Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Scented Palace, The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer

Title: A Scented Palace, The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer
Author: Elisabeth de Feydeau

Translator: Jane Lizop
Publisher: I.B. Tauris, London, New York (2006)
Category: Non-fiction, history, biography
Price: US$22 hardcover (
Number of Pages: 114 before appendices, 140 including appendices

What it is about:
Jean-Louis Fargeon was the perfumer to Marie Antoinette. Born in 1748, seven years before the birth of the future Queen of France, Jean-Louis was the first-born son in a long line of apothecaries and perfumers. This book follows the trajectory of Jean-Louis' life as he masters the skills of a perfumer, develops his business and serves as perfumer to Marie Antoinette. The history of the French revolution is interwoven into the tale.

My favourite passage:
"Finally the perfumer had to reinforce the depth and perfect the harmony of his preparation. Vanilla would lend a warm and delicious touch, soft and velvety, redolent of Marie Antoinette's childhood and her fondness for Viennese pastries, a gourmet hint of sweetness and gentleness. Cedar and sandalwood would add the note of the wooded lanes of the Trianon. Amber and musk would overlay the entire composition with a sensual, animal fervour, and a pinch of benzoin would add warmth and tenacity to the whole." (page 70)

Why I chose this book:
A good friend/blogging fan noticed that I was researching and writing about Marie Antoinette in the fall and gave me this book for my birthday.

Rating: B
While this book was well-written, I found the volume slim with 114 pages. The footnotes are not extensive and the source of material that this biography is based on is not really clear (other than a mention of Fargeon's papers).

The book was amusing but did not really provide much new information about the time period, with the exception of the passages about the toilette preparations of Marie Antoinette. Nevertheless, I think that it is good read for die-hard Marie Antoinette fans. I simply cannot get enough of this fashion icon.