Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Summary and Analysis of Chapters 42-49

The final chapters of Part Three of the novel concern the pursuit and murder of Laure Richis, the prosecution for the murders, and Grenouille's eventual escape from custody. The fantastic tale is full of suspense and surprises. Chapter 42 finds Antoine Richis in his garden, watching his daughter. She disappears behind a hedge for a second or two too long, and he panics. Richis is under a great deal of stress, still worried for the life of his daughter. The rich farmer muses about why the murderer chose the victims he did, and thinks that possibly it is because the criminal is collecting an image of perfection. If this is the case, then his Laure could not possibly be out of jeopardy, since she is the most beautiful woman in France.

So, Richis tries to get inside the mind of the murderer and outsmart him. He does not know that Grenouille has a supernatural sense of smell which makes his movements and his hunting abilities almost magical in their success. Richis attempts a ruse by telling everyone that he is going to Grenoble. Richis, their attendants, and Laure start off on that road, but they turn off the road to Cabris after leaving the region of Grasse. They send most of their train onto Grenoble, but Richis, Laure, and her maid go on a different road. Richis’ plan is to take Laure to stay one night on the coast, and the next day take her to the island monastery of Sant-Honorat until her marriage to the son of the baron de Bouyon. By this tactic Richis is attempting to protect Laure until her wedding night, after which she will no longer be a virgin and therefore, he thinks, will not be of interest to the maniacal murder (who thus far has only taken virgins).

Grenouille knows all of these movements, if not the reasons behind them, by following the scent of Laure. He has in his cabin, in a padded crate, twenty-four flacons filled with the scents of the twenty-four girls he has killed. He is almost ready to create his ultimate scent. He has only to take the top and finest note for his master perfume: the scent of Laure. By chance, Grenouille leaves his work and steps outside, and he senses that he can no longer smell Laure. He thinks she is dead, but he learns from Druot that the Richis family has left Grasse. By his nose, he knows that the party has not gone to Grenoble, as the town thinks. He follows the Richis by scent on the road to Cabris, after having collected his tools for the murder and scent-collection of Laure.

Grenouille reaches the inn La Napoule before Laure and her father do. He beds down for the night in a stall, giving a false name and profession. Richis, upon arrival, asks if there are other guests. When he learns that there is a "journeyman tanner" in the stable, he goes to inspect him. Grenouille, scentless, is feigning innocent sleep in a stall when Richis comes upon him: "Richis had the impression that he was not even there, but was merely a chimera cast by the swaying shadow of the lantern candle" (213). Satisfied that Grenouille is not a threat, he locks his daughter in her bedroom and goes to bed.

Grenouille finds the girl's window ajar, and he gets in by means of a ladder from the stable. Quickly he kills her with a blow to the head and then wraps her from head to foot in oiled cloth. Then he sits and waits for six hours while her scent is distilled into the oil. While he waits, he feels profoundly contented. "He had never felt so fine in all his life, so peaceful, so steady, so whole and at one with himself--not even back inside his mountain--as during these hours when a craftsman took his rest sitting in the dark of night beside his victim, waiting and watching. They were the only moments when something like cheerful thoughts formed inside his gloomy brain" (218).

Near dawn, Grenouille removes the oiled cloth from his victim, and he takes all traces of remaining oil from her body. He takes this, her clothes, and her shorn hair and leaves without even looking at the body a final time. A few hours later Richis finds, to his horror, that his worst nightmare has come true.

Hysteria now reigns in the region, since the murderer previously thought vanquished and banished has obviously struck again. But now there is coordination among law enforcement, and there are clues as to the identity of the murderer, especially the presence of the "journeyman tanner" in La Napoule's stable. Finally a witness remembers Grenouille asking about the road that the Richis party had taken, and Grenouille is arrested. In his cabin, all the evidence of the twenty-five murders is found, and Grenouille is condemned. The mob screams for him to be given to them to tear apart, but the authorities insist that he will be executed lawfully.

When Grenouille is brought out to be executed, he is wearing the scent of the twenty-five girls he has murdered. Miraculously, no one now believes that this man could, by any stretch of the imagination, be the murderer. The perfume is of such exquisite loveliness that it inspires love and happiness in everyone who smells it--even those who are too far away to smell it consciously. This leads, incredibly, not only to Grenouille's release but also to a vast and long-lasting public orgy.

Richis comes to him and begs him to come with him and become his son. The grieving father asks his daughter's murderer for forgiveness. Grenouille, feeling the hate and revulsion for all mankind rise up in him, blacks out.


Richis, while a more astute opponent than Grenouille has ever faced before, is still no match for the wiliness and supernatural abilities of Grenouille. Richis tries very hard to outwit the murder, and comes close to doing so in his analysis of the murders. "As we can see, Richis was an enlightened thinker who did not shrink from blasphemous conclusions, and though he was not thinking in olfactory categories, but rather than visual ones, he was nevertheless very near the truth" (203)--in other words, he knew that the victims were being killed because the murderer was in some way trying to reproduce his ideal of ultimate desirability, but Richis thinks it has to do with visual instead of olfactory attractiveness. Like the rest of humanity, Richis severely underestimates the importance of scent, while Grenouille understands that scent rules practically everything.

Grenouille was not only shunned by all people because of his misfortunes and his lack of scent, but he must feel very alone in a world where no one understands the importance of the sense which he holds supreme. Because people not only do not understand the importance of smells, but also are unable to smell a great deal of the things Grenouille can, Grenouille feels only contempt for the deluded masses.

This realization is particularly sharp when Grenouille finds that he can manipulate these masses completely to his will with the introduction of a scent, as he does at his erstwhile execution. That people are so completely controlled by something that they not do not understand, but would deny even exists as Grenouille understands it, makes Grenouille feel not only separate, but infinitely superior to every other person on earth.

During the orgy, Grenouille muses that he is more godlike than God, and understands humanity, perhaps, better than God does. Grenouille, who was born in the worst possible situation, and denied something that every other human being has--a personal scent--was able to create a scent for himself that not only would fool everyone, but also would subject everyone to his will. How was this not Godlike? To know that the people in this world, whom he always wanted to love him, do not have their own wills to love or hate but are simply controlled by various odors makes Grenouille know that having their love would never make them happy. The world is merely a chemical place, with organisms acting and reacting solely on the basis of chemical signals, like ants following their fellows' chemical trails. There is now nothing left in this world for Grenouille to strive for.

The final straw, which makes Grenouille lose all respect for humanity, is the abject apology of Richis. Not even the man whom he has so recently wronged is proof against the chemical commands of the master scent that Grenouille has created. Once Grenouille knows that there is practically nothing in this world that he cannot have, because all is obtainable through the right mix of scent, nothing in the world seems valuable to him. Richis is no longer a man with principles or emotions; he, too, is like an animal responding to a stimulus, such that all memory and logic are subverted or perverted to match the commands of the scent. Grenouille, finding there are no more scent worlds to conquer, and nothing in humanity of any value, has lost any purpose for living. His blacking out symbolizes his desire to leave this world.

This final perfume is Grenouille’s master work. It is truly a masterpiece in the sense of the old guilds, proving (if anyone needed proof) that Grenouille is a professional, master perfumer, no longer needing to be trained by someone else. He has learned more about smells and distilling them, via many methods, than anyone. He is a most grotesque version of the troubled artist, whose greatness cannot be understood by the common people and whose isolation only increases his artistic ability. Like many such artists, he will die early and misunderstood.