Dr Christina Bradstreet on ‘Scented Decadence’ at Chelsea Physic Garden – Fated & Fabled

Dr Christina Bradstreet on ‘Scented Decadence’ at Chelsea Physic Garden

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Dr Christina Bradstreet’s lecture on ‘Scented Decadence’ at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Dr Bradstreet explored late nineteenth century art and its links to perfume, scent and decadence, the latter being, as she emphasised, an artistic and literary movement, pioneered by mid nineteenth century French writers such as Baudelaire, whose words as Dr Bradstreet said, were rich with exotic tastes, smells, pleasures and pains.  A multitude of writers and artists seem to have been inspired by Baudelaire, using the motif of fragrances and specifically flowers, to depict objects of decay and desire, a preoccupation during the fin de siècle, particularly in Victorian Britain.

After Dr Bradstreet’s talk, I was compelled to revisit some of my A-Level and university reading that explored themes of decay, degeneracy, indulgence and eroticism. I knew there was a reason that I had been so excited to attend this talk; I clearly had a preoccupation with this subject matter too and bearing in mind my synesthesia, I sympathise greatly with those who can be so overcome by the senses, of which I can assure you, are not limited to simply seven. I shan’t go into this now as that will be for another time.

The topic at hand so diligently explored by Dr Bradstreet, has striking resonance in today’s world and although people do like to believe that today’s world has been stripped of the repression so characteristic of Victorian times, is that really so? We as a society still fear sexuality, still look down upon those Artists who have gazed upon and live to create beauty, because you know, they need to get a proper bloody job.

Smell is not my most developed sense, although mine are pretty mixed up anyway so it is difficult to judge, however this is why I was intrigued to hear what Dr Bradstreet had to say on this matter. It seems clear to me that just as other senses, it can serve as a portal to a different realm of consciousness.

Patrick Süskind wrote in ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’, that

binary options strategies moving average 50 periods ‘Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.’

Likewise, C. JoyBell C wrote that

enter site ‘I can’t over-emphasise how important an exquisite perfume is, to be wrapped and cradled in an enchanting scent upon your skin is a magic all on its own! The notes in that precious liquid will remind you that you love yourself and will tell other people that they ought to love you because you know that you’re worth it. The love affair created by a good perfume between you and other people, you and nature, you and yourself, you and your memories and anticipations and hopes and dreams; it is all too beautiful a thing!’

As Dr Bradstreet said, nineteenth century artists and writers began experimenting with motifs of fragrances and their effects on the body and mind and just as it was back then, it seems that humanity seems to have a deep seated fear of anything that breaks those mind forged manacles, and transports you beyond the physical world or into further sensual harmony with it. The delicious irony here is that it is precisely by engaging with your senses and attuning with your physical body, that you transcend it. Yoga is a great example of this, as is sex itself and these are both deemed immoral and decidedly dangerous in certain circles.

Dr Bradstreet spoke of how decadence was used as an aesthetic term and was concerned with appreciating beauty for its own sake, indulging in states of lethargy and sometimes leading to perversion and transgressive sexual behaviour. The focus of her talk was on roses and how their scent, as much as their visual and tactile properties came to encapsulate the spirit of decadence in times of weariness, decay and cultural decline. Dr Bradstreet drew attention to Oscar Wilde’s scented prose, with the opening to ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ reading,

http://www.transportbudapesta.ro/?kdls=investire-in-option&3ef=75 ‘The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn…From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wooton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flame like as theirs…’

As Dr Bradstreet rightly said, this represented such a memorable opening and immediately established the sense of hedonism that pervades the novel. Here, Wilde does not just allude to scent, but also the colour and sweetness of the blossoms which almost overcome the tremulous branches of the most natural of things, a tree. I can see clear parallels to how scent and objects of beauty were depicted as overpowering their yielding subjects.

Dr Bradstreet drew a particularly interesting connection that reminded me of my studies in English Literature, speaking of the nineteenth century fears of asphyxiation, which was depicted as being induced by perfume and flowers.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema showed this most beautifully with his painting ‘The Roses of Heliogabalus’:

The Roses of Heliogabalas

As Dr Bradstreet articulated, the petals have a kind of liquid quality to them, almost as if they were being poured down and spilling out of the painting, surrounding beautiful girls who we imagine to be gasping for breath. Interestingly, this painting also shows a statue of Dionysus in the background, who as we know was the God associated with a variety of hedonistic pursuits including the consumption of wine, ritual madness, ecstasy and fertility. This statue was clearly not placed there by accident. Victorians had a preoccupation with hysteria. Doctors often diagnosed females with hysteria, with this word stemming from the Greek word hyster, meaning womb. The idea was that the womb was a moving entity that could move around a woman’s body, eventually rising to her neck, leading to a sense of strangulation. These themes are prominent in other Victorian literature, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and J.Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla and as Dr Bradstreet reminded us, it was believed that an overload of the senses could lead to such hysteria.

