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A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer
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A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  355 ratings  ·  34 reviews
This book offers a new look at the world of Marie Antoinette through the story of her personal and exclusive perfumer, Jean-Louis Fargeon. Jean-Louis served Marie for fourteen years until 1789 when the Revolution swept across France, its wrath aimed at the extravagances of the Royal Court and those who served it. Fargeon, a lifelong supporter of the Republican cause but a ...more
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by I. B. Tauris (first published 2004)
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Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: perfumes
The book, as the title suggests, is not really an account of the historical events of this time or a detailed account of Marie Antoinette’s life (for the latter, I’d recommend Zweig’s or Frazier’s books). Based on Jean-Louis Fargeon’s—a perfumer for the court—biography, it offers a look at the fashion industry and the people who actually created the glamor surrounding the Queen. Perfumery was already well established in France, and even philosophers at the time acknowledged the importance of our ...more
Such an interesting book, especially the appendices at the back, listing Fargeon's own notes about different scent-giving ingredients and the methods of capturing their scents. I was slightly disappointed by the limited footnoting, which didn't give much information about the quotes that were footnoted! It also wasn't very clear where so much of the information about Fargeon's thoughts came from- they were written of as plain facts with no references. That he wrote letters to his brother was m ...more
Victoria Price
May 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
An evocative, sensual and luxurious history of Jean Louis Fargeon. The favourite perfumer of Marie Antoinette. Has definitely made me want to know more about the history of perfume making.
Caterina Pierre
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For many years I have been looking to purchase a Parisian perfume made from an old recipe. Numerous Google searches never yielded anything interesting. But I recently came across, and just read, “A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie-Antoinette’s perfumer” (originally published in 2006), which led me to the perfume that I knew existed but couldn’t find anywhere; it is probably the closest anyone can find to an original 18th-Century perfume by the Queen’s perfumer, Jean-Louis Fargeon.
Sep 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
Less a book than an extended magazine article. de Feydeau offers no insights at all into Marie Antoinette, other than the fact that she liked to smell good. Which I think we all kind of suspected. And all kidding aside, the book might have benefited from a judicious sprinkling of scratch 'n' sniffs. Just putting it out there. A pleasant enough light (very light) read if you are interested in Herself, but I can't imagine why anyone else would pick it up. ...more
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2013
I was debating 3 1/2 to 4 stars. It was an interesting book, but not quite of the traditional biographical vein. I had been expecting to learn about the perfumer rather than read about his passion, but I cannot say that I did not enjoy myself.

It was nice to have a closer look at Marie Antoinette. But other than the usual fare about her majesty (her dresses, the lesbian rumors, her 'affair' with Count Axel de Fersen, the Affair of the Neckless), there isn't anything new to read about. Fargeon li
Natacha Pavlov
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this volume, French historian, writer, and expert in fragrance Elisabeth de Feydeau explores the role of 18th century fragrance through the eyes of Jean Louis Fargeon, perfumer to Marie Antoinette.

It's a light read offering glimpses into the glamorous world of scent, including popular philosophical views of it at the time. A reminder: amidst all the physical opulence that is Versailles, one thing that may easily be forgotten is how smelly the place was back then—a factor the author effective
Louise Culmer
Aug 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
interesting biography of the man who supplied perfume and cosmetics to the French nobility, including Marie Antoinette. perhaps surprisingly, considering his trade, he was a staunch Republican, which helped him to survive the Revolution, even after he came under suspicion for having traded with aristocrats. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the details of how he worked, and particularly his wife's involvement in the business. A sometimes overlooked aspect of life in pre industri ...more
Apr 11, 2014 rated it liked it
This was a bit disappointing. Still interesting but I was expecting more biographical information. If you read Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette this book will be a nice accompaniment. I was expecting more information about the scents and body care products she used. The appendix included the perfumer's own notes on different oils, masks etc. and that was highly interesting! ...more
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is one of the many lovely books I have picked up and put down unfinished over the years, but today I finished it! The content is a delight to French history fans and the author very obviously a dedicated perfumer herself. The story is enchanting and the introductions to many of the famous names at French court during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, exciting. There are also some wonderful lines and quotes in this book, two of my favorites which I extract here:
- "Fargeon decided upon gl
Priscilla Leonard
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
It was really good. There are points where it was hard for me to read because I simply couldn't visualize the process of making a perfume. I really enjoyed the book though. I loved getting a glimpse into what it would've been like being a republican, who previously made his living through the ancien régime, during the Reign of Terror. ...more
Abby Warren
Aug 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Very informative. This is a period of history that I find fascinating. The intricacies of the woman’s toilettte were described in perfect detail but still understandable. The same can be said for how the author describes the missing of materials to create fragrance. Add the backdrop of the start of the French Revolution and any history buff would be intrigued by this book.
Jul 21, 2018 rated it liked it
an interesting history of the French Revolution that includes culture, lifestyle, and politics; it focuses less on Antoinette, other than the elements of her demise, and more on the court around here and its opulence
Feb 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-read
Putting the secret history in the title kind of implies there is a secret in his history but there wasn’t one, this book was really about the beauty/fashion details of Marie’s life with some details about him & his creations.
Katharine Schultz
Wonderful, interesting read.

