Book: Trilby

Author: George du Maurier

Publisher: Digireads, republished in 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1420943399

ISBN-10: 1420943391

Related website: (publisher)

Language level: 3

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Teens and adults

Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Maurier, George du.  Trilby (originally published in 1894-1895; republished in 2011 by Digireads).  It is the 1850s in an idyllic bohemian Paris, France.  Three young English student painters. Taffy Wynne, Sandy M’Allister, and William (Little Billee) Bagot, share a studio in a Quartier Latin neighborhood full of artists and musicians.  One day while they are entertaining an unconventional German-Polish music teacher teacher and would be impresario named Svengali and his Gypsy protégé Gecko, a fiddler, there was a knock on the door and in comes eighteen year old Trilby O’Ferrall, a half-Irish girl working in Paris as an artists’ model and laundress.  She hears the music and decide to stop by.  When the musicians play a then-popular parlor song “Ben Bolt,” Trilby tries to sing it, but it is evident that she is tone deaf and cannot sing a lick. Only Svengali realizes the quality of her untrained voice.  However, Little Billee falls in love with her.  At first she refuses his proposals, but at Christmas time, she promises in a moment of weakness to marry him.  Then a few days later, his mother and a clergyman uncle arrive and make Trilby promise that she would not marry Little Billee. So she runs away from Paris, and Little Billee returns to England.

Five years pass. Little Billee achieves great success in London.  Then he and his two friends hear of a singer called “La Svengali” who has astonished all of Europe.  They learn that this new sensation is the wife of the music teacher they knew in the Quartier Latin, trained by him to sing with more technical mastery than anyone has ever heard. When she appears on stage, they see that she is none other than Trilby who has been transformed into a great diva by Svengali’s hypnotism.  Then at a concert, Svengali has a heart attack and she is unable to sing.  What will happen to poor Trilby?  This book was recommended to me by Jim Weiss of Greathall Productions as a great story.  And it is an interesting tale, if you don’t mind wading through all the descriptive passages and the seemingly ceaseless conversation which occasionally lapses into sentences and even whole paragraphs of French.  George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier (1834-1896) was a French-born British cartoonist who is best known as the author of Trilby.  The novel originally ran as a serial in Harper’s Monthly in 1894 and was published in book form in 1895.

The “d” word is used occasionally, and Trilby has posed nude for painters but quits when Little Billee objects.  There are instances of drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco.  The biggest objection for many is that the portrayal of Svengali appears anti-Semetic.  However, others feel that he’s just an evil character who happens to be Jewish.  For those who enjoy leisurely reading, the book gives a good description of life among the Bohemian artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1850s, as seen through the nostalgia of the 1890s.  I don’t recommend the Digireads version because the digital scanning results in numerous typographical errors.  By the way, long before I had ever read or even heard of Trilby, I have distinct memories from the days of my childhood, some fifty to sixty years ago, of a Mighty Mouse episode where the hero must rescue a mouse damsel when she is kidnapped by a Svengali-like cat who hypnotizes her to sing “Ben Bolt” to attract and capture other mice.  Some research showed that the episode was entitled “Svengali’s Cat.”  Now, who says that you can’t learn something useful from those old cartoons?

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