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Kill a Pig, roast a Prussian

Michael Burns, 19 November 1992

The Village of Cannibals: Rage and Murder in France, 1870 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Polity, 164 pp., £25, July 1992, 0 7456 0895 7
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... In this very short book about a very long murder Alain Corbin returns, as he puts it, ‘to the peasants of my youth (or at any rate to their traces in the archives)’. And he returns with new sensibilities shaped by new methodological tools. Listening to his rural actors with ‘a fresh ear’, he identifies the ‘alchemy’ of a violent event which, in the history of modern France, represents the ‘last outburst of peasant rage to result in murder ...

With the Aid of a Lorgnette

Frank Kermode, 28 April 1994

The Lure of the Sea 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Jocelyn Phelps.
Polity, 380 pp., £35, January 1994, 0 7456 0732 2
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The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Miriam Kochan.
Picador, 307 pp., £6.99, March 1994, 0 330 32930 8
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... Alain Corbin is a prolific new-style French historian, and these books are notable contributions to an interesting genre he describes as ‘the history of sensibilities’. The Foul and the Fragrant created something of a stir some years ago when the translation appeared in hardback, partly, I suppose, because no respected historian had ever before written so much, and so explicitly, about shit, which, as more sanitised historians had omitted to specify, occupied in former times the worry-space now claimed by nuclear waste ...


Robert Tombs: Biography, 28 October 1999

Le Monde retrouvó de Louis-François Pinagot: Sur let Traces d’un Inconnu, 1798-1876 
by Alain Corbin.
Flammarion, 344 pp., frs 135, November 1998, 2 08 212520 3
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... The encounter between Alain Corbin and François-Louis Pinagot was at one level fortuitous. The historian picked the dead peasant’s name from the register of births in a provincial archive. He set out to bring him back from oblivion by following the meagre traces left in the bureaucratic records of the French state when the most subordinate of its agents – mayors, foresters, tax collectors – made fleeting contact with, or more often narrowly missed, one of their humblest and least troublesome administrés ...

French Air

John Sutherland, 12 November 1987

The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Miriam Kochan.
Berg, 307 pp., £18, November 1986, 0 907582 47 8
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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by John Woods.
Penguin, 263 pp., £3.95, September 1987, 0 14 009244 7
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The Double Bass 
by Patrick Süskind, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Hamish Hamilton, 57 pp., £8.95, September 1987, 9780241120392
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... stigmatise any strong smell as a bad smell. In one of the few investigations of the subject before Corbin’s, Adrian Stokes noted that unlike the other four senses, that of scent had not inspired any art, or aesthetic cultivation. (I think Stokes may have overlooked the use of the nose in wine-bibbing.) There is no educational encouragement to improve one’s ...

Sweet Homes and Tolerant Houses

Linda Colley, 16 August 1990

A History of Private Life. Vol IV: From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War 
edited by Michelle Perrot, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Harvard, 713 pp., £29.95, April 1990, 0 674 39978 1
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Women for Hire: Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850 
by Alain Corbin, translated by Alan Sheridan.
Harvard, 478 pp., £31.50, April 1990, 0 674 95543 9
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... failings, of a great deal of current French history. Alan Sheridan’s excellent translation of Alain Corbin’s Filles de Noce makes widely available what is probably still the best, the most formidably-researched and the most wide-ranging study of 19th-century prostitution. The fourth volume of A History of Private Life, originally published in 1987 ...


Bonnie Smith, 21 May 1987

Journal of My Life 
by Jacques-Louis Ménétra, edited by Daniel Roche, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Columbia, 368 pp., $30, July 1986, 0 231 06128 5
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Disease and Civilisation: The Cholera in Paris, 1832 
by François Delaporte, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
MIT, 250 pp., £22.50, July 1986, 0 262 04084 0
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France: Fin de Siècle 
by Eugen Weber.
Harvard, 294 pp., £16.94, October 1986, 0 674 31812 9
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... the one hand, 1832 saw the beginning of building inspections in which officials investigated what Alain Corbin has described as ‘the stench of the pauper and of his lair’. On the other, Parisians, despite their susceptibility to everything fashionable and new, were slow to relinquish their traditional obstinacy when it came to conforming to the new ...

In the Alchemist’s Den

Mike Jay, 27 July 2023

Elixir: A Story of Perfume, Science and the Search for the Secret of Life 
by Theresa Levitt.
Basic, 314 pp., £20, April, 978 1 3998 0324 3
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... an essential part of daily life.The 18th century’s ‘new calculus of olfactory pleasure’, as Alain Corbin called it in his classic study from 1982, Le Miasme et la jonquille (published in English as The Foul and the Fragrant), created an opportunity both for Laugier and for his home town of Grasse in Provence, which had long been renowned for the ...

Frisson of Electric Sparkle

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Scratch ’n’ Sniff, 15 July 2021

The Scent of Empires: Chanel No. 5 and Red Moscow 
by Karl Schlögel, translated by Jessica Spengler.
Polity, 201 pp., £20, May, 978 1 5095 4659 6
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... historians to write about, although we have a whole book on the subject by the French historian Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant (1982), which shows how the upper classes achieved olfactory separation from the smelly lower classes in the course of modernisation. The problem is that odour is ephemeral and can’t be archived, and conventional ...

Electric Koran

Richard Vinen, 7 June 2001

Services Spéciaux Algérie 1955-57: Mon témoignage sur la torture 
by Paul Aussaresses.
Perrin, 198 pp., frs 99, May 2001, 2 262 01761 1
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Appelés en Algérie: La Parole confisquée 
by Claire Mauss-Copeaux.
Hachette, 332 pp., frs 140, March 1999, 2 01 235475 0
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... sufferings dwarfed his own experiences in Algeria. As a young lycée teacher, another historian, Alain Corbin, tried to solicit the indulgence of a disapproving school inspector by pointing out that he had just been called up for service in Algeria. He received the devastating reply: ‘Moi, monsieur, j’étais à Verdun.’ As Françoise Giroud once ...

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