In the opening chapter of Therese Raquin and Perfume, each of the authors opens up the novels in different ways. In this essay I will discuss how both authors have established location using a variety of literary techniques to enthuse and attract the reader. Each author wrote their novels at different eras. Sï¿½skind wrote Perfume in a modern 20th Century and set the novel in an 18th Century France suffering from the aftermath of the French revolution. Sï¿½skind straightforwardly focuses on the time period and main protagonist Grenouille, the peculiar simple story telling technique establishes the novel.
The purpose of this is to intrigue the reader and make sure he or she will carry on reading the book. On the other hand, Zola wrote Therese Raquin in the 19th Century and the novel is set in a 19th Century contemporary Paris. The effect of writing a contemporary novel is that the reader can understand and appreciate a different perspective of Paris affected by the industrial revolution and city life. Zola is extremely descriptive in the opening chapter of Therese Raquin with the purpose of making the reader feel like they are present in the setting. Zola uses such precise description possibly because he used to write articles in the French newspapers, which would of needed clear descriptions to illustrate a situation to the publicOrder now
Sï¿½skind introduces Perfume by directly setting the scene and protagonist, with an almost fairy tale beginning. “In eighteenth-century France there lived a man…”1 The effect of this similar fairy tale opening can almost be compared to the “Once upon a time…” sentence which is used in fables; this immediately attracts and captures the reader’s attention, because it is such a familiar stock phrase which has been heard throughout our childhood, which usually ends with a happily ever after ending. The opening sentence also instantly sets the time period the story will be revolved around. Sï¿½skind, without delay, introduces the protagonist as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the protagonist is at once described as “gifted and abominable”2. This paradox contrasts the talent Grenouille possesses as well as the evil he contains.
The reader is given the impression that the protagonist could actually be a non-fictional character who existed in “history”3; we are very intrigued when we read the word “abominable”4, as it is an enigmatic word, which entices the reader. “in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade’s, for instance…Bonaparte’s, etc.”5 Grenouille is being compared to famous French revolutionaries which highlights that he could be an existing person. Sï¿½skind ends the opening paragraph with a sentence which makes the reader wonder even more if Grenouille indeed could have really existed. “restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent.”6 This factual piece of information completely changes the attitude towards the protagonist, not only because tracing scent is merely impossible to accomplish, especially in history, but, because the reader perceives the main character to have a more powerful ability which was recorded in history, which suggests even more that Grenouille is even more real than what the reader first perceived. The reader now craves for what the narrator is to reveal of the life story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille.
However, Zola introduces Therese Raquin with a very detailed description of the setting; the opening paragraph almost seems like a set of instructions to find a certain location. “At the end of the Rue Guï¿½nï¿½gaud…sloping at a right angle, is black with grime.”7 This quotation gives emphasis to the precise and specific description which sets the scene of the novel. The audience is unsure where these set of instructions will lead; the impression given by the opening paragraph is almost repellent. Zola uses words such as “yellowish, worn stones”8, “acrid dampness”9and “black with grime.”10 To accentuate the filthy environment at which Zola was familiar at the time he set the novel in .The “yellowish” 11 description gives the imagery of tiles which have been soaked of urine. When Therese Raquin was released in 1867, critics and the general public were disgusted
Both novels have omniscient narrators which seem to have a great knowledge of the location surrounding the novels. In Perfume, the narrator focuses on the description of the smell of Paris in the eighteenth-century, and the birth of the protagonist Grenouille. Grenouille’s birth-place is ironic seeing that he was born on a graveyard. “the catacombs of Montmartre and in its place a food market was erected.”12 This quote emphasises also the irony of a food market replacing a cemetery.
On the other hand, the omniscient narrator in Therese Raquin pays close attention to the haberdashery in which the protagonists currently reside. The haberdashery can almost be perceived as if it has a disease and it is slowly dying. “bottle-green woodwork oozing humidity from every crack…a woman’s name in red letters: Thï¿½rï¿½se Raquin.”13 The reader is keen to find out why the haberdashery has a woman’s name, the reader is yet to find out that the heroine of the novel is called Therese Raquin. The red letters that makes up the name of the shop provokes the audience because the colour red is contrasted from the rest of the passage where it seems as though colour is being deprived from the public. “darkness inhabits even in daytime.”14 We are given the impression that the location is extremely glum and depressing, as the quotation indicates, it is always dark even during the day.
Sï¿½skind uses empirical description to describe the market place in the first chapter, the repetition of the two words “stank”15 and “stench” 16 which emphasises the obnoxiousness and the extreme stench that is given out by the different sources of smell coming from inside Paris. The reader feels as if they can physically smell the stench from the descriptions. Sï¿½skind has chosen to make the opening chapter of the novel so repulsive, in order to revolt and shock the reader, which to a certain extent intrigues them to continue reading the novel. Whereas Zola emphasises the dull visual imagery of the haberdashery, “The room seemed naked and cold; the merchandise was packed up and squeezed into corners, instead… cheerful mixture of colours.”17 This quotation emphasises that the haberdashery, instead of being filled with bright colours from the different materials, it seems as if the colours are almost dead and do not reflect their brightness into the room. This foreshadows that in the rest of the novel, people who live in the shop, will become as dead as the materials in them.
In conclusion, at the end of the first chapter in Perfume, Sï¿½skind makes the reader eager to find out what happens to Grenouille when we discover that already as a baby he is already causing trouble. “It was too greedy, they said, sucked as much as two babies, deprived… of their livelihood”18. We gain awareness that Grenouille is depriving not only the other babies from their source of food but also the financial aid from the wet nurses. Later in the novel, the reader gains awareness that Grenouille as a grown man robs the scent of virgin women.
However, Therese Raquin delivers a slow and tedious opening chapter, the ending portrays three people, a man and two women, one young and one older. Zola describes their quotidian routine which seems extremely dull, the young woman every night before going to bed would, “stay there for a few minutes, facing the great black wall with its crude rendering”19. This could possibly be seen as an act of depression, the reader already questions why she would almost fall into the black oblivion for a few minutes, possibly because of the life she lives and the people she lives with. Both Zola and Sï¿½skind establish the locations in their novel differently, whether it be by describing the smell of the setting, or the visual imagery the reader is given, it intrigues and encourages the reader to carry on reading the rest of the novel.