My Back Pages: Sherlock Holmes & The Hound of the Baskervilles

I was recently writing a review of some body products inspired by Brideshead Revisited and I ended up flipping through my well-loved copy of the novel in search of scent-related lines. There were more than I remembered. This is often the case: I pick up a book that I haven’t read in a while and I end up noticing references to perfume, fragrance, the sense of smell.

This series of posts will look back at stories and poems that include mentions of fragrance. I’ve collected a few over the years, and I’m sure I’ll come across many more as I continue to write this blog. Today I’d like to share this excerpt from the final chapter of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, in which the master detective Sherlock Holmes outlines his mental process of solving the case.

Earlier in the tale, Holmes had been presented with a clue: an anonymous note composed of printed letters cut from a newspaper. He recalls for Dr. Watson’s benefit,

“It may possibly recur to your memory that when I examined the paper upon which the printed words were fastened I made a close inspection for the water-mark. In doing so I held it within a few inches of my eyes, and was conscious of a faint smell of the scent known as white jessamine. There are seventy-five perfumes, which it is very necessary that the criminal expert should be able to distinguish from one another, and cases have more than once within my own experience depended upon their prompt recognition. The scent suggested the presence of a lady…”

This is fascinating stuff, for mystery-lovers and fragrance-lovers alike. And yes, if you happen to be wondering: I chose this particular piece of literature for today’s post because I’m looking forward to watching a contemporary adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s the second episode in the second season of “Sherlock,” airing on public television stations in the United States tonight. I wonder how this version will incorporate the scented clue!

Images: cover of first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles and Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, via Wikimedia Commons.


6 thoughts on “My Back Pages: Sherlock Holmes & The Hound of the Baskervilles

  1. how wonderful it is when the references to perfumes and fragrances stand out in reading. Love that particular Sherlock in the illustration, too, and your quote of Florine Stettheimer. I need to visit the Museum of the City of NY so I can see her minature room recreations. Some of those painting she did were a theme for me at one point. Why is she not more famous? I wonder what perfumes she wore.

    1. Lucy, I’m looking forward to posting more fragrance/literature quotations! I’m so happy to know that you’re a Sherlock fan and a Stettheimer fan, too! I’ve thought a lot about Stettheimer’s relative lack of name recognition (although she *has* gone through a mini-revival or two since the 1970s). I think it was partly because she was a female painter, partly because her work was (and is) so difficult to categorize, and partly because she didn’t seek publicity even during her own life. She was fortunate enough to be independently wealthy, so she chose not to exhibit her work at commercial galleries very often and she gave her paintings to family and friends rather than selling them, for the most part…

  2. OMG I love this post and the new Sherlock series and have seen this episode, which is fantastic. On January 9th, the birthday of Sherlock Holmes I announced a new perfume I am working on inspired by the mastermind. Intending to have it ready soon.

    1. Roxana, I watched “The Hounds of Baskerville” last night. It did not disappoint! I’m a long-time admirer of the Jeremy Brett series, but I love this new series just as much, in a different way. Can’t wait to hear more about your Holmes tribute!

  3. Oh goodie. I have The Hound of the Baskervilles in my Nook (which I had been neglecting in favor of “real” books).

    1. A perfect time to read it!! And, in a follow up to the last sentence of my post: “Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville” *did* have a scent moment. Sherlock identified Mrs. Hudson’s perfume as something called “Casbah Nights” and told her that her new boyfriend, the next-door cafe owner, was already married. Cruel to be kind!

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