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The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination
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The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  154 ratings  ·  13 reviews
In a book whose erudition and originality had a dazzling impact on first publication in France and the UK, Alain Corbin has put the sense of smell on the historical map. It is a perfect companion to Patrick Suskind's bestseller Perfume. ...more
Paperback, 307 pages
Published January 1st 1988 by Harvard University Press (first published 1982)
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Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I thought this was going to be about perfume, but instead I got 250+ pages on latrines.
M. Ritchey
Dec 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I can not speak highly enough of this gem. It is a history of smell in France. Yes, smell. How people perceived it, what they thought about it, how it turned up in pop culture. How the perception of smell changed from medieval times to the 19th century. I literally could not put it down. Such a great example of a book that should be boring but is completely riveting. So bizarre. The depictions of 19th century Paris are some of the most revolting images that have ever been placed into my head. GE ...more
A history of ideas about smell, cleanliness, health and illness in France, starting in the early modern period up to the turn of the 20th century... I didn't read all of this in detail because it was research for an essay, but what I did read wasn't particularly easy to follow, dates weren't often mentioned so it was hard to trace exactly what was happening, and it was hard to follow exactly what Corbain was getting at in several chapters. Maybe this was because he was writing about difficult, c ...more
Martin Chudik
Jan 30, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Engrossing (pun intended).

If you merge Foucault, Mary Douglas and her concepts of pollution, purity and taboo, and Norbert Elias and his analysis of the civilizing process, you get this.

This is a 'total' history from a historian of the Annales school, looking at the perceptions of the sense of smell before Pasteur and his germ theory of disease (the period being analyzed is roughly between 1750 and 1850), and the ensuing consequences for social sensibilities in their manifold representations. T
Elise Schaaf
Dit boek geeft een mooie beschrijving van hoe mensen in het verleden naar geur hebben gekeken. Het is voornamelijk een opsomming van diverse ontwikkelingen, ontdekkingen en overtuigingen die mensen hebben gehad, die elkaar hebben afgewisseld. Het leest in die zin niet heel gemakkelijk, omdat de ene na de andere overtuigingen genoemd worden, die elkaar nogal eens tegenspraken, maar daardoor laat het wel zien dat vooruitgang niet rechtlijnig is. Het boek moet daarom ook vooral gezien worden in zij ...more
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it
A tough read, but I persevered due to the frequency of these (and other similar) words: carnage, carrion, cesspool, decay, decomposition, disgust, excretion, fetid, filth, foul, gorge, noxious, odor, odoriferous, ooze, putrid, putrification, rancid, repugnance, repulsive, revulsion, rot, sewage, stagnant, stench, slime, vapour, waste. What a delight!
Elif Melisa
Dommage car difficilement lisible, beaucoup de sot en avant et en arrière dans le temps.
Curtis Newbold
Jan 28, 2013 rated it liked it
If you're in the mood for a real strange glance into history, through the lens of smell, this book is for you. Corbin takes the most "pungent" of the five human senses and walks readers through the politics, imaginations, and physiology of smell. It's a creative, interesting book, peppered with glances into how human emotion is affected by the science of our senses. It only gets a 3-star rating from me, though, because of the obnoxious attempt to use as many terms for smell as possible (perhaps ...more
Vincent Hernot
Extremely interesting, fascinatingly so in fact. It's illuminating on so many origins of our beliefs, behaviours and reactions of today, too.
It's also exhaustive, to a degree which, at times, makes this a pretty tough read.
There are many sociological interpretations in there, and some feel a bit more stretched - although not unbelievable.
So needs time, and necessitates to hang in there at times, but in the end a very useful book.
Aug 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
not as much aromatherapy allusion as i might have liked and indeed that is why i originally bought the book but nonetheless a fascinating insight into the days before sewage was efficiently and effectively dealt with in france...you can almost smell the pages at times...(there are refernces to lovely smells too!)
Jul 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Een beetje er doorheen geskipped, in de tweede helft, maar fascinerend boek over de veranderingen in geur en stank in en rond Frankrijk rond de 18e eeuw. Over weerzinwekkende, maar normale situaties naar nieuwe inzichten en normen over individuele hygiene, en hoe dat door de verschillende klassen heen speelde. Degelijke Franse geschiedschrijving, tjokvol met referenties en citaten.
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A magnificent study of the olfactory, good and bad! It just makes scents!
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Alain Corbin is a French historian, specialist of the 19th century in France.

Trained in the Annales School, Corbin's work has moved away from the large-scale collective structures studied by Fernand Braudel towards a history of sensibilities which is closer to Lucien Febvre's history of mentalités. His books have explored the histories of such subjects as male desire and prostitution, sensory expe

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