By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 16 2017 02:00PM
The latest Austenian clickbait on the young women’s website Bustle provides further evidence, were any needed, that Jane Austen is a multifaceted artist in whom readers find everything from escapist romance to witty satire. Yes, I’m getting all that from scented candles – or, as Bustle has it, “9 Jane Austen Inspired Candles That Will Transport You to Pemberley.”
I’m not a terribly scent-ual person myself: I prefer my personal products unscented, dislike perfume, and never burn scented candles. But I couldn’t help noticing that the eight candles whose scents Bustle highlights (the ninth is an LED candle, so it doesn’t count) feature twenty-six different – sometimes radically different – scents, all of them intended to somehow evoke the work of the same writer.
The scents fall into several categories: citrus (cranberry, mandarin, lemon, lime); woodsy (sandalwood, balsam, eucalyptus, patchouli, fern, English ivy); vegeto-herbal (cucumber, rosemary, ginger, fresh sea salt); flowery (rose, rose geranium, sweet golden rose, jasmine, white jasmine, lily, lilac, hyacinth, gardenia, tuberose); and simply peculiar (tea, winter woolens).
Clearly, different visions of Jane Austen are at work here. For some, she’s quintessentially sweet and romantic – hence, all the roses and jasmine. For others, she’s quintessentially English – thus, ivy and tea and winter woolens (damp ones, perhaps? Is that a desirable smell?) For still others, she’s spikier – worthy of the citrusy bite of lemon or lime.
Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering how successful these candles are at evoking Jane Austen, even for readers who share the candle-makers’ particular vision of her genius. The evocative power of scent is hardly news, but I’m skeptical about whether any one scent can reliably evoke the same associations in different people. For you, patchouli may summon up Elizabeth Bennet walking to Netherfield in a petticoat six inches deep in mud. For me, it summons up a hippie chick smoking a joint in a tie-dyed caftan – which is decidedly not my idea of Jane Austen.