Smithsonian article on duMaurier, December
Trilby turns into a great singer under Svengali's hypnotic influence, only to lose her Trilby's lack of chastity was her larger relationship to conventional morality. the public pounce on its prey with a spring so much more than elephantine?" James asks . lapse of the boundaries separating artist, art, performer, and audience. Svengali excised from the novel, of Whistler/Sibley's relationship to Svengali: Then there .. influence that seems ready-made for the prosecution of Wilde. There was the Trilby you knew, who could not sing one single note in tune. The relationship between Svengali and Trilby illustrates assump- tions about the . hypnosis had no effect on her un-hypnotized self. Hypnosis, it.
The book, a Gothic melodrama titled Trilby, by George du Maurier, was amazing not only in volume of sales, but in the influence it had in glamorizing a romantic social phenomenon. For what Uncle Tom's Cabin was to the abolition of slavery and A Christmas Carol was to the Christmas-cheer industry, Trilby, with its thrilling familiarity with Parisian art-student days in the Latin Quarter and models who posed in the nude, was to the glorification of la vie de boheme.
Laughable as it may seem today, respectable, novel reading young ladies searching for a way to assert themselves fantasized about emulating Trilby, the tragic young artist's model. Since du Maurier's heroine lived on her own and by her wits, she symbolized independence and free-spirited adventure to those whose parents or husbands controlled their destinies.
A first step toward liberation, it seemed, was to move-or more likely, to talk about moving-to an attic in New York or Paris and be immortalized on canvas or in bronze. This alarmed the clergy and other guardians of morality. The book became the target of two years' worth of debates, sermons, editorials, pageants, parodies and advertising pitches.
Trilby erupted into a boom, a craze, a mania and a publicity bonanza, and its impact rivaled any media frenzies that our mega-sellers like Shirley MacLaine and Robert Ely have whipped up when they purveyed their own private mythologies. Trilby's genesis was as freakish as its popularity was overwhelming. George du Maurier did not apply himself to writing until the age of 55, with only another seven years to live and a whole other career behind him. Since the early s, du Maurier had been a prominent cartoonist for Punch, his satirical realm the snubs, pretensions and maneuverings of the drawing room and other catchpools of English social life.
His great friend Henry James hardly knew what to make of du Maurier's unsuspected talent, marveling about people who "begin to dash off brilliant novels in the afternoon of existence. Nobly rethinking her engagement to one of them, she flees and falls into the hands of Svengali, the evil musician. Trilby turns into a great singer under Svengali's hypnotic influence, only to lose her voice when his death releases his grip on her.
The combination of the sprightly Left Bank setting, then a surefire attraction, and a plot turning on the manipulation of a beautiful young woman by the usurpation of her will took the public by storm.
The twofold world of Trilby seemed to appeal to almost everyone. Readers of gentle impulse were charmed by du Maurier's humorous portraits of the bohemian art students in Trilby and Svengali's orbit. More sensationally, du Maurier fascinated and frightened audiences with the notion of an alien power conquering that dearly held Victorian quality of will-and by implication, sexual resistance.
Another reason why Trilby sold and sold is that the novel's main characters are intriguingly fraught with paradox. Svengali, a masterly villain, is menacing, unscrupulous and physically dirty, but he is not a charlatan.
As a first-rate professional musician, he is a considerably more impressive artist than the dull, selfrighteous Englishmen who are presented as the story's heroes.
James perceptively noted that it was Svengali who had "infinite feeling" and "the sacred fire," invoking the myths of Orpheus and Prometheus. Svengali is endowed with terrifying psychic powers which, as an expert mesmerist, he exerts on unsuspecting womanhood. The victims become his lovers and protegees.
Svengali | Definition of Svengali by Merriam-Webster
Part god, part devil, he can make a woman sing like an angel by hypnotizing her-is this subjugation or the bestowal of a stunning gift? Svengali might seem to be confected of the purest literary hokum, but George Bernard Shaw, who wrote his own dazzling dramatization of the Pygmalion story, was sure the source was closer to home.Sven Gali at Much Music live 1993 performing Under the Influence
He suggested that Svengali was based on George Vandeleur Lee, a dark, longhaired music teacher who started by giving Shaw's mother voice lessons and went on to exercise complete control over her life. Lee moved in with the family when Shaw was a boy. Shaw said that du Maurier, who met Lee and his mother at a musical soiree in the s, observed the pair closely and made sketches of them.
Trilby, the focus of the artists' and Svengali's erotic fantasies, was an equally daring conception. Like most heroines of the day, she was sweet, pretty, generous and impulsive. But Trilby also smoked, swore and, most dreadful of all, she had slept with several men and felt no guilt about it. Even more controversial than Trilby's lack of chastity was her larger relationship to conventional morality.
Her bohemian friends use her as a model, a cook and a seamstress, and they encourage her in her role as a household drudge. Only by her association with Svengali does Trilby become a creative artist, with her own talent to enchant the public.