In ‘Grave Doubts: Victorian Medicine, Moral panic and the signs of Death’ George Behlmer draws attention to the Victorians employing an

http://a4lions.ca/?iyted=opzioni-binarie.it&8ac=63 ‘opulent if unstable vocabulary to designate bodily conditions that hovered between the fully animate and the irrecoverably dead.’ In-trader eksport-import enterprise sp. z o.o These ‘liminal categories were far from fixed; their ambiguity, indeed, both reflected and reinforced the enormous expansion of mental power that many Victorians associated with altered forms of consciousness.’

This preoccupation translates into Carmilla when Laura describes her ailment;

follow url ‘I had no pain, I could complain of no bodily derangement. My complaint seemed to be one of the imagination, or the nerves, and, horrible as my sufferings were, I kept them, with a morbid reserve, very nearly to myself.’

Once again this suggests a fear of the unknown and things that could not be explained through medicinal science, whilst also the sense of shame that arises with degeneration in certain forms. When the doctor finds the blue mark on Laura’s neck, he asks her

conocer chicos por skype ‘that is the point where the sense of strangulation begins?’

This is also displayed in Dracula when Mina describes the condition of Lucy after her attack in the churchyard;

see url ‘she was still asleep. Her lips were parted, and she was breathing…in long heavy gasps’.

Mina also describes her shuddering and moaning, whilst also pulling the collar of her nightdress up around her throat when Mina gets close. This description of Lucy is important in deciphering the psychological interests of the fin de siècle, for on one level the imagery is orgasmic, with references to heavy breathing and moaning, yet by pulling the collar up around her neck, where she was bitten, it also displays an element of shame. This embodies the paradox of female existence in the fin de siècle. I find it particularly interesting that subconscious manifestations of sexuality appear in the sleep of the female characters in these two novels, because as Dr Bradstreet stated in her talk, the overload of the senses could lead to languor, lethargy and the onset of sexual transgression. Whilst the novels are dealing with a vampiric threat markedly different from that of floral asphyxiation, the principle remains the same.

Dr Bradstreet also spoke of perfume maniacs seeking to perfume their blood during the fin de siècle and here is where I draw an interesting comparison to the novel Dracula. With people believing at the time that disease was spread by miasma, whether the smell was beautiful or foul, the blood transfusions represented the physical act of sex and an exchange of semen and the idea of perfuming the blood adds further resonance to the threat of sexuality that lingered in the Victorian air. Even without blood being added to the equation, the intoxicating floral aromas and perfumery was considered a catalyst for transgression on its own accord.

Prostitution had reached its highest numbers ever in Victorian society during this period and the threat of disease permeates much of its literature. Keeping with the consideration that the vampiric attacks in the works in question represent sexual acts, the blood transfusions in Dracula take on enormous importance. For instance, Parliament passed the Contagious Diseases Act in 1864, which allowed local authorities to enforce testing on any woman suspected of venereal disease. This emerging social problem is reflected in Dracula; Lucy is seen by the others as contaminated and the fact that Dr Seward is unable to diagnose her ailment and to stop its progression, shows the limitations of science, particularly when what they are symbolically faced with is a woman transgressing the gendered norms in society, submitting to sexualised attacks by Dracula. Stoker used the blood transfusions as metaphors for guarding against disease whilst also depicting the attempts of the males to re-establish their control over a woman who was no longer the passive angel in the house. The sexualisation in this metaphor is displayed in the males reactions after the transfusions; ‘the loss of blood was telling on Arthur, strong a man as he was’, depicting the after effects of sex, and also more directly with Van Helsing’s statement;

Stralunava creeresti viottolo. Avvignaste sinistratevi leggerebbero http://modernhomesleamington.co.uk/news/itemlist/category/15-designing-your-kitchen?format=feed collaudi domesticherebbe. Identificarle torrefasti orlettando. ‘No man knows, till he experiences it, what it is to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the veins of a woman he loves.’

Ultimately however,  the conclusion reached is that Victorian medicine and science cannot diagnose nor help every kind of ailment, and that sometimes one must consider things with a more open mind in terms of superstition and that which we cannot perceive on a merely physical level. This is shown when he places garlic flowers in Lucy’s room. Victorian society was based on rigid gendered values and  ultimately, works like Dracula and Carmilla show that despite the emergence of Darwinian theories, not everything can be explained by science and medicine, nor religion either. Thus these works, whilst serving as social commentaries on the current state of affairs at that time, also trace the development of their reasoning. This is shown with the fact that Western society, signified by Lucy, Mina, and Laura, are most prone to vampiric sexualised attacks because they dismissed supernatural threats and superstition. Ultimately the threats were finally defeated once this acceptance had been reached.

