Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Women's History Month Books: Trilby introduced literature's first great stalker


“And, ach! what a beautiful skeleton you will make! And very soon, too, because you do not smile on your madly loving Svengali. You burn his letters without reading them! You shall have a nice little mahogany glass case all to yourself in the museum of the École de Médecine, and Svengali shall come in his new fur-lined coat, smoking his big cigar of the Havana, and push the dirty carabins* out of the way, and look through the holes of your eyes into your stupid empty skull, and up the nostrils of your high, bony sounding-board of a nose without either a tip or a lip to it, and into the roof of your big mouth, with your thirty-two big English teeth, and between your big ribs into your big chest, where the big leather lungs used to be, and say, “Ach! what a pity she had no more music in her than a big tom-cat!” And then he will look all down your bones to your poor crumbling feet, and say, “Ach! what a fool she was not to answer Svengali’s letters!”

Du Maurier, George, Trilby (London: Osgood & McIlvaine & Co., 1st one-volume ed., 1895). Du Maurier's second novel, Trilby inspired “soap, songs, dances, toothpaste, and even the city of Trilby in Florida..., and the variety of soft felt hat with an indented crown that was worn in the London stage dramatization of the novel, is known to this day as a trilby. The plot inspired Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel Phantom of the Opera and the innumerable works derived from it. Du Maurier eventually came to dislike the persistent attention given to his novel.” It also introduced the phrase “in the altogether” and inspired the notoriously litigious artist Whistler to threaten suit over a character (Du Maurier apologized and rewrote the offending sections).

Du Maurier also introduced the character Svengali, whose name became a synonym for a man holding utter sway over a submissive woman. Hardcover, blue boards with gilt top edge, titling on cover and spine and embossed cover design. 447 pp, octavo, with six pages of publisher’s ads. 121 illustrations by the author. Slight separation of spine at back endpapers; small tear at bottom of spine. Bookseller label of Gilbert & Field, 67 Moorgate Street, London, E.C., which operated from the mid-1870s to circa World War I. HBB price: $35 obo.


Born on this day in 1834, George Louis Palmella Busson DuMaurier was the son of a French family who pretended better birth than they had. He studied art in Belgium, married an English woman, and became a twice a week cartoonist for Punch in 1865.

DuMaurier made his name poking the fastidiousness and obsequious manners of the Victorians, coining many a phrase still in use (one, “the curate’s egg,” featured a minor pastor currying favor his the holder of his living: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones. The curate replies, "Oh no, my Lord, I assure you – parts of it are excellent!").

“Bedside manner" was another DuMaurier coinage, from an 1884 cartoon.

Plagued by poor eyesight (he went blind in one eye in art school), Du Maurier retired to the country in 1891 and wrote three novels. Peter Ibbetson- the first- was a critical if not sales success, but enjoyed later fame as a play, then an opera.

Trilby was his second, and perfect for the revival of interest in things Gothic and horrorish at the end of the 19th century. He died in 1896 and practically all his progeny became famous, including his granddaughter Daphne, who wrote Rebecca, and The Birds, and the five boys who inspired J.M. Barrie to write Peter Pan.

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