Sunday, November 30, 2008

Scent in Books: I Capture the Castle

I have just finished Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, a book I have had on the "read it" list for a long, long time.  The main character, a seventeen-year-old girl living with her older sister, father, younger brother, step-mother, and not-hired young man in a *castle in England in the '30's, is an aspiring writer who attempts to "capture" in her journal a pivotal half year in her, and their, life.

(*I struggled for a minute their to assign an adjective to the castle..."aging" seems redundant; "crumbling" histrionic, if true; "borrowed" true but misleading...so I dropped the attempt.)

Anyway, my point being that perfume directly enters the story two times.  Once, when the main character is visiting an estate house, she notices the scents different women are wearing at dinner.  Another time, while visiting a store in London, she encounters a scent which reminds her of bluebells and enchants her.  Later, she has the opportunity to wear the scent for a midsummer rite, but she chooses not to--she realizes the perfume a) does not really smell like the true flower, and b) the scent would overwhelm the aroma of the wildflowers she planned on wearing.

This became a bit of a zeitgeist moment for me, given yesterday's exploration of a natural perfume and my comment on what I now expect from a perfume.  Cassandra, the voice of the novel, comes to understand that what enchanted her about the perfume was the experience it suggested, not an actual re-capturing of the olfactory reference--no more than the Water Music she listens to another time is actually the sound of water.  The same idea of art form as representation is when she spends time thinking about poetry--how it seems the right vehicle for trying to capture the experience of certain emotions, rather than simply describing the emotions. Poetry, music, perfume:  all there to try to capture an essence, an experience, without actually being it.

Cassandra opts to not wear the perfume to the rites, but does apply it later as she goes out with a Person of Interest. Just as she finds certain paintings to not represent their subjects well, but that certain music has the power to move her.  Sometimes we go for real life; sometimes the abstraction, the attempt to capture it.  

I know I am going to continue to appreciate the smell of real flowers in my garden, the scent of crushed leaves and dirt and decaying matter and fresh shoots and rain and timbers in the sun.  I am also going to continue to explore what experiences lie in the potions those perfume genies have concocted inside my bottles.

9 comments:

Rose said...

I'm so excited you have been reading I Capture the Castle! I love it, although actually haven't read it for years which I need to rectify. I have taken to watching the film most Christmas holidays though.

I think the castle is romantically dishevelled or perhaps shabby chic?!

ScentScelf said...

:) I like "romantic dishevellment" myself...

Now I'm safe to see the film...perhaps I will join in your Christmas tradition this year!

The Daily Connoisseur said...

This is on my "to read" list as well... although I don't know if I can wait as I'm dying to see the film...

It sounds enchanting...

Jenavira13 said...

Another book on my "to-read" list too. Will have to amend that soon, I wonder if she was wearing Penheligon's Bluebell?

ScentScelf said...

DC,
I am a fan of the filmmaker, but am rather adamant about first experiencing stories in their original form. (Too many adaptation disappointments...too few good writers getting good pay.)
Do tell if you see the film.

ScentScelf said...

Jen,
I wondered, too--the bottle packaging is carefully described. I think I'll post that soon, within some observations I have about the wonders of images...

Rose said...

In the film it looks like they use the bottle and box from Penhaligons. It gives you serious perfume lust.
However I looked into this and Bluebell by Penhaligon's wasn't made until the 1970s... so sadly it can't have been what Dodie Smith had in mind whens eh was writing. Perhaps the book inspired Penhaligon's though?

ScentScelf said...

Rose,
Hmmm...the plot thickens. Okay; it wasn't Penhaligon's in the book. Wish I could call in Octavian from 1000fragrances on this one...

GGS said...

There's a film of the book? Off to research it. Enjoyed this one too.
--Gail