NSW Dickens Society 8 April 2017: A talk by Catherine du Peloux Menagé; Scents and Smells in the time of Dickens

A talk by Catherine du Peloux Menagé; Scents and Smells in the time of Dickens.

Dickens lived at a time when the rapid expansion and industrialisation of London was making the city an intolerable place to live for the less wealthy. Residents drank water from the Thames into which open sewers ran and there were regular cholera epidemics, until The Great Stink of 1857 when the stench of the Thames was so overwhelming that a Parliamentary recess was called. We know that Dickens liked to walk the streets of London, in rich and poor areas alike and the descriptions he gives in his writing allow readers today to experience not only the sights but also the smells of London, from the unpleasant to the delicious, as in A Christmas Carol. In Dickens’ novels smells are used to evoke places and people and to give information about social status. Unpleasant smells often signal moral corruption and pleasant smells happiness or moral virtue. When Oliver Twist goes to the country with Rose and Miss Maylie, the beautiful scents reflect his happiness and the moral superiority of his companions and the life he is now living: “Oliver, whose days had been spent among squalid crowds, and in the midst of noise and brawling, seemed to enter on a new existence there. The rose and honeysuckle clung to the cottage walls; the ivy crept round the trunks of the trees; and the garden-flowers perfumed the air with delicious odours.”

In this talk, Catherine will explore both the smells with which Dickens would have been familiar and the use of smell within his novels. We will also smell some perfumes still available today which were created in Dickens’ lifetime.

10am for 10.30am start at Sydney Room, City Tattersalls Club, 194 – 204 Pitt Street (near Market Street), Sydney. No bookings required. $5 entry fee for NSW Dickens Society members. $10 for non-members.

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