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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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Svengali, the malevolent hypnotist in a sensationally successful novel published by George du Maurier in 1894, became such a well-known character in the culture of the period that his name entered the dictionary as one who exerts a malign persuasiveness on another. This book explores the origins and impact of Svengali and his helplessly mesmerized female victim

Overview

Svengali, the malevolent hypnotist in a sensationally successful novel published by George du Maurier in 1894, became such a well-known character in the culture of the period that his name entered the dictionary as one who exerts a malign persuasiveness on another. This book explores the origins and impact of Svengali and his helplessly mesmerized female victim Trilby in an age already rife with discussions of race, influence, and the unconscious mind.

Daniel Pick points out that Svengali was a Jew as well as a dangerous hypnotist; his depiction struck a chord not only with pervasive nineteenth-century forebodings about irrational interpersonal forces and psychic contacts but also with prevalent anti-Semitic assumptions. He shows how Svengali became the quintessential dark hypnotist of the fin de siècle, whose image was recycled in pictures, drama, verse, and films. Pick not only discusses the work of mesmerists, hypnotists, and critics of entrancement but also relates tales of surrogate passion and psychological foreboding that feature opera singer Jenny Lind, composer Richard Wagner, politician Benjamin Disraeli, novelist Henry James, and others. The book identifies and illuminates a psychological and historical preoccupation—a cluster of Victorian ideas and images, fears and fantasies of psychic invasion and racial hypnosis that crystallized in the figure and phenomenon of Svengali.

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)

Meet the Author

Daniel Pick is a psychoanalyst and Professor of Cultural History at Queen Mary, University of London, and the author of War Machine: The Rationalisation of Slaughter in the Modern Age, published by Yale University Press. He is an editor of History Workshop Journal. 

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