Du Maurier, George
George Du Maurier 1834-1896
English illustrator and novelist.
Known primarily for his three popular and largely autobiographical novels, Du Maurier was also a much-acclaimed illustrator for novels and magazines, most notably Punch. He is credited with being one of the first British authors to introduce the idea of the unconscious mind and the dualities of personality into the novel, exploring such concepts as memory and hypnotism in his departure from the structure of the traditional romantic novel. His most famous fictional character, the villain Svengali, appeared in the novel Trilby (1894).
Du Maurier was born in Paris to a French father and English mother and spent much of his childhood and youth in France. His parents sent him to a French boarding school, the Pension Froussard, from which he did not graduate because he could not pass the Latin exam. In 1851 Du Maurier went to London to study at the Birbeck Chemical Laboratory of University College because his father wanted him to pursue a scientific career. This course of study held little interest for him, however, and he returned to France to study art, first in Paris, and then in Antwerp, Belgium. It was in the latter city that Du Maurier suffered the loss of sight in his left eye in 1857. All attempts to restore his vision failed, and he returned to England in 1860. There he began his career as an illustrator, which lasted more than thirty years. By the mid-1860s he was well known and highly regarded in both England and the United States for his satirical drawings in Punch, which gently ridiculed English upper-class society. Through his work as an illustrator Du Maurier met Henry James, who became a lifelong friend and encouraged Du Maurier to try his hand at writing fiction. His novels, most especially his second, Trilby, brought Du Maurier fame and fortune (and a lawsuit from his friend James Whistler), eroding the privacy he had always treasured. Du Maurier preferred the serenity of country life with his wife, Emma Wightwick, whom he married in 1863, and his five children, to the social and literary circles of London. He died in 1896.
The first of Du Maurier's three novels, Peter Ibbetson, appeared in 1891, when Du Maurier was fifty-seven. It was followed by Trilby in 1894 and The Martian which was published posthumously in 1897. All of the novels first appeared as serials in Harper's Monthly, are autobiographical in content, and address some aspect of the unconscious mind. Peter Ibbetson is an account of Du Maurier's childhood in France and his early years in London, but its defining characteristic is its melding of the main character's dream life with real life. Ibbetson and the other main character, the Duchess of Towers, after a series of crises, spend the remaining days of their lives entering each other's dreams. Du Maurier's success as an illustrator contributed to the warm critical reception of this novel, especially by such literary figures as Henry James. Trilby was the most successful of Du Maurier's novels and is credited with being the first modern bestseller. In this work, the heroine, a poor artist's model named Trilby, is transformed through hypnotism into the premier singer of Europe. Her mesmerist, Svengali, controls her through his hypnotic powers; she is tone-deaf and literally cannot live without him, dying not long after his death. The novel's popularity spawned what has been called “Trilby-mania” and “Trilby worship,” including parodies of the novel, the naming of geographic locations for characters in the novel, and even a special ice cream molded in the shape of Trilby's foot. Du Maurier's third novel, The Martian, has been called his most autobiographical and was the least well received of his three novels; in it he recounts his school days in Paris and the experience of losing his sight. The narrator and main character, Barty Josselin, attempts suicide after he loses his sight in one eye, prompting the appearance of Martia, the Martian, with whom he now shares his body. Du Maurier also introduces the concept of automatic writing in this novel: while Josselin sleeps, Martia writes and Josselin becomes a world-famous writer. Like Peter Ibbetson, The Martian addresses the idea of life beyond the body.
In his day, critics praised Du Maurier for his wit as an illustrator and his innovations as a novelist. Although Du Maurier was well known to reading audiences by the end of the nineteenth century, he has received little attention in the twentieth century. According to critics, most readers are probably unaware of the genesis of the term “Svengali,” but it is still used today.
SOURCE: “George Du Maurier,” in his Partial Portraits, University of Michigan Press, 1970, pp. 327-72.
[In the following excerpt from an essay originally written in 1883, James provides an extensive examination of Du Maurier's contributions to Punch, with particular attention to his characterization of the English and French people.]