In the end, though, I feel as though I didn't learn much about the perfumer himself - his creations were definitely the main focus of the work.
Feb 04, 2008 rated it liked it
I read this book based on a review in Judith Thurman's "Cleopatra's Nose." The subtitle suggests much more intrigue than the book offers, and suggest that the subject, the perfumer Fargeon, plays a much larger role. In truth this book is a solid and quick overview of the summtuary habits at Versailles with Fargeon as a kind of literary device that the author relates back to. It is an interesting angle to the history of the Queen of France and the revolution, and the author makes much of Fargeon' ...more
Max Renn
Aug 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
An admirable attempt to reframe the french revolution from the perspective of one specific and actual everyman, this one of the bourgeois artisanal class.

Unfortunately much of this relatively slender volume is taken up with history better covered elsewhere. Anecdotes regarding Marie Antoinette are par for the course and provide no real insight there. What saves this book (and elevates it to 4 stars) is the particulars regarding the art of perfumery as practiced in this time. Descriptions of pro
Anna  Gibson
Aug 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
A brief but informative look at one of the perfumers that Marie Antoinette highly favored. Although this book seems intended to be a biography, there is much more information about the man's perfumes and products than his actual life. However, the look at the beauty products of Versailles and in particular Marie Antoinette's favorite beauty products is well worth the easy read. The scent descriptions in the book are excellent, as well, and detailed enough to give the reader a good sense of the p ...more
Apr 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book- though I have read about four books about Marie Antoinette- this has a bourgeois viewpoint and reality that I appreciated, and generally undocumented. Also the scents and descriptions of perfume were delightful, I'm not that well versed but it made a kind of sumptuous read. I think I lost a lot in translation- jokes and such- but it wasn't an awkward read. The descriptions of Paris and Versailles, and the fetid hallways, courtyards, "smelling of death" and such had be ...more
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I love perfume, love reading about perfume ingredients, flowers, notes, the olfactory world is beautiful, yet haunting at the same time. This book dives into the secret life of Marie Antoinette's perfumer and his creations for Marie Antoinette and his close relationship with her. He produced elixirs and perfumes and scented oils for her bath and she called on him during times of distress and when she wanted to experiment with scents, she enjoyed luxury and being pampered. The book is a short his ...more
May 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: beauty-theory
Very well-written, filled with vivid details that bring the biography to life in ways many biographies don't. I had been wanting to read about Fargeon ever since Denyse Beaulieu mentioned him in The Perfume Lover, and this book left me feeling overwhelmingly satisfied. Despite how long ago all of this occurred, de Feydeau managed to make Fargeon incredibly likable and other "characters" three-dimensional, which brings the novel to life. I especially loved how the storytelling placed fragrance, t ...more
An interesting companion to Fraser's "Marie Antoinette" or "Perfume: Story of a Murderer." My problem was that the scope wasn't really big enough--the details of perfume-making and even the political context were well done, but it would have been nice to hear about the other perfumers as rivals and supporting players. All in all, a surprisingly slight book. ...more
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
This was an easy read, very light-weight considering it relates to events leading up to the horrors of the French Revolution. The author concentrates on describing the various perfumed concoctions produced by the perfumer Fargeon for his aristocratic clients.

Probably of most interest to readers who are interested in the science behind perfumery.
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A very short read, but fascinating. The story of how a perfumer created amazing scents that won the attention of Marie Antointte and many other courtiers. It also goes a bit into the old ways of making perfume, and has lots of useful information in the back about perfume.
The entire book comes off as extremely well documented, a series of stories strung together with witty use of appendices. An interesting but not entirely easy to read tale that provides first hand ac...counts of pre-Revolutionary France and Revolutionary France with a fulfilling little epilogue.
Jacelin McCormick
An excellent book on the history of Marie Antoinette and of course her perfumer. It also includes some information on fashion of the time and on the first fashion designer and celebrity stylist Rose Bertin. I highly recommend it!
Laura Florand
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: perfume
Found this fascinating.
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies, perfume
Superb. A fantastic look at a successful artisan's life and work with Marie Antoinette and the upper classes. Also highly researched and structured beautifully. ...more
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating details. Anyone who likes this time period or perfume would enjoy this.
Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: glamour, history
A very slim volume, no longer than it needs to be. It covers in great detail what kind of fragrance and cosmetic products Fargeon created for Marie Antoinette and others in the palace; the sort of products, how exactly they were made in the 1780s, and which scents went into them. It's amazing how so many different products were made even so long ago, and that we know which notes went into the perfumes of a historical figure so long ago is fascinating to me. The products themselves sound tantaliz ...more
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