Svengali's Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture

Svengali's Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture

by Daniel Pick
     
 

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From the immediate success of George Du Maurier's 1894 book Trilby came a transatlantic sensation of all things Trilby- sausages, hats, candies, even a town in Florida. Trilby has faded now, leaving behind in its wake pervasive lingering traces of Svengali, the dark character who crossed from his role as a charismatic Jewish musician who hypnotised and exploited a

Overview

From the immediate success of George Du Maurier's 1894 book Trilby came a transatlantic sensation of all things Trilby- sausages, hats, candies, even a town in Florida. Trilby has faded now, leaving behind in its wake pervasive lingering traces of Svengali, the dark character who crossed from his role as a charismatic Jewish musician who hypnotised and exploited a young woman, into a cultural icon of all things concealed, sinister, and malignantly persuasive. Using Trilby as the starting point for an exploration of cultural history Pick analyses the Trilby phenomenon, and explores what it was about the themes of the book that resonated so immediately and widely with the deep psychological dreads of fin de siecle society and beyond. Guiding us through the smoke-and-mirrors world of 19th century neurologists and anti-semites, best-selling novelists, Jewish conductors enthralling divas, and political nightmares, Pick unearths representations of Svengali in literature, theatre, film, music and politics to reveal the constituents of post-modern angst. This is a short book, immaculately written, and thick with allusion and revelation.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Pick (history, Univ. of London; War Machine: The Rationalisation of Slaughter in the Modern Age) has written a fascinating cultural critique of George du Maurier's novel Trilby (1893-94). This story of a singer and her sinister manager, Svengali, contains many examples of British late-Victorian obsessions and desires. It was a great success on both sides of the Atlantic and served as the basis of many plays and films. Pick discusses Friedrich Mesmer (1734-1815), Jean Martin Charcot (1825-93), and Freud in order to clarify the psychology of hypnotism and also describes the Dreyfus affair, Oscar Wilde's trial, and Wagner's anti-Semitic writings as similar phenomena of the time. Works by Poe, Dickens, and Henry James are mentioned to show the range of writers concerned with the same themes as du Maurier. In the process, Pick touches on crowd psychology, sexual control, anti-Semitism, music, and the evil eye as elements in the novel and as aspects of British public life. The result is an interesting view of a great popular success of the time. Recommended for literature collections.--Gene Shaw, NYPL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Booknews
Mesmerist, musician, and Jew, the character, Svengali, was invented by the Anglo-French illustrator and writer, George Du Maurier in his novel, , first serialized in and then published in 1894, to become one of the best-selling novels of the 19th century. In the novel, Svengali seduces the heroine, Trilby, through mesmerism and turns her into an opera star who sings, zombie-like, under his spell. Pick (history, University of London) investigates the use of this image as an anti-Semitic and invasionary tale, and identifies a psychological and historical connection between Mesmer (1734-1815), who renovated a Jesuit technique of casting out devils, and Svengali, and Freud (also Jewish). Along the way, the tales of such luminaries as Jenny Lind, Benjamin Disraeli, and Henry James become part of the picture. Mesmerizingly-illustrated with interesting drawings and photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300082043
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
05/28/2000
Pages:
296
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

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