Trilby & Svengali Director’s Notes

This page contains directors notes specifically on Trilby & Svengali. To learn more about directing in general, please visit the Directing page.

Trilby was written in 1894 by George Du Maurier, a caricaturist for Punch and the grandfather of Daphne Du Maurier. He, like the young artists he wrote about in Trilby, studied art in Paris . In the 1880’s, Du Maurier offered his friend Henry James an idea for a novel—a beautiful young woman mesmerised by a cruel musician with no talent of his own. James encouraged Du Maurier to write the story himself.

Trilby was first published as an illustrated serial in America and became an instant success, attracting a larger audience than Dickens and becoming the first best-seller in American publishing. The English editions were also received enthusiastically. “Trilby-mania” began: Trilby hats were worn, scenes from Trilby were enacted at polite parties, young women referred to their feet as “Trilbies” and wore jewellery in the shape of Trilby’s perfect left foot. A town in Florida called itself “Trilby;” one could reflect on the novel while sitting in Svengali Square . An extremely successful stage adaptation toured America ; Herbert Beerbohm Tree brought a production to the Haymarket Theatre in London, where it ran for 254 performances.

Why did Trilby fade into obscurity while other best-sellers of the time such as Dracula live on? Perhaps it’s the many passages in the novel written in other languages, or the digressions into the nature of art, or the blatant anti-Semitism expressed against the character of Svengali. Just ten years after its publication, Trilby had largely left the public consciousness. Today, the novel lives on in our understanding of the term “Svengali” for a cruel person who exerts a controlling or mesmeric influence over another.

Use of slides and Gray's Anatomy...