No matter how diabolical, Svengali offers her a much more dynamic future than do the narrow minded art students who represent the forces of respectability. Very pointedly, it is not Svengali, the sexual predator, but the adoring painter Little Billee and his family, the sexual prudes, who destroy Trilby.
This renegade sentiment was strong fare for the times. Born in to an English mother and French father, George du Maurier grew up bilingual and binational, passing his childhood mainly in France and Britain.
His ambition was to be a painter or a singer, and in he enrolled in the Parisian atelier of Charles Gleyre, spending most of his free time in the Latin Quarter studio used by himself and four other easygoing students.
The other two were a different story. The third Englishman, Edward Poynter, was a pedestrian stylist and already a bit stuffy. Later, full of honors, he became director of the National Gallery in London. French novelist Louis-Henri Murger, author of Scenes de la Vie de Boheme, was his role model, and tales were already circulating about his eccentricity. One hot day when he had no money, Whistler pawned his coat for a cold drink and went around in his shirtsleeves for three days until he had the money to redeem it.
Convinced that he could never be a painter, du Maurier spent many months bemoaning his fate until a friend sent him a copy of Punch, the great English humor magazine. Du Maurier studied its lively pages and saw that a career as an illustrator could be worth pursuing. Arriving in London in Maydu Maurier looked up the old crowd in hopes of re-creating the carefree Paris days. For a while he did, smoking, drinking and tumbling around London until all hours. Du Maurier began to distance himself from his old friends, especially the stillgregarious Whistler, who lived with a model and mingled with such disreputable types as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Swinburne.
Du Maurier's increasing conservatism endowed him with the perfect pictorial sensibility for Punch. He] excelled at capturing drawing-room] vanities, yet his best barbs often were, aimed at artists with whom he was oncei intimate. What Henry James called du Maurier's "most brilliant episode of his long connection with Punch" was his pouncing on the absurdities of the Aesthetic Movement via a decade of inspired cartoons lampooning local devotees of the precious in art and life.
Du Maurier began with takeoffs on the vogue for collecting blue-and-white china, and settled in with his two star creations-Maudle, an Aesthetic painter who had his Whistlerian moments, and Jellaby Postlethwaite, an epicene poet obsessed with lilies. Postlethwaite was an obvious caricature of Oscar Wilde, lately down from Oxford and then known more for his poses and attitudes than for any literary achievement.
Often the most trenchant element of a du Maurier cartoon was the imagined conversation the artist composed for the caption, and years of writing these dialogues sharpened his prose style. By the late s his drawings had become formulaic, and he worried about his good eye, which he was sure was deteriorating. He confided these misgivings to James, whom he got to know well when he illustrated the English and American editions of James' Washington Square. On the evening of March 24,the two men met for a long talk.
James was sometimes unable to concoct plots for his novels and tales, whereas du Maurier's mind was always teeming with themes and incidents. He had given James the idea for his short story "The Real Thing," and that spring day offered another story line. As James recalled, it was about a "servant girl with a wonderful rich full voice.
James declined du Maurier's suggestion, insisting his friend write the story himself. Du Maurier went home and started writing, but the novel he produced was Peter Ibbetson, based on his early childhood in France. He sent it to Harper's New Monthly Magazine, which published the book in installments. Du Maurier persevered with writing, working throughout on the manuscript of what would become Trilby. The opening chapters recollecting his musketeering youth with Poynter, Lament, Armstrong and Whistler, evoked in an easy conversational tone and patterned on Murger's Scenes de la Vie de Boheme, are a pleasure to read to this day.
These are moments intensely savored, a succession of rosy yet achingly wistful memories that reveal a touching vulnerability.
Suggestion and seduction: the sinister power of Svengali
For at his best, du Maurier was a novelist of the backward glance. Into this milieu are introduced the two fantastical characters and plot contrivances: Trilby, the working girl who poses for artists "in the altogether" a phrase apparently coined by du Maurier, who was enough of a Victorian to avoid words like "naked" and "nude"and Svengali, the malevolent music teacher who ogles Trilby loathsomely.
Although Little Billee, the boyish English painter-to-be, is appalled that Trilby has surrendered her virtue, he is madly in love with her and her dainty feet, which he sketches on the wall of the communal studio. Somehow he overcomes his scruples and implores her to marry him.
No sooner does Trilby agree to be his wife, than his mother arrives from England. The righteous matron begs Trilby not to marry her son and ruin his life. Trilby, as pure of heart as she is shamed in body, runs away, and Little Billee has a nervous breakdown. Soon after, the Paris atelier is broken up, and the story resumes five years later in London when Little Billee and his friends, modeled on Armstrong and Lament, are reunited as genteel artistic nonentities.
Hearing of a magnificent singer named "La Svengali," they return to Paris to revisit old haunts and attend a concert given by the new diva, fresh from a sweep of half the capitals of Europe. The trio is shocked to discover that this divine creature is Trilby who formerly couldn't sing a notenow the lover and protegee of Svengali.