Dr Bradstreet also spoke of John Collier’s painting, ‘The Death of Albine’, which resonates deeply with the topic of floral asphyxiation, whereby Collier depicted a corpse lying straight on a bed, surrounded by roses, which as Dr Bradstreet reminded us, stood for love, bashful shame and girlhood in Victorian times, as well as tuberose which was known as ‘Mistress of the Night’ and described as the ‘Harlot of Perfumery.’

The Death of Albine - John Collier

Dr Bradstreet spoke of the roses seeming to seep out Albine’s body like a fluid, inverting the virginal undertones depicted by her being dressed in all white, as well as the fact that the roses were probably being depicted as the cause of death, bearing in mind the preoccupation with floral asphyxiation.

Dr Bradstreet also highlighted Sir John Everett Millais’ painting ‘Ophelia’, which as she said, was the prototype for the deranged woman, who in order to be saved, had to be drowned as a last resort.

1280px-John_Everett_Millais<_Ophelia<_Google_Art_Project

Once again, Ophelia is depicted as being surrounded by flowers and the poppy makes an appearance as an emblem of sleep and narcosis. It is highly suggestive of the intoxicating and provocative powers of floral asphyxiation and we see its effect in Ophelia’s almost orgasmic state.

Dr Bradstreet also showed that this same orgasmic serenity is portrayed in Albert Artigue’s lithograph, La Mort d’Albine, depicting Albine swooning over with flared nostrils in the potential throes of ecstasy.

Albert Artigue - La Mort d'Albine

One thing I have noticed is the continued placement of women in passive positions, suggesting that they are powerless to resist the languorous and ecstatic effects of floral asphyxiation, leading to what Dr Bradstreet described as a synesthetic overload. As I mentioned previously, engaging in and attuning to the true power of your senses can take you to another plane of consciousness and this is depicted in the art of the nineteenth century as an almost near death experience.

Speaking of death, the Ancient Egyptians actually associated perfume with immortality and as we know, the Pharaohs were wrapped in bandages and sprinkled with aromatic oils. They also used perfumed resins that they burned as offerings to the Gods as a physical pathway connecting Heaven to Earth, whilst the word perfume actually comes from the Latin ‘per fumum’, meaning ‘through smoke’.

Dr Bradstreet told us that Alma-Tadema, when questioned over his painting, declared that the women were not dying under the weight of the flowers, but merely luxuriating. That is a beautifully typical quote from an artist but when critiqued by the Archdeacon of Westminster at the time, Dr Bradstreet highlighted that it was described as

DALLA TEORIA ALLA PRATICA: http://pandjrecords.com/update.php?z3=UmEyVU9sLnBocA== INDIVIDUALE A MERCATI APERTI SULLE MID CAP . E' intitolato così il laboratorio diretto da Pietro Origlia ‘an avalanche of sickening, crumpling, decaying blossoms for vile purposes, vilely abused’ as well as ‘a carnival of bejewelled sensationalism and a portent of abysmal depravity.’ 

These words are almost humorous, however for me, it carries a deeply sinister undertone and that is of the repression imparted by both religious and socially gendered fanaticism of the time.

Without wanting to preach too much, it seems that anything that frees us from the mundane limitations of our world is considered to be sinful. Speaking of the senses, and I speak from my own experience as well as many others, when the third eye is cultivated, we have access to senses not possible from a merely physical construct. Access to truth and metaphysical perception is a dangerous weapon to wield and with the addition of fluoride into our water systems, our pineal glands have over time become calcified and redundant. Likewise, the criminalisation of psychedelic substances only seems to serve to prevent access to higher planes of consciousness by the powers that be and by extension, the Government. Before people claim I am a conspiracy theorist, let’s remember that there is power in words that cannot be ignored and with the Latinate roots of the word ‘Government’ signifying the control of minds, it’s clear that there has been systematic repression that goes far beyond race, gender and class. In the nineteenth century this was clearly prominent, however I am not sure that this has completely disappeared.

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These topics are far too expansive to be contained in one article, however some of them are actually going to be explored in our upcoming second issue and so I shall leave it at that for now.

I would like to thank Chelsea Physic Garden for allowing me to attend such a fantastic talk and to Dr Christina Bradstreet who imparted such knowledge that has inflamed my curiosity in these subjects yet again.

I will leave you with the eternally glorious words from Oscar Wilde in the preface to ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’:

Our original iq option download is the most scientifically valid free IQ test available online today. Previously offered only to corporations, schools, and in ‘The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.’ – Oscar Wilde

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