As a newborn left to die by his unmarried fishmonger mother, Grenouille cried and was heard by bystanders and rescued. His mother was executed for her crime. He was taken in by the church, which paid for him to be raised by a woman, Madame Gaillard, among two dozen other orphans. When the parish stopped paying for his room and board, Madame Gaillard, an emotionally cold woman because of a head injury, gave him to Grimal the tanner as an apprentice.
As a tanner's apprentice, Grenouille has back-breaking and dangerous work to perform every day, and he is treated no better than a domestic animal. During this time, Grenouille gets his first taste of freedom, and he comes to learn that he is more attuned to scents than others are. This leads him to become an apprentice for Baldini, a perfumer. Grenouille becomes so obsessed with smells that he finds a young teenage girl and kills her--just so that he may smell her scent.
While with Baldini, Grenouille proves to be a genius at scent-making. He leaves Baldini as a journeyman perfumer, and he goes to live in a mountain cave alone for seven years. Grenouille discovers that he has no scent of his own although everyone else in the world does. When Grenouille comes back to the world, he makes various personal scents for himself, and he thus gets people to react to him how he chooses. Since he knows that the most lovable scent in the world is produced by teenage girls, he kills twenty-five of them and extracts their scents to make a cologne for himself. He is captured for these crimes, but he escapes execution because he puts on the scent. Everyone magically believes him to be innocent, so he walks away free. He thengoes to Paris, puts on the scent, and lets the mob kill him.
A "gifted and abominable personage" (3), Grenouille is a character of severe emotional limitation uncompensated by his super olfactory capabilities. Since he was never wanted or loved (and, according to the novel, could not be loved because human love is produced almost exclusively in response to personal scent, of which he has none), he feels no love toward other human beings. He extracts scent from his victims with no more emotion than if they were flowers.
Jean-Baptiste's wet nurse, who returned him to the cloister of Saint-Merri because she was repulsed by his lack of smell. She is patronized by Father Terrier, but she steadfastly refuses to continue to nurse Grenouille.
The monk of Saint-Merri, who sends Jean-Baptiste to Madame Gaillard's. He is absentmindedly genial, but he takes no real interest in Grenouille.
The woman who cares for Grenouille until he is eight. She has no emotion toward her orphan charges, caring for two dozen of them at a time, because she suffered a head injury as a child. She gives Grenouille away to a tanner as soon as the parish stops paying his room and board.
The tanner to whom Grenouille is apprenticed after Madame Gaillard no longer receives money to take care of him. He is not actually a vicious master, but he locks Grenouille in a closet and treats him only as a work animal. As Grenouille becomes a better worker, he is treated slightly better, but Grimal is never kind to him. He happily sells Grenouille to Baldini as soon as he is asked.
Giuseppe Baldini is an aging, once great, master perfumer who has an elegant shop on the Pont-au-Change. Baldini is on the point of retirement, his powers of invention gone and his business dwindling alarmingly, when Grenouille insists on showing Baldini his remarkable skills and begs to be his apprentice. Baldini is somewhat an egotist, and once he discovers Grenouille's skill he has no problem taking his apprentice's genius for his own. He also is dismissive of his wife, other perfumers, and the social changes taking place around him in pre-Revolutionary France.
A rival perfumer of Baldini's, Pélissier is a vinegar maker, although under the current laws he is allowed to produce scents. Pélissier is the lesser craftsman, but he has managed to lead the perfume market in Paris for many years--one reason that Baldini's business has declined. Baldini despises Pélissier but tries to copy Pélissier's fragrance Amor and Psyche for his own client.
Marquis de La Taillard-Espinasse
A ridiculous nobleman who believes he has the intellect to tell the world how it should be run. He espouses the pseudo-scientific theory of fluidum vitale, and with the help of Grenouille in his wild-man state he attempts to "prove" his idea that the earth exudes a lethal gas. Grenouille takes his hospitality and allows himself to be exhibited by this charlatan.
A prepubescent girl when Grenouille first finds her in the town of Grasse. She is a redhead of such surpassing beauty that her scent is considered by Grenouille to be the most wonderful in the world. He waits for her to age a couple of years before he extracts her scent by killing her. She is the last of his 26 victims.
Laure's very protective father. He adores his beautiful daughter, and he attempts to take her away as the murders of teenage girls continue. He is unsuccesful, for he does not understand the nature of the killer or his methods.
The widow of a master perfumer. She has a workshop in Grasse where her journeyman makes perfume products for wholesale. She hires Grenouille as a second journeyman. This woman has a relationship with her journeyman, Druot, and eventually marries him.
The journeyman and lover of Madame Arnulfi. He drives Grenouille hard as the second journeyman, but he is not really cruel. He eventually marries Madame Arnulfi. Like most people, he is uninterested in Grenouille as a human being at all. He is eventually executed, however, for Grenouille's heinous crimes.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.