The common romantic conception of Paris’ artistic “Bohemia” in the nineteenth century comes not so much from fact or from serious artistic productions of the era as from two highly successful, popular artworks, Giacomo Puccini’s opera LA BOHEME and George du Maurier’s novel TRILBY. Although hardly a serious literary classic, TRILBY remains an entertaining book, and the elements that made it so successful are still clearly evident.
The first and most obvious quality of the book is the colorful, vigorous picture it paints of life in the Parisian Latin Quarter. It is glamorous, gay, free, and creative. The parties and activities are spontaneous and continuous. The company is loyal, energetic, and highly imaginative. Although the excitement of the life is highly exaggerated, du Maurier gives the milieu an authentic flavor by his use of concrete details, names of real people and places, and intimate descriptions of the rituals, customs, and manners of his Bohemian world. It is all rendered in an ornate, highly charged, hyperbolic prose style that turns the most trivial incident into a major event.
At the same time, there is no real hint of struggle, poverty, or lack of talent among du Maurier’s students. Taffy, Sandy, and Little Billee are well financed, live in considerable comfort, dine in fine restaurants, and pursue assured careers. All of their acquaintances, except Trilby, seem similarly situated. When poverty is hinted at, it is kept at a distance and idealized for its character-building capacities. There is no indolence in du Maurier’s Bohemia; all the characters look forward to material success and respectable social positions for their...
(The entire section is 699 words.)