Patrick Süskind Criticism - Essay

Robert Schwarz (review date autumn 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schwarz, Robert. Review of Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders, by Patrick Süskind. World Literature Today 59, no. 4 (autumn 1985): 587.

[In the following review, Schwarz summarizes the plot and themes of Das Parfum, comparing the novel to the works of Günter Grass and Marcel Proust.]

In eighteenth-century Paris the illegitimate urchin Grenouille, endowed with a spectacular sense of smell, hires himself to a rich perfume maker [in Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders]. His innate genius at identifying and creating fragrances from memory would make him famous, but he cares nothing for riches or prestige. His is the kind of inborn genius which feeds on itself, not unlike Mozart's music or Rembrandt's painting. His self-contained, misanthropically self-sufficient, and totally introverted personality, devoid of all feelings and morality, always at war with the world, makes Oskar in The Tin Drum seem a normal, gregarious lad by comparison. Grenouille's unique olfactory fantasies and reminiscences would put a Proust to shame. His inexhaustible talent for conceiving ever-new aromatic combinations and concoctions fills out his whole life. Grenouille (i.e., “the frog”) is the perfect idiot savant, bereft of ethical impulses, a wizard of aroma.

After Paris, he moves to the South of France, where he at first spends seven years as a recluse, then reenters the world of human beings, determined to find fulfillment by finding the ultimate, absolute olfactory experience. This he achieves by killing twenty-five girls whose body odors he distills, thus creating a unique fragrance. With this deed he accomplishes his final aim in life, his personal “salvation.”

Sick? Yes, for Grenouille is a monstrous pervert and fetishist, a moral Neanderthal, whose nose, rather than mind or heart, dictates his life. His pathological single-mindedness is frightening. However, this is also a thrilling and formidable novel about an almost wholly unexplored subject: the dynamics of that stepchild among sense organs, the nose. Süskind writes with a cool hand and is always in control. (He also throws in a free course on the chemistry of perfumery.) One can see Grenouille as an object of Freudian interest but also as a Mephistophelian disciple of de Sade. Can one, at the end of the novel (which shall not be revealed in this review), still say with the philosopher, “Nothing human is alien to me”?

Ruth Baumgarten (review date 26 September 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Baumgarten, Ruth. “Sugar and Spice.” New Statesman 112, no. 2896 (26 September 1986): 34.

[In the following review, Baumgarten evaluates the metaphorical use of the sense of smell in Perfume.]

Patrick Süskind's first novel [Perfume] comes here accompanied by the full blast of its publisher's fanfares. These announce it as the new Umberto Eco, a ‘serious’ (continental) historical novel meeting equally with critical rapture and middle-brow mass appeal. In the year since its domestic publication it hasn't budged once from the German bestseller chart.

But where the appeal of Eco's Name of the Rose lay in its complex twisting...

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Sara Terry (review date 10 December 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Terry, Sara. “Süskind's Novel of Scents and Sensibility.” Christian Science Monitor (10 December 1986): 28, 30.

[In the following review, Terry assesses the style and themes of Perfume, calling the novel a “fascinating exploration of the ‘essence’ of identity.”]

Long before this novel by Patrick Süskind hit bookstores—and best-seller lists—in the United States, word from across the Atlantic was that Perfume was a “major work” by a “brilliant” West German writer.

The superlatives may seem somewhat surprising considering that the object of the praise is a rather erudite historical novel. Its protagonist is...

(The entire section is 545 words.)

Robert Schwarz (review date autumn 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schwarz, Robert. Review of Die Taube, by Patrick Süskind. World Literature Today 61, no. 4 (autumn 1987): 620.

[In the following review, Schwarz praises Süskind's “wonderful” and “profound” achievement in Die Taube.]

[In Die Taube,] Jonathan Noel, a fifty-year-old recluse, likes the uneventful life, the low profile, the security born of an unchanging daily routine. He abominates “making waves” and feels threatened by the slightest alteration of a self-imposed, dull protocol. Ever since certain youthful disasters sapped his personality juices, he had decided on stability and unswerving loyalty to a monotonous, solitary, diffident existence as his personal summum bonum. Jonathan carries this to such a pitch that, when one day a stray pigeon sits before his door, his whole life comes unhinged. The pigeon becomes a major crisis. To cope with it, he even moves to a hotel. Ironically, he works as a security guard for a Parisian bank. (The locale is again France, as in Süskind's larger novel, Das Parfum; see WLT 59:4, p. 587.)

Various episodes continue to rattle Jonathan. He is driven to an increasing sense of solipsism. Waking up in total darkness in a strange hotel room brings him to the verge of psychic bankruptcy. When he finally recaptures the sensation of the “real” world and the reality of other people, however, his despair fades and he returns to his apartment. The pigeon has been removed by the concierge; the world has not come to an end. Saved from despair and dementia, he resumes his well-regulated life, presumably still a “loner” but at least part of the human race—from Shakespeare's “That way madness lies” to Goethe's “Die Erde hat mich wieder,” so to speak.

