When we hear the word “Svengali” we imagine a shady character who manipulates the young and impressionable. In our modern lexicon such a character is a master of the dark arts, which allows him to bewitch others. The original “Svengali” was invented by George Du Maurier. He appears in his novel, “Trilby”.
Svengali is a dark and mysterious character, an habitué of Paris especially its garrets where the desperate young hopefuls gather and commune in their pursuit for stardom.
Svengali uses a degree of fake charm to ensnare his victims. In reality he is without charm. He is egotistical, cruel and conceited. His sole virtue is his knowledge and appreciation of music. The young ingénue who falls under his spell is the eponymous heroine Trilby. He endures his cruelty so she can become the chanteuse she dreamed about as a young girl. We soon discover that she has no natural talent for singing at all.
Svengali hypnotises her and she magically becomes a star of the musical stage. However her life soon vanishes as his devious campaign of manipulation deprives her of her own individuality. She is no longer Trilby, she is La Svengali, just another product of his ego. Her health deteriorates dramatically, her soul becomes an empty husk.
Svengali dies suddenly from a heart attack and Trilby dwindles like a dying star. It seems that even after his death he still has a hold over her. His spell seems to precipitate her own untimely demise.
“Trilby” is a moral fable about the power of rich and entitled men, and the young women who surrender to them in their search for stardom.