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French Air

John Sutherland, 12 November 1987

The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Miriam Kochan.
Berg, 307 pp., £18, November 1986, 0 907582 47 8
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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by John Woods.
Penguin, 263 pp., £3.95, September 1987, 0 14 009244 7
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The Double Bass 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Hamish Hamilton, 57 pp., £8.95, September 1987, 9780241120392
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... In his autobiographical papers, Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman?, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, describes being piqued by an article in Science about how well bloodhounds can smell. Feynman hates not being best, and so he took time off from inventing the atom bomb (he was working at Los Alamos) to run an experiment. He had his wife handle certain coke bottles in an empty six-pack while he was out of the room for a couple of minutes ...

With the Aid of a Lorgnette

Frank Kermode, 28 April 1994

The Lure of the Sea 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Jocelyn Phelps.
Polity, 380 pp., £35, January 1994, 0 7456 0732 2
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The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Miriam Kochan.
Picador, 307 pp., £6.99, March 1994, 0 330 32930 8
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... Alain Corbin is a prolific new-style French historian, and these books are notable contributions to an interesting genre he describes as ‘the history of sensibilities’. The Foul and the Fragrant created something of a stir some years ago when the translation appeared in hardback, partly, I suppose, because no respected historian had ever before written so much, and so explicitly, about shit, which, as more sanitised historians had omitted to specify, occupied in former times the worry-space now claimed by nuclear waste ...

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