Trilby, as she says, in a moment of weakness accepts. Bagot, she scurries over to Paris from London to check Trilby out. When she learns that Trilby had posed in the altogether she persuades Trilby to give up her son. Trilby leaves town without a goodbye. When Billy finds out he has his brain fever or a nervous breakdown that prostrates him for weeks. He does but with psychological consequences.
He can no longer love while he lives in a deep melancholia. After he recovers he returns to England. Trilby had left Paris to go to the provinces. She had a little brother who she was supporting and bringing up who she took with her and who then dies of a fever. This devastates Trilby who cuts her hair, dresses as a man and walks back to Paris.
Her old haunts have disappeared in the interim so she shows up on the doorstep of Svengali who is but too happy to take her in. The hypnotized Trilby is a small part of the book. Charmingly told with just the right touch of heartache. In the meantime and off stage, as it were, Svengali accompanied by Gecko keeps Trilby in a hypnotic trance as he teaches her to use her tremendous oral cavity to sing.
Svengali instills the musical sense through hypnosis but as Gecko later explains Trilby is merely providing the instrument while Svengali is actually singing through her. For three years they labor in the salt mines, as they say, performing on street corners or wherever. Then Trilby is properly trained becoming the rage of Europe as La Svengali becoming bigger and better than such stars as Adelina Patti or Jenny Lind, two real life divas. Now, in real terms the Jews had been emancipated beginning in by the French Revolution although occuring at different localities in Europe at different times.
With the emanicipation a contest began for the soil and soul of Europe. Europeans owned the soil but the Jews while originating nothing became the cultural virtuosi of Europe.
Not only in the performing arts but in finance, science and as entrepreneurs. The soil temporarily remained European but the culture was becoming Judaized. It was then that Freud made his assault on European concepts of morality. So Du Maurier has portrayed the situation poetically in a magnificent manner. Thus the Jews while offering no Beethovens, Bachs or Mozarts, became virtuoso interpreters of the music as performers. Piff, what is the composition compared to my ability to render it.
The Allen Kleins and Albert Grossmans of the world suck the talent, as it were, out of their performers or, boys, as they call them, as agents taking nearly everything leaving the actual talent a pittance. Nothing changes, this is what Svengali was doing with Trilby or, in another word, Europe. He was making a fortune while Trilby in her hypnotized state was wasting away.
Oh, Svengali dressed her well but for the sake of his appearance not hers. Except for presents she had received in appreaciation of her singing she had nothing. They were supposed to be man and wife but, in fact, Svengali never married her.
Here I think we have the real import of the story; the competition for Europe between the Jew and the European. Du Maurier is also describing the rise of the artist from a despised menial to the central position in society that they have attained today, especially movie, TV and musical stars. One only has to look at the position Bob Dylan has attained to see the result today.
Here is a man with no qualities revered as if he was the savior while poised to begin a tour of stadiums at Thus as with Svengali he has conquered the soul and wealth of virtually the world.
This is truly astonishing. So Svengali is on top of the world. Svengali harbors ill will toward Billy because Billy is always in her heart while her relationship with Svengali is strictly professional.
Oh, those unintended consequences. The humiliation is too much for Svengali, he becomes vicious toward Trilby in revenge. Readying for their London debut he bullies Trilby in front of Gecko, now his first violinist, who stabs Svengali in the neck with a small knife. Svengali while wounded is not hurt that bad but his physicians advise him not to conduct the opening performance.
This creates a problem because Svengali must make eye contact to sing through Trilby. He takes a box directly in front of Trilby. But he spots Billy and the other two musketeers in the pit in front of him.
The malice and venom he has toward Billy makes his heart fail. His face freezes into a risus sardonicus as he sits lifelessly leering at the Three Musketeers, triumphant in death. Now begins the denouement. While seemingly superfluous this is a very important part of the story giving it its secondary meaning. The Musketeers take Trilby in charge. No one is aware she had been hypnotized while she has no memory of performing and little of the lost five years.
The situation between she and Mrs. Trilby is the great lady while Mrs. Bagot is merely a middle class hausfrau. One might say Svengali has created the real Trilby. Where was Hugh Heffner when you needed him. On the surface it looks as though Mrs. Bagot has gotten her comeuppance but as Trilby is the creation of Svengali she would have remained the simple little grisette that Billy loved without him.
She would have remained the foot without realizing the potential of her oral cavity. Nevertheless this Trilby was Trilby as she should have been. The woman was fading fast.
Svengali had drawn the vital energy from her in his exploitation of her. Mysteriously, just before she dies, a life sized portrait of Svengali is delivered. The contest between he and Billy is still in effect. Gazing in the painted eyes of the hypnotist Trilby breaks into song as a final effort in her best manner.
On her death bed he leans close to hear her breathe out - Svengali, Svengali, Svengali. Thus he believes she loved Svengali more than he. His brain fever is reactivated, he dies. In grand operatic style the love story ends.