I started reading Evelyn Waugh’s fiction when I was in high school and Brideshead Revisited had just been re-aired, in all its glory, on public television. One of Waugh’s funniest novels (which is saying something) is The Loved One, a black comedy written after Waugh had traveled to Los Angeles. Short and sharp, it skewers the funeral industry, life in Hollywood, romantic courtship and, in passing, beauty products.
Aimée Thanatogenos is The Loved One‘s ill-fated heroine. She’s a beautiful but naive young woman who works as a cosmetician at a funeral home (and her name, as you can see, is a play on both “love” and “death”). In this passage, she grooms herself for an evening out with the co-worker who has been assiduously courting her:
With a steady hand Aimée fulfilled the prescribed rites of an American girl preparing to meet her lover—dabbed herself under the arms with a preparation designed to seal the sweatglands, gargled another to sweeten the breath, and brushed into her hair some odorous drops from a bottle labelled: “Jungle Venom”—”From the depth of the fever ridden swamp,” the advertisement had stated, “where juju drums throb for the human sacrifice, Jeannette’s latest exclusive creation Jungle Venom comes to you with the remorseless stealth of the hunting cannibal.
The description of Jungle Venom probably isn’t much of an exaggeration; perfume advertising from the late 1940s was often very colorful and occasionally not too politically correct (as we would say nowadays!).
Image: photograph of book cover via Etsy.