Monday, May 24, 2010

book and fragrance giveaway: Rebecca

Many authors use perebeccarfume as a novelistic shorthand for memories awakened in complete recall. A character smells something and it awakens deep memories, or takes him back in time. In Daphne du Maurier’s neo-gothic romance Rebecca, this motif takes a sinister turn. A youung girl marries a widower with an obscure, tragic past and moves to his ancestral estate . She soon discovers that the place is haunted by the presence of the memory of the previous wife, Rebecca. 


This ‘haunting’ is mostly expressed through smell and fragrance. Azaleas, overpowering, overfeminine, unnaturally-abundant blooms which choke the manor of Manderley, become a symbol of the dead wife’s overpowering femininity. Rebecca even wore a perfume which smelled of azaleas. The hapless new wife discovers traces of perfume on Rebecca’s clothes, which have turned musty with age, she experiences the oppression of the obscure yet present past in the form  a choking fog that blights the landscape at the moment of crisis in the book and functions as an anesthetic for the heroine’s pain, and breathes in the must of long-evaporated cologne on all sorts of things around the house. Du Maurier uses all of the scented moments to intensify the miasma of the haunting presence of the dead first wife of the brooding hero Maxim. I can say no more about the plot of the book, because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will include some moments of fragrant realization from within its pages. The word scent is used at least 22 times throughout the book, so I chose some of the most evocative.

 daphne du maurier
First, when throwing on an old mackintosh to go on a walk, the heroin (00ps, heroine! ) pulls out a discarded handkerchief from the pocket and smells it—it belonged to Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca: “I noticed that a dull scent clung about it still. A scent I  recognized, a scent I knew. I shut my eyes and tried to remember. It was something elusive, something faint and fragrant that I could not name. I had breathed it before, touched it surely, that very afternoon. And then I knew that the vanished scent on the handkerchief was the same as the crushed white petals of the azaleas in the Happy Valley” (118).

Another item of clothing left behind by the departed Rebecca is a lovely apricot nightdress, which  is bearing the scent of azaleas as well, but it has grown musty with age (foreshadowing, anyone) “there was a dim mustiness about it where the scent had been”(166).

When imagining the considerable elegance and charm of her dead rival, the heroine jealously imagines her dancing at a ball: “when she danced [she] left a stab of perfume in the air like a white azalea” I love the idea of a stab of fragrance. Sometimes it can be lethal, monstrous, overpowering like that.

And then the famous lines about memory and fragrance. The heroine exclaims: "If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again."

I’m gonna stop there, so as not to give any of the plot twists away, but please take my word for it; if you are interested in the psychology of fragrance, you should read this thriller.
 
 

azalea
One note: I didn’t know azaleas had a smell; I guess the ones I have been around have had all the fragrance bred out of them. But I looked up azaleas in Basenotes’ directory, and sure enough, some perfumes contain the note.


That brings me to my giveaway drawing. I am going to give the winner of this drawing my copy of Rebecca and a few samples of floral fragrances that could potentially ‘stab’ the air, on  the right wearer, that is…. As I mentioned before in my previous drawing for rose scents, I really want to get some more regular followers (I am writing this blog for my own benefit, but I wouldn’t mind having some friends to converse with as well) so please, get my rss feed, become a facebook networked blog follower, add me as a blogger friend, or subscribe to my blog in any other form you please, then post a comment below letting me know you are interested in winning a copy of Rebecca and some lethal floral perfume decants as well as  following Hortus conclusus. (if you already subscribed somehow before, I know you, so you don’t need to tell me.) When I post my 115th posting (in about a week, I imagine) I will announce the winner of the draw!


one quick note: my accidental misspelling of ‘heroine’ as ‘heroin’ reminds me of my mishearing of ‘heroin’ for ‘heroine’ in one of my favorite Bowie songs,

“The Secret Life of Arabia”:

“I walk through the desert sand when the heroine/heroin dies…” Which does he mean? I imagine the ambiguity was intentional.. I mean, it’s Bowie, for God’s sake!

