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Monday, April 4, 2011

Regency Fragrances....and what does she smell like?

by Donna Hatch

In my attempt to create the feeling of "being there" in my novels, I try to keep as many of the senses engaged as possible. Especially in really key scenes where I slow everything down, such as first sight, or first touch, I pull in sensory details other than sight or sound--touch, taste and scent.

Scent is usually easy, especially if the hero or heroine is in a room because they could smell food or a bouquet of flowers, but when they are in an embrace and all they smell is each other, what do they smell? Okay, the hero I generally have no problem with, but what about the heroine? What does she smell like to the hero?

It seems like historical heroines always smell of roses or lavender or so I wanted my heroine to wear a more original scent. So what did I choose?

I confess in the past I chose lavender, because that seemed to be a popular scent for women to put in their final hair rinse. Okay, I admit it; I needed to do some research first. I couldn’t write down "roses" because rose water reminds me of grandmas, not spunky beautiful young heroines.

So what other scents would a nineteenth-century woman have worn? Citrusy? I like citrus, but that didn’t seem very Regency. I mean, what Regency heroine smells like oranges? Original is one thing, but I don’t want to bump out the reader either. Musk reminds me of men. So I ventured out to the internet to find an alternative.

I found Lilac Vegetal, which sounds great except for the "Vegetal" part which sounds like one of those health food vegetable drinks that are green and difficult to swallow.

I stumbled on a site about the Grasse region in France, a place famous for its perfume. The early perfumes created here were scented with ambergris and wild myrtle. I have no idea what ambergris smells like, and I’m willing to bet my readers don’t either. Plus it said it's created from the fatty secretions of the sperm whale. Eew! And wild myrtle? I doubt my hero wouldn't recognize the scent of wild myrtle. I sure wouldn't.

Then I found the motherlode in the 13th Cenutry Perfumery. We can all use this! Tons of spices are listed, but I only went for the scents I both recognize and, more importantly, find appealing.

Apple, clover, Lily of the Valley, mint, apricot, cinnamon, jasmine, sandalwood, sweet orange. Okay, that last one, I’ll change to orange blossom lest she smell like an orange julius.

I also found the ingredients of Eau de Cologne, popular from the 18th century on: rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon. Mmm. Bergamot--except that makes me think of Earl Grey Tea--not exactly a feminine scent.

Then I found it. Violets!! Huzzah!!!! I recognize that smell and it’s got this magical quality that makes it come and go in waves, so each time it returns, it renews itself so it's a very provactive fragrance that would tempt the hero even before he has her in a clench! Woo hoo!

Okay, sweetie, you soooo smell like violets!

But what about the next heroine? Any suggestions?


Unknown said...

Hmmm.... I guess that would depend on the girl. If she were fresh from the country, or exceptionally innocent, I might go with a light fruity scent. Apple, apricot, or orange. For a more sultry, flirty type, definitely the jasmine.

I agree that getting the right scent is important. I read a book years and years ago, one of the first romances I ever read, in which the heroin wore a magnolia scent. I think of that story every time I smell that blossom to this day.

catslady said...

I'm allegic to a lot of scents but natural smells are fine. My favorite smell, remembered from childhood, is honeysuckle. We had a hillside full and it really is a wonderful scent and has a nice sounding name too lol. I also like orange blossoms - we had a bush in our front yard and it too has a very pleasing smell.

Jenny Allworthy said...

Do you think Regency ladies would have used 4711 from Cologne Germany, as it has been produced since the 1790's? I used to have a bottle of it when I was a child, probably brought back by my parents from a European trip in the 1970s.

According to Wikipedia, "In a base of dilute ethanol (70-90%), Eau de Cologne contains a mixture of citrus oils including oils of lemon, orange, tangerine, bergamot, lime, grapefruit and neroli. It can also contain oils of lavender, rosemary, thyme, petitgrain (orange leaf), and jasmine."

Alas, no violet, but I like that idea!

Donna Hatch said...

What fantastic suggestions!! I can't wait to use these for future stories. Thanks for stopping by.