Thursday, August 27, 2015

F. Scott Fitzgerald: An Olfactory Archaeology

A wonderful literary use of smell to illuminate the thick layers of human detritus that accumulate with time in a New York apartment building. Climbing up the scented stairway is like descending through the layers of an archaeological dig.
Then he would trudge homeward, enter the dark hallway, and climb three rickety flights of stairs covered by an ancient carpet of long obliterated design. The hall had an ancient smell—of the vegetables of 1880, of the furniture polish in vogue when “Adam-and-Eve” Bryan ran against William McKinley, of portières an ounce heavier with dust, from worn-out shoes, and lint from dresses turned long since into patch-work quilts. This smell would pursue him up the stairs, revivified and made poignant at each landing by the aura of contemporary cooking, then, as he began the next flight, diminishing into the odor of the dead routine of dead generations.

Eventually would occur the door of his room, which slipped open with indecent willingness and closed with almost a sniff upon his “Hello, dear! Got a treat for you to-night.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Oh Russet Witch!”
From Tales of the Jazz Age (1922)


Katie Puckrik said...

This is glorious, Avery! I didn't think I could admire Fitzgerald's emotion-piercing prose any more than I do, and now you show me this.

Avery Gilbert said...

Katie Puckrik:

Speaking of admirable prose, I truly enjoyed your piece in the Guardian about the company re-creating the scents of the recently departed: "invisible taxidermy" and "parental enfleurage" were my favorites.

Katie Puckrik said...

Thank ye kindly, Doc!