The Perfume of Eros: a Fifth Avenue Incident

October 30, 2017

I kept stopping in the middle of Edgar Saltus’ The Perfume of Eros: A Fifth Avenue Incident and asking, “what is this?” I don’t know if I have an answer. The story is contrived. The characters are no more than moderately sympathetic. The point of view is cynical. The prose is kind of delightful.

Royal Loftus is a rich and attractive young man, who seems sort of interested in the beautiful Fanny Price. She definitely likes him, but she would like him to a) show more interest in her and b) stop trying to pick up other girls on the street. Instead, Loftus pays even less attention to Fanny and tricks Marie Durand, the girl she saw him with, into becoming his mistress.

Meanwhile, Fanny’s best friend, Sylvia Waldron, is engaged to Loftus’ best friend, Arthur Annandale. Annandale has a drinking problem, and when he gets blackout drunk and visits Sylvia’s house afterwards, he disgusts her so much that she breaks off the engagement. Fanny and Annandale marry each other, in what even they should realize is a terrible move, and take up new hobbies to distract themselves: Fanny flirts with Loftus, and Annandale gets into the stock market. Loftus is a lot more interested in Fanny than he seemed to be before she got married, and proportionately mean to Marie.

Then: surprise! We’re in a murder mystery. There were hints that we were coming to this, but it still caught me by surprise. Saltus isn’t very concerned with the mystery aspects of the murder, but seems to feel like he should pretend to be. There’s a bit in Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees where he talks about clues in early mystery novels. The authors understand that clues are a thing they’re supposed to have, but they don’t get how they work. Saltus makes much of the fact that the murder took place in Gramercy Park, to which only residents have keys, but that turns out to be completely irrelevant. All Saltus really cares about are witness statements, so he recklessly eliminates the witnesses. The murderer eventually confesses, but I don’t think anyone cares. Certainly not Saltus. What he wants, I think, are dramatic courtroom scenes. He does produce some, and they’re not bad.

I liked the girls, and I liked Sylvia’s unpronounceable lawyer cousin, Melanchthon Orr, and I feel like maybe Saltus did, too, at first. But as the book goes on he gets bored and gets rid of them. Orr might be the only one he still likes at the end of the book. I’m not sure there’s anyone I like all the way through. And yet. This was a pretty fun book to read. The dialogue is clever and the writing is like a decadent version of that thing where Eleanor Hallowell Abbott doesn’t like coordinating conjunctions. But with better vocabulary.  Still, I think I need some time to recover from this dose of Edgar Saltus before I attempt another.


  1. Thank you for your reviews. Funny, sarcastic, biting, worth reading every time. You make me laugh and I am grateful for it. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much!

  2. I was meh about the book at first, but then you threw in murrrrrderrrrr!

    • Sadly, the murder is not what one would wish a murder to be.

  3. If the prose is kind of delightful, do you think that bodes well for other Saltus books where the factors that fail in this book might be more competently dealt with, or not so much?

    (also, I’m almost certain I haven’t read this book. And yet the names Loftus, Fanny Price, and Annandale each sound *really* familiar… perhaps they’re just reasonably common Project Gutenberg-y names?)

    • Well, Fanny Price is the heroine of Mansfield Park. Annandale also sounds kind of familiar to me, but I think that’s because there’s a town of that name somewhere in upstate New York. Not sure about Loftus.

      I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suspect his other books are pretty much like this. Everything I’ve been able to glean about him indicates that they’re also cynical New York high society novels, anyway.

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