… Punch, for the last fifteen years, has been, artistically speaking, George du Maurier. (We ought, perhaps, before this, to have said that none of our observations are to be taken as applying to the letterpress of the comic journal, which has probably never been fully appreciated in America.) It has employed other talents than his—notably Charles Keene, who is as broad, as jovial, as English (half his jokes are against Scotchmen) as Leech, but whose sense of the beautiful, the delicate, is inferior even to Leech's. But for a great many people, certainly in America, Du Maurier has long been, as I say, the successor of Leech, the embodiment of the pictorial spirit of Punch. Shut up in the narrow limits of black and white, without space, without colour, without the larger opportunities, Du Maurier has nevertheless established himself as an exquisite talent and a genuine artist. He is not so much of a laugher as Leech—he deals in the smile rather than the laugh—but he is a much deeper observer, and he carries his drawing infinitely further. He...
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SOURCE: “Life of George du Maurier,” in his George du Maurier. His Life and Work, Pellegrini and Cudahy, 1949, pp. 11-35.
[In the following essay, Whiteley provides an overview of Du Maurier's life and work, focusing most extensively on his circle of literary and artist friends.]
To give here more than an outline of du Maurier's life would be unnecessary, even if it were possible. No author was more autobiographical in the compass of his three novels, where are to be found faithful records of his own early experiences and of characters founded on contemporary friends and acquaintances. Henry James once wrote that du Maurier lived his trio of novels rather than wrote them, and thus gave others the rare and charming sense of their being more lived than read. In the sketch that follows I have tried, whenever possible, to indicate the main events in his own words,1 or in those of the reflected characters in the three novels; and to record the impress of his extraordinarily sympathetic personality as related by some of his contemporaries.
The first novel, Peter Ibbetson, appeared between June and November 1891, when the author was aged fifty-seven, as an illustrated serial in the American Harper's New Monthly Magazine, and was published in England during the following year. Here du Maurier tells the story of his childhood in France and of his early...
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SOURCE: “Peter Ibbetson,” in her George du Maurier, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969, pp. 416-30.
[In the following essay, Ormond critiques Du Maurier's Peter Ibbetson, finding the Passy scenes laudable but the rest of the novel somewhat unsatisfactory and disjointed.]
The discovery that Du Maurier could write a romantic novel came as a great surprise to most of his friends. They scarcely knew what to make of Peter Ibbetson, published in Harper's Monthly in 1891. Kate Greenaway's reaction was characteristic: ‘I have always liked Mr du Maurier, but to think there was all this, and one didn’t know it. I feel as if I had all this time been doing him a great injustice—not to know’.1 It was the age at which Du Maurier had decided to write that caused the most amazement. When he began writing Peter Ibbetson he was fifty-five. Although his health was still reasonable, he was becoming weaker and more frail, and he was finding it increasingly difficult to supply his two weekly Punch cartoons. Over the years, his eyesight had become more troublesome, and several critics have assumed that it was the fear of losing his post on Punch which stimulated him to write. Certainly the financial motive was of paramount importance. The Victorians were less precious in their attitude to literature than we are today, and Trollope could calmly detail...
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SOURCE: “Magi and Maidens: The Romance of the Victorian Freud,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 2, Winter, 1981, pp. 281-300.
[In the following excerpt, Auerbach analyzes the two main characters of Trilby—Svengali as master/mesmerist and Trilby as metamorphosing heroine.]
It is commonly assumed that Victorian patriarchs disposed of their women by making myths of them; but then as now social mythology had an unpredictable life of its own, slyly empowering the subjects it seemed to reduce. It also penetrated unexpected sanctuaries. If we examine the unsettling impact upon Sigmund Freud of a popular mythic configuration of the 1890s, we witness a rich, covert collaboration between documents of romance and the romance of science. Fueling this entanglement between the clinician's proud objectivity and the compelling images of popular belief is the imaginative power of that much-loved, much-feared, and much-lied-about creature, the Victorian woman.
Until recently, feminist criticism has depreciated this interaction between myths of womanhood, science, and history, seeing in social mythology only a male mystification which dehumanizes women: the myth of womanhood was thought to be no more than manufactured fantasies about woman's nature (inferior brain weight, educated women's tendency to brain fever, a ubiquitous maternal instinct, raging hormonal imbalance) meant to shackle female...
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SOURCE: “Artists, Models, Real Things, and Recognizable Types,” Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. XVI, No. 2, Fall, 1983, pp. 7-34.
[In the following excerpt, Banta briefly discusses why Du Maurier's Trilby is superior to Henry James's “The Real Thing.”]
… Two years after the appearance of [Henry] James's “The Real Thing,” Trilby burst upon the reading public in Great Britain and the United States.1 George Du Maurier (who planted the “germ” for James's 1892 story in his friend's mind) had also offered another story-line to James; but James turned it back to Du Maurier. The result was Trilby, a publishing success of the kind James never managed to bring off.
