Rarely are works of non-fiction vivid sensory journeys, though that’s the case for Susan Stewart’s new book, which captures the fragrant history of perfume in the first book of its kind for general interest. In Common And Uncommon Scents, Stewart traces both the origins of perfume and its rich social history and connotations from the Ancient Romans to the interwar period.
Stewart explores how scent has been used to perfume the body, objects of the everyday – such as gloves and letters – and our social spaces. This vastly researched book examines how scents were distilled in the medieval world and used to signify morality in the Renaissance and the changing role of women in the last century, to name just a few examples of this fascinating book.
This is a highly sensory and engaging read: the generous pages of colour images that depict Catholic history embodied in ornate Venetian perfume burners also document adverts for aromatic medicinal remedies and remind us of the simple sophistication of the Chanel No.5 bottle. Part of the book’s standout appeal is its global approach, chronologising the use of scents in cultures across the world and in some instances, its subcultures. Previous history books may bring these individuals and their lives into the light, but Stewart is able to evoke the rich physicality of their worlds by depicting the scents that would have fragranced their everyday lives.
Common And Uncommon Scents: A Social History Of Perfume, Susan Stewart (Amberley)
Price: £22.99. Info: here
words CHLOË EDWARDS
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