(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

In the large Latin Quarter studio that Taffy, Sandy, and Little Billee shared, the three students were hosts to Svengali, an unconventional musician, and Gecko, a fiddler. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. An artist’s model came in; she had heard music and decided to stop by. She wore a mixture of clothing—a soldier’s coat, a pair of men’s shoes, a frilled petticoat—and she carried her lunch. When she began to sing, her voice was so flat that the listeners did not know whether to be amused or embarrassed. Only Svengali realized the quality of her untrained voice.

One morning, Svengali went to borrow money from Sandy. Trilby was in the studio when he arrived. Because she complained of a headache, Svengali hypnotized her. Sandy was alarmed when she thought of the control Svengali might have over Trilby.

Trilby came more often to the studio. She cooked for the three Englishmen, darned their clothing, and joined in their meals and parties. In return, they taught her how to speak correct English and treated her as a highly respected sister. When Sandy fell ill, Trilby refused to let anyone else look after him.

Svengali had a stroke of luck when he was hired to appear in concerts. He was anxious to hypnotize the model again, but the three Englishmen would not permit it.

Because Trilby posed in the nude, Little Billee, who had fallen in love with her, became angry and left Paris. Unhappy at this turn of events, Trilby became a laundress. She began to take care of her appearance; when Little Billee returned, he was completely charmed by her. At Christmas time, Trilby promised to marry Little Billee; but a few days later, his mother and a clergyman arrived and made Trilby promise that she would not marry Little Billee. Trilby left Paris. Little Billee became ill, and he returned to England with his mother and sister.

Five years passed. Little Billee achieved success in London. Sandy and Taffy traveled on the Continent. When the three friends met again at a ball in London, there was much talk of old days in Paris. Word went around that Svengali had found a great pupil, that he had married her and was making a famous singer of her. Little Billee painted more pictures and fell in and out of love with a girl named Alice. The other two friends went their ways.

At last, the three met in Paris. During their stay, they attended the first performance of the famous La Svengali in Paris and discovered that the singer was their Trilby of earlier days. Under the hand of her master, she had gained a great voice that thrilled her audience. The three Englishmen were overcome.

When they saw Trilby and Svengali in the park the next day, Little Billee ran up to greet her. She looked at her old friends vaguely, listened to something that Svengali said to her, and then to their surprise glanced coldly at them as if she had never...

(The entire section is 1183 words.)

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

George du Maurier offered the plot of Trilby to his good friend Henry James, but James insisted that du Maurier write the story himself. During the serialization, a minor character appeared who was loosely modeled on American painter James McNeill Whistler, whom du Maurier had known during his student days in Paris. Whistler brought a lawsuit against the publisher, demanding that the character be removed from the novel. Du Maurier complied, and the publicity surrounding the dispute helped to make Trilby a best-seller.

The novel opens on an April day in Paris in the mid-1850’s. Three young Englishmen—Little Billee, Taffy, and the Laird—are in their studio in the Latin Quarter. In this opening scene, most of the major characters are introduced and described. The innocent Little Billee is the most talented painter of the three. Taffy is a tall, muscular Yorkshireman, and the Laird is a Scot. That afternoon, Svengali and Gecko enter the studio and introduce themselves. Svengali, a tall, dark, sinister-looking older man with piercing, hypnotic black eyes, sits down at the piano in the studio and plays heavenly music while Gecko, his music pupil, accompanies him on the violin. Trilby O’Ferrall, an attractive young model, joins the group. The men learn that she models in the nude for a select few artists. Although she has many of the physical attributes to make her a great singer, she is tone deaf. She is a genuinely good person despite her past liaisons.

As the year...

(The entire section is 619 words.)