Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Summary and Analysis of Chapters 8-15

Chapter 8 begins on September 1, 1753, the anniversary of King Louis XV's coronation. Grenouille is present for the fireworks on the right bank of the Seine, but he is not interested in watching them. He has come to see if he can find something new to smell. He catches a distant scent "rolling down the rue de Seine like a ribbon, unmistakably clear, and yet as before very delicate and very fine" (39).

Grenouille follows the scent, almost entirely by his nose, until he finds its source, a teenage girl of about thirteen who is pitting yellow plums in a shabby lean-to on the rue de Marais. He is convinced that her smell, which has drawn him here as if by its own volition rather than his, is "the higher principle, that pattern by which the others must be ordered. It was pure beauty" (43). He marvels at the scent awhile, watching the girl, getting closer and closer to her in the darkness behind her.

When he is almost upon her, drawing in her smell, the girl senses his presence. In a moment Grenouille, it appears almost unconsciously, decides to kill her. He strangles her, then strips her of her clothes and takes in her glorious smell. Once her scent has gone and he has been sated with it, he leaves the body. He goes home and feels that he is now truly happy. This event makes him certain that it is his destiny to become the world's greatest perfumer, because he not only has the most sensitive nose and the most accurate memory for scents, he has now discovered the master scent to which all perfumes would strive to express.

Giuseppe Baldini is perhaps the closest person in Paris to the "master perfumer" that Grenouille wants to be. He runs an extremely posh shop on the Pont-au-Change, a bridge that connects the right bank of the Seine to the island in the river called the Ile de la Cité. Baldini is a bit past his glory, however, because an upstart named Pélissier has made a perfume called Amor and Psyche which is taking away all of the old man's business. Baldini knows that his time in business is coming to an end, and he is planning his somewhat ignominious retirement. The fashion of perfumes has passed Baldini by, and his old-fashioned master perfumer skills, which Pélissier and his fellows lack, are no longer valued by customers.

Baldini is also very disturbed by the changes taking place in Paris: "People reading books, even women" (57). The new intellectualism and humanism, not to mention the rise of the bourgeoisie, threaten everything that Baldini values. He has a long-suffering shop apprentice, Chenier, who panders to his boss, but also worries that Baldini will take too long to die for the business to be passed on to Chenier to be worth anything, or that Baldini will sell the business out from under him.

Baldini has a commission from a Count Verhamont to perfume Spanish leather with a scent like Amor and Psyche. At first he tries to make a scent of his own to match it, but he finds that he has no creative powers left. He sends Chenier to obtain a bottle of Amor and Psyche so that he can copy it--a very ignoble thing for a craftsman and established man of business to do. After getting the rival perfume and testing it with his nose for hours, Baldini cannot discover the components of Amor and Psyche, so he falls into despair.

The bell rings, and Grenouille is on Baldini's doorstep with the goatskins for the count's Spanish leather from the tanner Grimal. When Grenouille is invited in, he is determined to show his mettle, and he offers himself as an apprentice perfumer. He keeps insisting that he can replicate the perfume Amor and Psyche, and he finally persuades Grimal to let him into the workshop to try. Grimal, after some resistance from Baldini, creates an exact replica of the scent. When this is done, he asks the "maitre" if he can improve on the scent, because Baldini and Grenouille both think that the scent is not very good to begin with. Grenouille makes a scent "so heavenly fine that tears well[] in Baldini's eyes" (85). Grenouille begs to work for Baldini, who says that he will think about it.


The scene of Grenouille mixing the scent entirely from the evidence of his fractional smelling shows that he is not only a lover of scents, but actually a genius at identifying and understanding them. The perfume Amor and Psyche, which Grenouille replicates, is the most popular scent in Paris at the moment, and Baldini, who has been making perfumes for a lifetime, cannot replicate it. That Grenouille can perform this impressive feat with no training is extraordinary, but the most incredible thing is that he improves the scent so that Baldini not only scents the Spanish leather for the count with it, but he also bottles it and names it. Baldini, while not yet agreeing to take Grenouille on as an apprentice, is already profiting from Grenouille's gift. While Baldini finds Grenouille loathsome, he cannot deny that the young man has a remarkable talent.

It seems a surprise that Grenouille would immediately kill the girl pitting plums and thus destroy the source of the most beautiful scent he has ever smelled. Once she is dead, and Grenouille has drunk in her smell, she no longer produces the scent. While Grenouille experiences a sort of high for a time after killing her (because he has been sated on her smell, not because he enjoyed her death), he has eliminated the source of the scent forever. On some level Grenouille knows this, and it presents a problem to him. The problem is not that he has taken a human life--Grenouille has never been treated as a valuable life or an eternal soul, so he does not think of other people in those terms, either--but that there is no way for him to preserve this scent. He can remember it, with his remarkable olfactory memory, but he cannot revisit the scent as it was, now that the girl is dead. This realization, which at this stage of the book is an unconscious one, will influence Grenouille's future actions.

In a slight twist of irony, when we first meet Baldini he is wearing a "blue coat adorned with gold frogs" (45). Of course Baldini doesn't know that, shortly, a "frog" (Grenouille’s name in French means "frog") will enter his life and, indeed, bring him much gold. That the fulfillment of all of Baldini's desires, in the appearance of the young apprentice who will be his behind-the-scenes genius of perfume-making, will ultimately end in his demise is another ironic twist along the lines of being careful what one wishes for. Baldini was at the end of his rope when Grenouille cajoles him to show the perfumer his untrained powers. Baldini could have averted the series of events which led to his extraordinary success at the end of his career (and, arguably, those events which caused his spectacular death), but his sense of opportunity--or perhaps his greed--did not allow him to pass by the possibility that Grenouille might just be the genius of scent he said he was. That Grenouille is exactly what he claimed to be is both Baldini's good fortune and his misfortune.

Baldini represents a dying tradition of medieval craftsmanship and social outlook. His sensibilities are firmly in the seventeenth century, but the tumultuous and largely prosperous eighteenth century is in its full flower in Paris at this time. In many respects Baldini's ideas are still medieval; he has a fatalist view of God's will, and a willingness to accept a certain amount of suffering because he believes it is ordained by God. His astonishment and revulsion at the spread of humanistic learning is a clue to understanding his character; for example, he is mortally offended that the vinegar-maker, Pélissier, has a created a successful scent just by virtue of his entrepreneurial spirit and popular savvy rather than through years of traditional apprenticeship and belonging to the ancient perfumers' guild. The old social and economic institutions are cracking, and people like Pélissier are finally able to break into markets without all the old hidebound rules and oligarchies holding him back.

Grenouille takes the traditional route through apprenticeship because it is the only route open to him, yet he also represents the new meritocracy rather than the old traditions of Baldini and the guilds. Grenouille is an upstart bastard (generally, apprentices were required to be of legitimate birth) who came from another trade. The fact that he is able to press himself on Baldini is only because of that man's weakness and greed combined with Grenouille’s skills, but Grenouille nevertheless makes a place in his chosen profession. This is an example of how the economic and social institutions were changing in the France of Louis XV, as people were increasingly making their own way in trades rather than following their parents.