Ess Bouquet.

I’m reading Dostoevsky’s Selo Stepanchikovo i ego obitateli [The Village of Stepanchikovo and Its Inhabitants, also translated The Friend of the Family] and enjoying it a great deal, though it’s an odd mixture of sitcom and existential drama (like The Man Who Came to Dinner, but with a genuinely evil Sheridan Whiteside). One of the minor characters is a foppish serf who wants to change his surname from the odd-sounding Vidoplyasov; after trying out a couple of others, he’s settled on Эссбукетов [Essbuketov], and the much-put-upon head of the household, the narrator’s uncle Egor Rostanev, responds “И не стыдно, и не стыдно тебе, Григорий? фамилия с помадной банки!” [Aren’t you ashamed, Grigorii? a family name taken from a pomade jar!]. It cost me some effort, but I finally discovered the source: Ess Bouquet, described in a post at the perfume blog The Scented Salamander as “one of those perfumes steeped in history and antique exotic tastes that require further investigation and elucidation to fully appreciate”:

First we have to address the meaning of the name, which sounds a bit puzzling to the modern ear: “Ess Bouquet” we learn from Septimus Piesse writing in 1857 is the contraction of the word “essence of bouquet”. The original recipe for the scent by an anonymous London perfumer is recorded as early as 1711. By the time Piesse writes his The Art of Perfumery in the mid-19th century this original date has been forgotten and the much imitated perfume formula is attributed to, not its rightful creators whoever they may be, but rather to its famous developers, Bayley and Co., established 1739. […]

Ess Bouquet was immensely popular, the bestseller of Bayley and Co. who advertised their perfume shop with the name of this fragrance in capital letters in full view.

The perfumery was also well known for its surviving signboard and painting inside the store, some of the last ones in London to bear the representation of a civet cat at the turn of the 20th century – an allusion to the much sought-after perfumery raw material. Perfume shops with civet cat signs were common throughout Europe before such signboards were considered too dangerous to be left hanging over the streets and so they were prohibited. […]

There was not just one Ess. Bouquet fragrance but rather a type, an original recipe which came to undergo many variations while being sold under the same name. It became somewhat of a generic designation like “eau de Cologne” is and so there were “Ess. Bouquet Perfumes” mentioned in the plural.

There’s more information at the link, along with some nice images; the brand has been forgotten to the point that the Michael Glenny translation of Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 renders “И Лондонские духи клик-клик, эсс-букет” (from Chapter 7) as “‘Click-Click’ — the fragrant London perfume — ‘S’ brand,” so I thought it was worth bringing here.


  1. Never read it, but was struck immediately by the name Vidoplyasov. One of the most popular Ukrainian rock bands of the 90s and 00s was Воплі Відоплясова (usually anglicized as Vopli Vidopliassova). For some reason, it had never occurred to me to wonder who the Vidoplyasov in question was or what the “cries” might be about, but Wikipedia confirms it’s one and the same. A little further investigation on shows me it’s a citation from Chapter 10 of the book.

  2. Yes, Vidoplyasov fancies himself as a littérateur and hands out sheets of his (awful) writings to people, each headed Вопли Видоплясова. I’m ticked that was used as the name for a rock band!

    [Edit: I meant to write “tickled”…]

  3. George Grady says

    Why would it make you mad that a rock band was named that? Am I missing something?

  4. Ha! That’s a typo; I meant to write “tickled” and didn’t notice the -l- hadn’t showed up.

  5. George Grady says

    Ah, that’s one “l” of a difference!

  6. I’ve almost finished the book, and I just got to a passage that’s relevant to Vopli Vidopliassova and that made me laugh, so I thought I’d share it:

    Как проснулись и вспомнили весь процесс, так тотчас же ударили себя по голове и закричали благим матом-с… — Благим матом!.. — Почтительнее будет выразиться: многоразличные вопли испускали-с.

    “When he woke up and remembered the whole proceeding, right away he hit himself on the head and yelled as loud as he could…”

    “As loud as he could!”

    “It would be more respectable to say: he uttered multifarious outcries [vopli].”

    I can’t think of a way to render in English the effect of Vidoplyasov’s hypercourteous use of slovo-er-s and of plural verbs to refer to the sobered-up and repentant Korovkin, so I didn’t even try.

  7. SFReader says

    Slovoers is simply an abbreviation of “sudar” (mister, sir).

    Adding “sir” at the end of every sentence in English is typical for military, I believe.

    “It would be more respectable to say: he uttered multifarious outcries, sir!)

  8. But it’s not military in Russian, it’s a universal particle of subservience, and it’s used to women as well as men. It’s true you could sprinkle in a “sir” here and there and achieve something of the effect, and it would work in this case.

  9. Essbuketov sounds vaguely as a Russified name of someone from North Caucasus.

    Vidopl’asov was completely eclipsed by Captain Lebyadkin.

  10. Oh, I am really impressed by your knowledge of the Russian Literature (my bachelor degree from the SSSR). Never encountered such depth of understanding by Americans;)

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