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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 ...

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