That was a tangent!



CREDITS:
Hitchcock movie still from pullquote.com
azalea forest from flowerpictures1.com
image of young du Maurier courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Rebecca (Penguin Modern Classics) Rebecca 

32 comments:

  1. Sarah, if you haven't done the drawing yet, I'm interested in participating :)
    -Mariana Haughey

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  2. Mariana, it's just starting today, so of course you are in! Thanks for commenting.

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  3. I would love to read this book, and smell these "stabbing" fragrances.

    I subscribed to your feed, and I have your blog linked on mine.

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  4. I just love give-aways. And you're giving away two of my favourite things - a book and perfumes. I hope I win. :)
    You'll be at 115 in a week? That's great. :)

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  5. Yay! Welcome, Apothecary, and thanks so much for the link! I have been following and enjoying your work as well! Ines, I know you love books, and mysteries, so this does sound right up your alley.

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  6. I'd been meaning to add your blog to my blogroll for a few weeks now and hadn't done it until this morning. And then I find that you're requesting links to your (lovely and very well worth reading) blog! Coincidence?

    I have a well-read copy of Rebecca, so I will not ask to enter the draw. But I'd love to know what "stabbing" fragrances you'll be giving away samples of, if you don't mind listing them when the giveaway is done.

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  7. Dear Mals86, Thanks for the compliments, and I really appreciate your linking up with me 'officially' (that sounds sort of funny, doesn't it?) I am glad you like Rebecca. It's a bit maudlin at times, and I do wish the heroine would put things together a little more quickly, but, hell, it's very suspenseful, and a great page-turner.

    I'm still working out the 'stabber' list in my mind, but will let you know what I come up with there.

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  8. Ah, the second Mrs. de Winter...

    Yes! Wonderful exploration of the book, and fragrance therein. Like Mals, I am curious to hear what scents you end up selecting for your stab at a suitable presentation. I'm going to bow out of the draw for the book...which is an awesome idea!...since I, too, have it. Somebody is going to have fun!

    :)

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  9. Hi,
    Please can I be entered in your draw? I love Rebecca and since reading it I have been completely fascinated by azaleas and wondered what perfume it was that Rebecca wore. Do you think it is based on a real perfume? I too have been smelling lots of azaleas and sadly finding that they hardly smell of anything at all but I did notice that the ones in the book are described as wild azaleas. Anyway your blog looks really interesting and I look forward to reading more.....
    Best wishes, Clare

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  10. welcome, Clare, and thanks for joining me. Consider yourself officially entered in the draw!

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  11. Hi Sarah! I just got the goodies/rose scents in the mail today! Can't wait to let my nose wander through them. I immediately put on the Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille...YUM! Will give you some more feedback as I explore. Thank you for the wonderful gift. Cheers!

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  12. Glad you liked the TF; I though that might interest you. ; ) I don't expect you--or even want you--to dig all of them, and there's absolutely no pressure on the feedback front, although of course I am interested in what you think of them. I am glad they made it to WA safely! Keep in touch!

    Love,
    S

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  13. I am not by any means a perfume aficionado and in fact rarely wear any but I do love the connection between scents and literature. Have you seen http://www.blackphoenixalchemylab.com/ They make scents based around mythology, ideas and books and literary characters. I have not tried any of them but I would be interested in opinion of someone knowledgeable about perfume.

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  14. Well, anon, I am not an expert, just an enthusiast, but I can tell you that the black phoenix people make some interesting smellies. I haven't had enough contact with any of them to be able to give you a knowledgeable opinion (my rule is that I have to wear every fragrance I review for at least three days before I write about it, and I've only smelled it in boutiques so far), but I can direct you to some links to other bloggers who have covered some of their stuff:

    ismellthereforeiam.blogspot.com/2010/01/highwayman-black-phoenix-alchemy-lab.html

    www.katiepuckriksmells.com/2010/01/valentines-day-fragrances.html

    tea-sympathy-and-perfume.blogspot.com/2010_02_01_archive.html

    Good luck.

