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.