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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 31 May 2002
This deservedly famous novel, partly autobiographical, by the father of Daphne du Maurier, is absolutely fascinating. I regret that it has taken me so long to getting round to reading it. The fluidity and intensity of desire we are used to in the 1890s is extremely well represented, from the obsession with Trilby's perfect foot and the ecstatic and yet ironic description of the effect of her voice to the ambiguities of the relationship between the male protagonists, a trio of young British artists on the loose in 1860s in Paris's Latin Quarter. The illustrations by du Maurier are intriguing too. It's the quintessential decadent mass-market novel, well worth reading in front of an open fire, a bottle of wine at your side. Think a novelistic version of the film "Moulin Rouge" written in the 1890s and you'll get the idea.
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First serialised in Harper's Monthly Trilby went on to become a bestseller in book form on both sides of the Atlantic. George Du Maurier (grandfather of Daphne Du Maurier) could not be accused of high literature, unlike his friend Henry James. Perhaps this adds something to the story, the same way that Dracula has remained popular.

So much happens or you imagine happens in this book, especially with that most infamous creation Svengali. Indeed like Dorien Gray it is what people imagine Svengali gets up to that leads to the enigma of the character and has made so well known. The basic story is about friendship between three British artists in Paris, love, and their feelings for Trilby. Trilby, the tone deaf friend of everyone who becomes a singing sensation famous throughout Europe, under the tutelage of the mesmeric Svengali.

I was having serious trouble concentrating and couldn't sleep, and not knowing what to do with myself I thought I'd see if I could get into this book, and was soon fully immersed. This book isn't hard to read but be warned, there is a lot of French in it and if you are not conversant in that language you will have to keep looking in the notes at the back of the book. This OUP edition also has the original illustrations by the author which adds something to the reading experience of this book. I will definitely read this book again, and can quite see why it was a bestseller.
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First serialised in Harper's Monthly Trilby went on to become a bestseller in book form on both sides of the Atlantic. George Du Maurier (grandfather of Daphne Du Maurier) could not be accused of high literature, unlike his friend Henry James. Perhaps this adds something to the story, the same way that Dracula has remained popular.

So much happens or you imagine happens in this book, especially with that most infamous creation Svengali. Indeed like Dorien Gray it is what people imagine Svengali gets up to that leads to the enigma of the character and has made this so well known. The basic story is about friendship between three British artists in Paris, love, and their feelings for Trilby. Trilby, the tone deaf friend of everyone who becomes a singing sensation famous throughout Europe, under the tutelage of the mesmeric Svengali could be likened to some of today’s pop stars.

I always enjoy reading this book as it is trashy but delightful. This book isn't hard to read but be warned, there is a lot of French in it and if you are not conversant in that language you will have to keep looking at the notes. A well known bestseller in its day this still makes for an enjoyable read now.
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on 18 March 2015
I'm still using my Derren Brown 'Svengali' tour mug which Mum got for me after I saw his show. The historic name is as much a cultural cliche for dark hypnotic power as the word 'Trilby' denotes a certain style of hat. It had never occurred to me to learn where either originated yet it turns out that George Du Maurier's novel is the source for both. Wildly popular in its day, Trilby is now considered a classic, the Wordsworth Classics edition being the one I spotted in a Spanish campsite library. Personally, I am not sure that the novel has aged well! The underlying storyline is a great idea, but its telling is very much of the time.

Told by a condescending first person narrator who doesn't actually feature in the story, we get lots of personal asides (frequently snobbish, sexist and racist) which slow the flowery writing style. I enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of 1860s Paris, but was often infuriated by Du Maurier's pace - get on with it! The potentially most interesting part of the novel, Trilby's take-over by Svengali and her fantastic musical breakthrough, actually happen 'offstage' so the reader is presented with reports of the fait accompli, and while I'm showing off my French, a warning that Du Maurier does that a lot. Often whole conversations are in French with little or nothing by way of translation. Hopefully much of it was just small talk as, overall, I probably missed half a dozen pages this way.

