The Smell of Books

A Cultural-Historical Study of Olfactory Perception in Literature
Hans J. Rindisbacher
Demonstrates that sense of smell plays a significant role in the history of European literature


The Smell of Books investigates the ways in which the olfactory sense has manifested itself in Italian, German, French, Russian, and English literature of the past 150 years. Against a broad interdiscriplinary backdrop that includes linguistics, psychology, aesthetics, and sociology, Hans J. Rindisbacher takes a new approach to literary history – one centered on the sense of smell.
Rindisbacher examines the works of the German Expressionists and of Baudelaire, Huxley, Rimbaud, Wilde, and Turgenev, as well as Holocaust memoirs and contemporary German books such as Patrick Suskind’s Das Parfum and Christa Wolf’s Storfall. He demonstrates that the sense of smell, which has heretofore occupied a position at the bottom of the sensory hierarchy, plays a consequential role in romantic, modern, and contemporary European and Russian literature.

Praise / Awards

  • "A remarkable book of notable originality which should attract a good deal of interest."
    --Jeffrey L. Sammons, Yale University
  • "An important and original contribution to the field of aesthetics and literary history."
    --Jens Rieckmann, University of Washington
  • "In following the progress of olfactory awareness and expression through the last two centuries of literary history, Hans J. Rindisbacher has produced an extensive and amazing study of aesthetics and the senses. There is, as he explains in his preface, a story to be told about smells and literature and his version of this story which must remain incomplete--given the breadth of the topic--will inspire and enable a great deal of scholarly reflection to come. This is an important book."
    --German Quarterly
  • "It goes without saying that Rindisbacher's undertaking is timely--in the age of pheromones, when film makers experiment with techniques to infuse appropriately stimulating aromas into theaters and when you cannot open a magazine without being assaulted by the latest fragrances. Through his imaginative approach Rindisbacher has succeeded in exposing, at least in the post-Freudian world, the association of smell with love and death; and his survey does suggest that literature since Huysmans, Wilde, and Rilke displays an increase in the aesthetic sophistication of olfactory sensations--awareness of them as well as the description of them--coupled with a decrease in the realist-hygienic manner of treatment."
    --Sewanee Review
  • Winner: Modern Language Association's 1992 Independent Scholar Prize

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 392pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1993
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10383-6

Add to Cart
  • $94.95 U.S.



  • Europe, European literature, literary studies, literary criticism, literary history, smell, olfactory, scents, perfume, olfactory awareness, aesthetic, olfaction, odor, Raskolnikov