an adolescent girl. He follows it. In the darkness of an alley he strangles her, lays her body down on the ground and smells her scent until it disappears from her body due to death. Pleasure and happiness overwhelm him. There he realizes he might create a fragrance that could stir those emotions in men, he might have made people love him. On this purpose he manages to work for a perfumer, who will teach him everything about distillation. Grenouille will create the best scents Paris has ever smelt from the essences of flowers. But this is not enough. He still keeps in mind the memory of the intoxicating odor of that girl. His obsession will make him kill 24 teenage girls in order to distill their scent. And when eventually he murders the best-smelling girl, Laure, his dream perfume is completed. From now on people will have to love him.  Quite soon Grenouille is apprehended and sentenced to death but thanks to the confounding power of the perfume he will escape execution, Laurie’s father will even offer to adopt him. Just one drop and nobody escapes the magnetic force of its spell. But there are no more scents to be discovered, no more goals to reach. He becomes suicidal. One day he decides to sprinkle the entire bottle of perfume on himself. The inebriated mob, suddenly blinded by passion and love, jump on him with the intent of keeping their object of desire for themselves, but they won’t be satisfied till they end up devouring him. A scent, beauty, love, the power of emotions is so overwhelming because instinctively in the source of those emotions we often see something more, something we believe superior to us and that’s why it may enslave our senses and consequently our mind. Dorian Gray‘ s incomparable beauty for example is worshipped by everybody, but it’s not only the perfection of his remarkable features and youth that is admired, that childish beauty seems to mirror the innocence and integrity of his soul. He is seen as the angel of goodness. Keats‘s knight is slowly entrapped by the sensuality of his “Belle Dame“. She is ” a faerie’s child” for him and quatrain after quatrain he falls under her spell of her and starts to lose the control of his actions. When he wakes up “la Belle Dame” has vanished, just like Grenouile’s scent, and realizes that he is all alone “on the cold hill-side“.

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Keats’s Sehnsucht

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Sehnsucht is a German word that translates that Romantic feeling of intense longing (das Sehnen) with its addiction (die Sucht). The intensity of the emotion is given by the awareness that the object of our desires cannot be conquered, the consequent profound pain could be unacceptable for someone and eventually lead to suicide. But there is also a non pathological meaning: longing is also what makes man feel alive and happy. In Ode on a Grecian Urn the poet is attracted by the marble figures on the breede of the urn. There are trees, musicians and maidens pursued by “bold lovers“. As I said in the previous post, the urn belongs to “slow time” (eternity) so those lovers will never reach their goal. Their Sensucht will last forever. But their hopelessness is seen by Keats as the true source of happiness. Their longing is the real love, it will last forever and time will not “waste” it.The Knight-at-Arms of La Belle Dame Sans Mercì had reached his goal but when he awakes from his dream of love he finds himself alone “on the cold hill side“. A sense of emptiness replaces the longed fulfillment. There is no real happiness in the material world.