“In 18th century France, there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and notorious personages of his time. His name was Jean Baptiste Grenouille. And if his name had been forgotten today, it is for the sole reason that his entire ambition was restricted to a domain that leaves no trace in history; to the fleeting realm of scent.” Read further to find out is he a real person or not.
Jean Baptiste Grenouille is a fictional character from Patrick Suskind’s 1985 novel entitled “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” It is a literary historical fantasy novel that shocks readers and audiences the main character’s powerful sense of smell and the emotional impact scents had on his life.
About the Author
Patrick Suskind is a German writer and screenwriter. He is best known for his “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” published in 1985. It was written originally in German and was translated into English by John E. Woods. Suskind’s “Perfume” eventually became an internationally acclaimed bestseller. The character was not a real person.
“Perfume” was translated from the novel’s title “Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Morders” in German.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Novel)
The novel’s story played the themes of fantasy and absurdity, alongside horror and mystery. It took place in France, first in Paris and then in the later stages of the novel; it continued in Grasse. Grasse in France is considered to be the perfume capital of the world. Grasse is well-known for being the mecca of fine fragrances.
The novel was translated into forty-nine languages worldwide. It sold a total of twenty million copies to this day, and It is critically praised as being one of the best-selling German novels of the twentieth century. It was included in the bestseller books list in Der Spiegel, a German magazine, for an impressive span of nine years.
“Perfume” Plot Summary
Jean Baptiste Grenouille became an orphan the moment he was born and is not a real person. His mother didn’t show much appreciation towards him after giving birth under her dirty and smelly fish stand. It was in the eighteenth century of France, and the surroundings were poor.
Jean Baptiste Grenouille was different from the rest of mankind due to his extraordinary sense of smell and is not a real person or character. The children who grew up with him at the orphanage were highly unnerved by him because of this oddity.
He was known to be a quiet and difficult child. He was then sold to a tanner when he was thirteen years of age, and he had to work hard to survive.
Unbeknownst to anyone around him was his very special sense of smell. He could distinguish scents from afar and could discern scents and from a different blend of mixtures. Moreover, he could lead himself through the use of his unusually powerful nose.
One day, he was drawn to a scent that was different from the rest. It was the scent of a beautiful young woman, innocent and untouched, who was selling peaches on the streets that fully captured his attention. He wanted to preserve her scent so badly, so he followed her quietly and accidentally strangled her. He became a murderer that night.
Further curious about preserving scents from beautiful, young girls, he became an apprentice to a perfumer named Baldini. Jean Baptiste Grenouille expressed that they wanted to learn more about extracting and preserving the scent from anything, including glass and copper. The process of distillation that Baldini taught him cannot do.
Baldini told him that there are other techniques to make perfume other than distillation, and it can be learned in Grasse, which is the place known as “the heart of scents.” And so, with that in mind, Jean Baptiste Grenouille decides to leave to pursue his obsession.
On his trip to Grasse, he began to dislike all different kinds of the scent created by humanity. So he took shelter in a cave to avoid humans for a while, and it was there, after some time, that he realized that he, himself, did not have any scent. It made him think that he had been a nobody to anyone after all this time.
He continued his journey to Grasse to prove to that world that he was a somebody and that he was exceptional.
When he reached Grasse, he saw another beautiful girl who possessed the same irresistible scent he had been looking forward to preserving.
The girl was named Laure (or Laura in the film). Ever since that encounter, he was determined this time that he would preserve her scent, not let it go to waste like last time. He was engrossed in crafting a scent that would give him the power to be perceived as superhuman.
While he worked by assisting a perfumery, he then went on a killing spree of teenage girls to experiment with extracting their scents. The victims died by a blow in their heads, and their hair and clothes were off their bodies.
His last ultimate victim is Laure, to which he succeeded in killing while she was alone in her bedroom.
Alas, he created his powerful perfume with the combination of all scents of the girls he murdered, including Laure’s.
The police traced the crimes to him, Jean Baptiste Grenouille, and he was set for execution. However, before being executed, he used his special perfume.
When he arrived at the location where he was to be executed, the spectators, instead of being violent and furious towards him, were enchanted by him instead.
They became fond of him and adored him, and soon they engaged in the lustful activity. It was the magic of the scent that he had used.
Jean Baptiste Grenouille escaped the execution, and another man was blamed and sent to the gallows for his crimes.
Jean Baptiste Grenouille decides to go back to Paris where he was born, to the smelly and impoverished fish market. He was bored by the sublime yet empty power; it made him hate people even more.
He pours the bottle of his perfume onto himself, allowing the starving people to be very drawn to his scent, crowd him and rip him apart.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)
The novel was made into a movie in 2006 and was directed by Tom Tykwer. It is a great movie that will lighten fans’ interest who were first intrigued by the novel’s book description.
The film is starred Ben Wishaw as the main character and villain Jean Baptiste Grenouille, alongside Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, and the lovely Rachel Hurd-wood. The film was inspired by many different other films like Oliver Twist and Sleepy Hollow.
Inspiration of the Character Jean Baptiste Grenouille
Jean Baptiste’s last name may have been taken from a French perfumer who is named Paul Grenouille.
The main character’s story may have also been inspired by Manuel Blanco Romasanta, a Spanish serial killer who killed his victims with methods that are very similar to Jean Baptiste Grenouille from “Perfume: The story of a Murderer.”
“Perfume” is a story that haunts people’s imagination because of the fantastic yet horrible events in the novel and the movie. Jean Baptiste Grenouille’s name may sound like he is based on a real person from history, but no. He is only a fictional character not a real person, thankfully.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why did Jean Baptiste Grenouille kill himself at the end?
He killed himself at the end of the story because he did not have any more purpose of living. He had already crafted the scent that could make him very rich, but he was not interested in that.
He believed that he meant nothing to no one because he had no scent, believing that no one loves him. Therefore, he cannot find happiness and satisfaction to share with another human being in the world; that’s why he decided what he did.
Is Jean Baptiste Grenouille considered a psychopath?
We don’t know for sure if Jean Baptiste Grenouille from “Perfume” was considered a psychopath despite the horrific murders he had done.
While some researchers are trying to detect psychopathic traits in him, other sources theorize that Jean Baptiste Grenouille probably was either born with autism or developed schizoid personality disorder during his childhood. Nevertheless, he had proven himself to be a resilient fighter and worked his way hard to survive.