    You could also Check out Basenotes.net.

    They have reviews of almost all of the MANY BPAL scents out there.

    Thanks for the comment, and for checking out my blog. Did you want to enter the drawing?

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  15. My copy of Rebecca was so loved it fell apart some time ago last year; I would love a chance to win new copy.
    I am now following you on Blogger as well as on Networked Blogs (Adirondack Aromatherapy). I really like this blog it's fun - esp the talking heads reference; i do believe we have similar tastes & blogging styles !

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  16. yay! Welcome Gretchen, I am sure we'll be friends. I am checking out your blog right now...

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  17. p.s. I love it that your copy actually fell apart. That is pretty badass!

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  18. Is the drawing still open? I'd love an entry, I get you via rss feed =)

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  19. It is still open! You are entered, and welcome. Thanks for subscribing!

    Sincerely,
    LBV

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  20. Yay! I love these give aways but haven't won anything so far, let's see if this time is different :) Hi , I found you on here and I must say your writing is beautiful. I have come to realize how we perfumistas are artists in our own right, how we are inspired by the fragrances of our world and long to share the discoveries of it with others. Have a great weekend and take care.
    Truly,
    Tamara

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  21. welcome Tamara!
    Thanks for the compliments. You are right about the perfume community. I don't think I have ever come into contact with such an interesting, imaginative, often inspired, group of people. I enjoy being a part of it, however marginal, and certainly think my life is deeply enhanced by my passion for fragrance. For me, as a writer, if functions as a muse--giving me a creative headspace to think about ideas and sort out my thoughts and opinions. It especially helps me with my formal academic work, since it somehow gets me out of narrow patterns of though and into a more creative state of mind.

    Thanks for your comments, and good luck in the draw! Keep in touch.

    Sincerely,
    Sarah

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  22. Can I enter? I would love to try this fragrance and read the book, my little girl is a Rebecca :)

    orchidfae at gmail dot com

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  23. Welcome Orchidfae. Consider yourself entered in the draw!

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  24. Great blog!
    Would like to enter for the drawing, and look forward to reading more from you..
    My 1st Intro to Scent, versus perfume, was from Diane Ackerman's "A Natural History of the Senses"...a personal communication with others..
    JaniceLM24@aol.com

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  25. Really enjoying your blog! Please enter me in your giveaway. Thanks! :)

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  26. Janice, I think I will reread my copy of Ackerman per your recommendation; I remember the chapter on smell being really interesting (plus, she's a fellow Ithacan). She's a REALLY good writer, besides. Welcome, and you're in the drawing!

    BV

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  27. Gypsy, thanks for the kind words, and welcome to the giveaway!

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  28. Hi, I'm really pleased to have found your blog, on such an unusual and perfumed theme. My husband has always said that he would have liked to have been a 'nose' for one of the great perfume houses, and as I unfortunately have a very feeble sense of smell I find it a fascinating subject that affects our everyday life.
    I became a follower and put you on my blog roll.
    Sharon

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  29. Hi Sharon! Your husband sounds interesting; does he have a really intense sense of smell? Can he smell where you've been and everything? And identify individual notes in fragrances? I doubt your own sense of smell is that feeble, anyway...the 'experts' say that most people have the same ability in that department--it just requires a bit of training to identify specific things--or so they say, anyway, and I am inclined to believe them. I like the idea of the sense of smell as a democratic thing in a way. Well, welcome, and thanks for adding me to your blogroll. Keep in touch!

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  30. I would love to read this book. It sounds very interesting. I'm a google follower.

    hewella1 at gmail dot com

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  31. I love perfume and it can also affect you and your life positively so its better to find the best perfume that will fit on your personality.

    isey

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