The characters are strong although, again, very much of their time. Our insipid English hero, Little Billee, is suitably upstanding; his chums are both Good Sorts; etc. Trilby herself is initially a refreshing change. She makes her own money by modelling for artists and is blithely independent. Of course, as time goes by, she is taught to be ashamed of such a lifestyle and to take pleasure from domestic drudgery instead, and her great success comes only at the instigation of a man, but at least she started out promisingly! Vicious antisemitism is the other big problem with the novel. Svengali is a nasty piece of work. I don't mind that - the tale needs a good villain. But Svengali isn't just A Bad Man. It's repeatedly made plain that his badness is due to his being Jewish and Du Maurier's insults descend to real childish namecalling. As he spends the rest of the book trying to impart a sense of his own superiority, this really stands out as bizarre.

I'm not sure if I enjoyed reading Trilby or not. Some sections are beautifully written with energy, atmosphere and a real knowledge of the Paris of the day. Other sections are slow, ridiculously sentimental or simply pointless. A note to current authors: if you feel the need for your hero to start talking at length to a dog, please don't report it to your readers!
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on 29 April 2012
I didn't know that this book existed until I read David Lodge's "Author,Author!" on the life of Henry James. It is very interesting, highly amusing and very sad - all at the same time. I recommend it to any reader.
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on 7 September 2013
As a great admirer of the writings of Daphne Du Maurier, I wanted to read this notorious work of her grandfather. It may largely be unread today, but Svengali has a life beyond the novel that inspires investigation. I would classify it as a great dilettante novel. The author is clearly a man of tremendous distinction and self-confidence who has no problem in talking down to a grateful inferior reader and does so with such charm, wit, ease and urbanity that we readily accept him as our companion and guide. And his material (among the artists of nineteenth century Paris) is attractive, intriguing and enriched by well observed and credible characters in situations we are happy to pursue and which reveal, by the way, perceptive insights both into the contemporary world and a more enduring human nature. Svengali is indeed a magnificent creation (embarrassingly anti-Semitic along with some other details of the author's point of view) but he occupies a relatively small part of the text, the main character of which is the unpromisingly named Little Billee - a well rounded and original creation. Trilby herself is also a force to be reckoned with, but in the final pages she is allowed to descend into the mire of 19th Century sentimentality and the whole magnificent Wildean creation falls apart in scenes that move us to laughter rather than tears. And then we feel that the whole things has been a delightful cheat by someone with no real interest in fiction and concerned only to give his public the bread and circuses they require. Still, the quality of bread is better than most writers can offer and the ring master certainly gives us a good crack of the whip. Highly recommended for what it is.
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on 19 May 2013
A trio of British artists in the Paris of thirty years before the narrator tells the story. The narrator seems to share the mindset of the three heroes, rabidly antisemitic, deeply compromised in their views on women, and quite stupid, or with the thinnest of veneers of intelligence. Svengali has real musical insight - which makes them resent and mock him the more - and sees what they fail to: Trilby's natural talent. He releases that talent and she leaves the three (or four) duffers behind. At least two of them have fallen in love with her (although they would have preferred it if she were a boy), but one is rescued by his spiteful mother (she is praised for this by his chief rival) and then goes into a dreadful decline, which is redoubled when he realises that Svengali has married her and that she is a world success ... The narrator constantly indulges in ironic digs, but they seem to lack a moral centre, providing a deeply evasive and puzzling veil between the reader an what is going on.
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on 1 February 2014
I really love this book and always have done. The plot is different from most others and shows how influence of one over another, if managed properly, can lead to a positive life outcome.
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on 1 April 2014
I read this years ago and remembered it as being very good. It`s not. There is too much French, and not being a French speaker, or come to that a speaker of anything other than English, the amount of French was very tedious. On the plus side it is not a very long book. Read it and decide yourself.
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on 23 January 2013
A book that's often quoted and brought the Trilby and Svengali into our culture. It seems to me a book of it's time and this makes it a difficult read now, particularly because of it's antisemitism, and rather non-pc views on class. But it does give an insight into the world of the fashionable art circles and ideas of the time eg. the popularity of mesmerism and references to physiognomy; and some of it's descriptions and witty observations are well worth the read
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