Common Scents: Comparative Encounters in High-Victorian Fiction

Hardcover | March 19, 2004

byJanice Carlisle

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Who smells? Surveying nearly eighty novels written in the 1860s to answer that impolite question, Common Scents provides a new reading of Victorian values, particularly as they assess the relative merits of men and women, spirit and matter. In depictions of comparative encounters, thecommonplace meetings of everyday life, such fiction often registers the inequalities that distinguish one individual from another by marking one of them with a smell. In a surprisingly consistent fashion, these references constitute what cultural anthropologists call an osmology, a system ofdifferentiations that reveals the status within a particular culture of the persons and things associated with specific odors. Featuring often innocuous and even potentially pleasing aromas emanating from food, flowers, and certain kinds of labor, novels of the 1860s array their characters intodistinct categories, finding in some rather than others olfactory proof of their materiality. Central to this osmology is the difference between characters who give off odors and those who do not, and this study draws upon the work of Victorian psychophysiologists and popular commentators on thesenses to establish the subtlety with which fictional representations make that distinction. By exploring the far-reaching implications of this osmology in specific novels by Dickens, Eliot, Meredith, Oliphant, Trollope, and Yonge, Common Scents argues that the strikingly similar plots andcharacterizations typical of the 1860s, responding as they do to the economic and political concerns of the decade, reconfigure conventional understandings of the relations between men and women. Determining who smells reveals what Victorian culture at its epitome takes for granted as a deeplyembedded common sense, the recognition of whose self-evident truth seems to be as instinctive and automatic as a response to an odor.

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Who smells? Surveying nearly eighty novels written in the 1860s to answer that impolite question, Common Scents provides a new reading of Victorian values, particularly as they assess the relative merits of men and women, spirit and matter. In depictions of comparative encounters, thecommonplace meetings of everyday life, such fiction ...

Janice Carlisle is Professor of English at Tulane University.

other books by Janice Carlisle

Picturing Reform in Victorian Britain
Picturing Reform in Victorian Britain

Kobo ebook|May 31 2012

$29.39 online$38.06list price(save 22%)
see all books by Janice Carlisle
Format:HardcoverDimensions:232 pages, 6.3 × 9.09 × 1.1 inPublished:March 19, 2004Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195165098

ISBN - 13:9780195165098

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"Common Scents is a remarkable book about the prevailing moods of the Victorian 1860s, the decade of the Second Reform Bill. From her survey of eighty novels, Janice Carlisle weaves a clear, elegant, original narrative in which smells and smelling mediate status encounters and exchangesbetween fictional characters. At the center of her project stands the figure of the melancholic male, suffering from an unrecognized estrangement from the materiality signified by the odors of lower-middle-class trades and the smells of food. Adapting the Freudian definition of melancholia to theeconomic context of the decade, Carlisle offers surprising and illuminating readings of melancholic males and their female rescuers in major novels by Dickens and George Eliot." --Rosemarie Bodenheimer, Boston College