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Common scents: comparative encounters in high-Victorian fiction

Common scents: comparative encounters in high-Victorian fiction

Carlisle, Janice

Who smells? Surveying nearly 80 novels written in the 1860s to answer that impolite question, 'Common Scents' provides a reading of Victorian values, particularly as they assess the relative merits of men and women, spirit and matter. 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, the commonplace 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 of differentiations 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 into distinct 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 the senses 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 and characterizations 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 deeply embedded common sense, the recognition of whose self-evident truth seems to be as instinctive and automatic as a response to an odor

eBook, Electronic resource, Book. English. Electronic books.
Published Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004
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Statement of responsibility: Janice Carlisle
ISBN: 0190290064, 9780190290061
Note: Formerly CIP.
Note: Includes bibliographical references (p. 191-209) and index.
Physical Description: viii, 220 p. : ill.
Subject: Ireland; English; Odors in literature.; Literary studies: fiction, novelists & prose writers; Literature: history & criticism; Smell in literature.; Early years: the senses; Literature; English fiction 19th century History and criticism.; Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900; United Kingdom, Great Britain; Melancholy in literature.
Reproduction: Electronic reproduction. Askews and Holts. Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Other formats: Also available in printed form ISBN 9780195165098