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If you value your soul, young Miss Trilby O'Farrall, beware of musical geniuses like Svengali who are also powerful hypnotists! *** One of the most widely read novels in 1890s UK and USA was written by painter, book illustrator and social satirist George du Maurier (1834 - 1896), grandfather of novelist Daphne du Maurier (1907 - 1989). The novel is called TRILBY and has inspired at least three good feature films, two named for its villain "Svengali." And in one of the latter the great John Barrymore played the title role. ***The novel has a rather clumsy structure, in that the first 2/3 is light-hearted, even Bohemian, set in late 1850s, early 1860s Paris and in the ample painting studio shared by three young Britons: "Little Billee," Taffy and "the Laird." And the final third of TRILBY is depressingly tragic. *** None of the three men is married. A frequent visitor and virtual sister to the three artistic chums is 20 year old unmarried Trilby O'Farrall, an orphaned model whose father was a well educated Irishman and her Scottish mother a tradeswoman in Paris. Cheerful, innocent Trilby frequently poses in another artist's studio one storey above the three friends and drops in during her lunch break. Two other visitors to the studio round out the six main characters of TRILBY: a tall, sinister Jewish musical genius and pianist whose real name is Adler but who calls himself Svengali and his violinist friend and supinely devoted protege Gecko. ***For well beyond the first half of the novel, we see little enough of Svengali and Gecko. We focus rather on the two somewhat older British men and their rising admiration of and brotherly affection for the painting genius of 22-year old William Bagot nicknamed "Little Billee" after a young man in a poem by William Makepeace Thackeray. Life among the four friends is made up of daily painting, study under masters, picnics, parties, and for Trilby O'Farrall a round of both clad and unclad posing in studios while darning socks of and tidying up for the three Britons. She also poses for them. *** Things suddenly turn solemn and sad after a Christmas party when a drunken Billy Bagot proposes marriage to gorgeous but unsuitable Trilby O'Farrell for the two dozenth time and is finally accepted. Instantly Trilby knows it will not work. Within a week Billee's widowed mother and her clergyman brother have arrived in Paris and persuaded Trilby to break the engagement. Trilby agrees that she is not right for Little Billee and disappears. Billee is wild with grief and his health begins a long spiral toward death. He searches in vain for years for his vanished love. *** Meanwhile Trilby turns at last to an eager Svengali who cures with hypnotism her terrible headaches. He also thereby gains complete psychic control over the young woman whom he loves as well as does his much younger rival Billee Bagot. For her part, however, in her increasingly rare lucid moments, Trilby O'Farrall despises Svengali. *** Years earlier, using brilliant non-hypnotic pedagogical methods, Svengali had moulded short, semi-crippled Gecko into one of Europe's greatest violinists. Now Svengali realizes a new ambitious project of using hypnotism to make of tone deaf Trilby Europe's greatest female singer. In the process, alas, her health steadily declines as does Svengali's who eventually succumbs to a heart attack during Trilby's final public performance. *** Eventually the Laird, Taffy and Little Billee reconnect with rising performing stars Svengali, Gecko and Trilby. Will Billee be able to break Svengali's hold on his one true love? Will almost constantly mesmerized Trilby recognize through her mental fog young Billee as her one true love? Read TRILBY and find out! It is best to use a good scholarly edition with notes, such as Penguin Classics' TRILBY with introduction and notes by Daniel Pick. -OOO-
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