Now this is a novel soaked with cultural history. Trilby inspired Leroux’s The Phantom of The Opera, coined the term Svengali, now forever to denote a hypnotic and controlling young gentleman, and turned the trilby hat into a fashion statement.
The setting of Trilby reflects the author’s bohemian years as an art student in Paris. His heroine is young, half-Irish Trilby O’Ferrall, an artist’s model and laundress who is a slight, boyish figure with an air of sadness about her when she first graces Du Maurier’s page. This note of darkness, tragedy is indeed compelling, and Trilby is admired by many of the novel’s male characters.
Yet when Trilby meets Svengali, a masterful musician, hypnotist and rogue, he discovers she is completely tone-deaf. Hypnotising her, Svengali transforms her into a musical diva, la Svengali, who becomes a beautiful singer under her master’s spell. But when Svengali is prevented from inducing Trilby’s trance before one evening performance, she is forced to snap out of the mesmeric reverie and confront reality. Has Trilby been a victim of Svengali’s desires or was she once an empty shell, now filled with life?
Trilby is available from Oxford World’s Classics
Words: Lottie Brown