What does Trilby have as a narrative that “The Real Thing” does not? In many ways they share similar elements for public interest: a setting (artist's studio, professional model) and a situation (which is the real thing?) But the differences are crucial. For one, James's tale is a passion of ideas about the creation of images by which we come to recognition of certain types; feelings as such are underplayed. In contrast, Du Maurier's novel does without almost everything but the feelings stirred up by the powerful icons of Trilby and Svengali. James's story is so harshly realistic in its pursuit of functional authenticity that the artist-narrator's responses form the...
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SOURCE: “Cather's Creative Women and DuMaurier's Cozy Men: The Song of the Lark and Trilby,” Modern Language Studies, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, Spring, 1994, pp. 27-37.
[In the following excerpt, Titus discusses how Willa Cather's Song of the Lark is indebted to Du Maurier's Trilby in its portrayal of male and female characters.]
… In its sustained attention to male authority and use of masculine approbation, The Song of the Lark represents more a continuity with than a break from Willa Cather's early writing. Although the novel traces the achievement of a woman artist, it does so from a masculine point of view, moving from male spectator to male spectator, exploring as much the critical acumen and communal relations of these men as it does the heroine's ascent. In fact the novel is indebted to a particular portrait of a woman artist and her male admirers that Willa Cather enthusiastically reviewed quite early in her career—George DuMaurier's extraordinarily popular 1894 novel, Trilby.Years after reading Trilby, when Cather shaped her kunstlerroman, as well as the contemporaneous story, “The Diamond Mine,” DuMaurier's novel was clearly on her mind. In their focus on masculine relations surrounding a charismatic female performer, both texts recall—and in the case of “The Diamond Mine” make direct reference to—DuMaurier's Trilby....
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SOURCE: “The Mythic Svengali: Anti-Aestheticism in Trilby,” Studies in the Novel, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter, 1996, pp. 525-42.
[In the following essay, Grossman examines anti-aestheticism in Trilby, including comparisons with Oscar Wilde's work and a discussion of bohemia and homosexuality in the novel.]
Writing about George Du Maurier in 1897, Henry James finds a “mystery” posed by the enormous public success of Du Maurier's Trilby (1894): “The case remains, … it is one of the most curious of our time.” “Why did the public pounce on its prey with a spring so much more than elephantine?” James asks, pondering both the novel and the author it turned into an unwilling celebrity.1 Certainly shifting marketing practices of both books and authors at the end of the century enabled Trilby's popularity, as Edward Purcell suggests.2 However, the answer to James's question lies in how Trilby uniquely fits into a cultural history of the 1890s. For though Trilby, a fictionalized account of Du Maurier's bohemian life in Paris in 1856-57, is set in the past, this essay will argue that Trilby is very much concerned with the artistic, sexual, and identity issues that were embraced by the label “Aesthetic” and that came to be represented by Oscar Wilde in the 1890s. In 1894, Trilby imaginatively reformulated Britain's...
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Carey, Rebecca A. “J. M. Barrie and the Du Mauriers.” Mythlore, 15, No. 4 (Summer 1989): 40-42.
Shows how J. M. Barrie's relationship with the Du Maurier family influenced his creation of Barrie's play Peter Pan.
Kelly, Richard. “The Martian: Autobiographical Fantasy.” In his George Du Maurier, pp. 125-53. Boston: Twayne, 1983, 179 p.
An in-depth analysis of The Martian,focusing on the characters of Barty Josselin and Bob Maurice, the theme of aesthetic perfection, and Du Maurier's fear of blindness.
Kelly, Richard. “Trilby: The Influence of Murger.” In his George Du Maurier, pp. 87-123. Boston: Twayne, 1983, 179 p.
An in-depth analysis of Du Maurier's Trilby, including discussion of theme, characterization, and the book's reception.
McCail, R. C. “The Genesis of Du Maurier's Trilby,” Forum for Modern Language Studies, XIII, No. 1 (January 1977): 12-15.
Explains how Du Maurier got the idea for his novel Trilby from reading Thackeray's novel Pendennis.
Purcell, L. Edward. “Trilby and Trilby-Mania: The Beginning of the Bestseller System.” Journal of Popular Culture, XI, No. 1 (Summer 1977): 62-76.
Discusses the success of...
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