What a wonderful, profound story, to be sure! Laying bare the soul of a lonely eccentric, as he did in Das Parfum, Süskind displays his great powers of prose. For those who like their novels rich in meaning and impressive in phraseology (and who would not?), his small novel, thin in size but bountiful in insight and wisdom, may be their personal “book of the year.”

John Sutherland (review date 12 November 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sutherland, John. “French Air.” London Review of Books 9, no. 20 (12 November 1987): 12-13.

[In the following review, Sutherland discusses the examination of scents and smells throughout literature, comparing the themes and styles of Perfume and The Double Bass.]

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...

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Merle Rubin (review date 3 August 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. Review of The Pigeon, by Patrick Süskind. Christian Science Monitor (3 August 1988): 13.

[In the following review, Rubin outlines the plot of The Pigeon, lauding the novella for constructing a classical “aesthetic catharsis.”]

Once again, German writer Patrick Süskind demonstrates his predilection—and his gift—for writing about obsession. His first novel, Perfume, unfurled a shocking tale, set in 18th-century France, of an odorless man obsessed with odor who stops at nothing—including murder—in his quest to create a perfume that no one will be able to resist.

The Pigeon, set in contemporary Paris, details a single day in the life of an unremarkable, middle-aged bank guard. It is, if anything, more of a tour de force than Perfume, because it does not rely on luridly sensational material, but distills its emotional power entirely from the smallest, most ordinary of incidents.

Jonathan Noel's problems begin when he opens the door of his room one August morning and finds a pigeon on the landing, staring back at him, as bold and immovable as death. His normal equanimity somehow shattered, Noel goes about his workday, increasingly off balance. He is tormented by an inconvenient itch, haunted by a sudden fear that things are not what they seem, and terrified of the ocean of uncertainty and insecurity that surrounds the little world he has made for himself. Before the day is over, this stolid man undergoes a barrage of emotions ranging from stark terror through misery, anger, and despair, back up to the heights of relief and joy, all without doing anything that would attract more than the passing glance of a passer-by, yet, at one point, his hate is so “titanic … that he would have liked to reduce the world to rubble and ashes, because he had a hole in his trousers.”

By making this absurdity eminently believable, Süskind reminds us very vividly of the immensities concealed in the most infinitesimal things. By holding up a mirror to some common fears and anxieties that most of us find too silly to confess, yet too disturbing to ignore, this harrowing, gently comic novella exemplifies what Aristotle may have had in mind when describing the phenomenon of aesthetic catharsis.

Ian Brunskill (review date 30 December 1988-5 January 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brunskill, Ian. “Seeing the Unseeing.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4474 (30 December 1988-5 January 1989): 1448.

[In the following review, Brunskill compares and contrasts The Pigeon with Das Parfum, focusing on the protagonists, themes, and styles.]

In The Parable of the Blind, Gert Hofmann uses the collective voice of the blind beggars in Brueghel's painting of the same title to question man's ability to make sense of the world. The beggars confront the problem in its most literal form. Lacking the comfort of familiar images against which to organize experience, they can know the world only by interrogating each new moment,...

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Judith Ryan (essay date summer-fall 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ryan, Judith. “The Problem of Pastiche: Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum.German Quarterly 63, nos. 3–4 (summer-fall 1990): 396-403.

[In the following essay, Ryan examines the textual significance of allusions in Das Parfum to the Romanticism and Symbolist-Aestethic literary periods in light of postmodern ideas concerning pastiche and parody.]

As critics of postmodernism would have it, the phenomenon consists of “random cannibalization of all the styles of the past, the play of random allusion.”1 At the end of Patrick Süskind's novel Das Parfum, the protagonist has himself been cannibalized, but not before his author has...

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Stuart Parkes (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Parkes, Stuart. “The Novels of Patrick Süskind: A Phenomenon of the 1980s.” In Literature on the Threshold: The German Novel in the 1980s, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Roland Smith, pp. 309-19. New York: Berg, 1990.

[In the following essay, Parkes provides a thematic overview of Das Parfum, Die Taube, and Der Kontrabaß, contrasting their purpose and style with the general characteristics of the postmodern German novel.]

In his introduction to The Name of the Rose dated 5 January 1980, Umberto Eco compares the intellectual climate of that time with the atmosphere of ten years earlier. He no longer sees ‘a widespread...

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Manfred R. Jacobson (essay date spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jacobson, Manfred R. “Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum: A Postmodern Künstlerroman.German Quarterly 65, no. 2 (spring 1992): 201-11.

[In the following essay, Jacobson explicates Das Parfum in terms of the traditions of Küstlerliteratur and literary postmodernism.]

Its immense popularity notwithstanding, the critical reception of Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum has been quite mixed, as well as fraught with contradictions and disagreements. It this novel a “brilliant fable”1 or “a ridiculously improbable piece of verbose claptrap”?2 Is it an “allegory of the Third Reich”3 or a...

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Neil H. Donahue (essay date summer 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Donahue, Neil H. “Scents and Insensibility: Patrick Süskind's New Historical Critique of ‘Die Neue Sensibilität’ in Das Parfum (1985).” Modern Language Studies 22, no. 3 (summer 1992): 36-43.

[In the following essay, Donahue speculates on the relationship between the formal pastiche of Das Parfum and parallel developments in New Historicism, demonstrating how the novel's parody of Peter Handke's Die Stunde der wahren Empfindung (1975) informs its satirical critique of the 1970s “Die Neue Sensibilität” movement in German literature.]

Patrick Süskind's sensational novel Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders (1985)...

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Philip Brady (review date 16 October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Brady, Philip. “Child-Minded.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4672 (16 October 1992): 24.

[In the following review, Brady assesses the plot, style, and themes of The Story of Mr. Sommer.]

Patrick Süskind, rarely out of Germany's bestseller lists in recent years, cannot be accused of always trawling the same rich waters. His tragi-comic, minutely observed monodrama The Double Bass (1984) prepared no one for his record-breaking novel Perfume (1985), exotic, gruesome, part history, part crime-fiction and far from comic. The Story of Mr. Sommer springs another surprise. It is a novella told—or, more precisely, ramblingly recollected—by...

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Edith Borchardt (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Borchardt, Edith. “Caricature, Parody, Satire: Narrative Masks as Subversion of the Picaro in Patrick Süskind's Perfume.” In State of the Fantastic: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film, edited by Nicholas Ruddick, pp. 97-103. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Borchardt examines the function and subversion of picaresque novel conventions in Perfume, equating the authorial narrator of the picaresque novel with Perfume's hyperbolic protagonist.]

Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume (1985) is a picaresque narrative1 that foregrounds the fantastic fictional...

(The entire section is 3024 words.)

R. G. Whitinger and M. Herzog (essay date spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Whitinger, R. G., and M. Herzog. “Hoffmann's Das Fräulein von Scuderi and Süskind's Das Parfum: Elements of Homage in a Postmodernist Parody of a Romantic Artist Story.” German Quarterly 67, no. 2 (spring 1994): 222-34.

[In the following essay, Whitinger and Herzog explore the elements of “postmodernist parody” found in E. T. A. Hoffmann's Das Fräulein von Scuderi and Süskind's Das Parfum.]

Simply by portraying a gifted artist on the loose as a serial killer in bygone France, Patrick Süskind's novel Das Parfum (1985) recalls E. T. A. Hoffmann's story Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1818). Yet critics have noted...

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Bradley Butterfield (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Butterfield, Bradley. “Enlightenment's Other in Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum: Adorno and the Ineffable Utopia of Modern Art.” Comparative Literature Studies 32, no. 3 (1995): 401-18.

[In the following essay, Butterfield examines Das Parfum in terms of the positive values of the text's negativity as postulated by Theodor Adorno's concept of “determinate negation” which concerns the consciousness of contradiction which denies resolution.]

(T)here is no longer beauty or consolation except in the gaze falling on horror, withstanding it, and in unalleviated consciousness of negativity holding fast to the possibility of what...

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Gabriel Josipovici (review date 22 November 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Josipovici, Gabriel. “Deep Books.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4886 (22 November 1996): 24.

[In the following review, Josipovici discusses Süskind's prose and criticism in Three Stories and a Reflection, expressing disappointment with the overall collection.]

The vogue for small books, so long a delightful feature of Continental publishing, is at last growing in Britain. Of course, small does not necessarily mean satisfying, and there are times when a small volume feels distinctly insubstantial. This is a case in point. Patrick Süskind has always been a clever writer, which means he is often just clever-clever. Of the four items in this...

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Jeffrey Adams (essay date fall 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Adams, Jeffrey. “Narcissism and Creativity in the Postmodern Era: The Case of Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum.Germanic Review 75, no. 4 (fall 2000): 259-79.

[In the following essay, Adams explores the relation between Süskind's personal identity and literary persona as projected in the themes and characters of Das Parfum, demonstrating how the text undermines the conventional opinion that a literary text exclusively belongs to its author.]


One of the most celebrated younger writers in contemporary German literature, Patrick Süskind owes his fame mainly to his literary debut,...

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Dieter Stolz (essay date 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stolz, Dieter. “Patrick Süskind's Parfum: ‘No One Knows How Well Made It Is.’” In German-Language Literature Today: International and Popular?, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Julian Preece, pp. 19-30. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2000.

[In the following essay, Stolz discusses Das Parfum within the context of “new” countercultural European narrative techniques.]

Mein Genie ist in meinen Nüstern …

(Nietzsche: Ecce Homo)


Also das gibt es immer noch oder schon wieder: einen deutschen Schriftsteller,...

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Ed Moffatt (essay date July 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Moffatt, Ed. “Grenouille: A Modern Schizophrenic in the Enlightening World of Das Parfum.Forum for Modern Language Studies 37, no. 3 (July 2001): 298-313.

[In the following essay, Moffatt diagnoses Grenouille, the protagonist in Das Parfum, with acute schizophrenia, exploring the critical implications of the relationship between Grenouille and his cultural milieu and showing how the text subverts received notions of socio-cultural development and human progress.]

To maintain that Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a modern, schizophrenic anti-hero, more advanced and psychologically complex than his Enlightenment context, is to fly in the face both...

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