March 29, 2008


It's ages since I've read fiction (well, read -- I do occasionally reread Robert Louis Stevenson for his style), but on a late night whim I ordered a copy of Trilby, by George du Maurier, from It's odd how the name Trilby, or that of George du Maurier, means so little to us--almost as if Jekyll and Stevenson were unknown, but everyone knew the infamy of Edward Hyde. (I think I recently told someone that I thought Jekyll & Hyde was the perfect work of art -- I still think this to be true, but only if the story hasn't first been ruined for us by knowing the connection between the two...)

In any case, the name missing from Trilby is Svengali...

I'm half way through the book, and unlike my first reading of Jekyll and Hyde, I have no idea how it will turn out, but I can't wait to see. Du Maurier is not as skilled a writer as Stevenson -- I think at least 50 or 60 pages could be cut from what I've read without the slightest diminishment -- but he does keep things moving and it is an enjoyable read.

As fascinating (and repulsive) as Svengali is (about whom more later), It's worth pausing a moment on Miss Trilby O'Farrell:

Latin and Greek are languages the Young Person should not be taught to understand seeing that they are highly improper languages, deservedly dead in which pagan bards who should have known better have sung the filthy loves of their gods and goddesses.

But at least I am scholar enough to enter one little Latin plea on Trilby's behalf the, shortest, best, and most beautiful plea I can think of. It was once used in extenuation and condonation of the frailties of another poor weak woman, presumably beautiful, and a far worse offender than Trilby, but who, like Trilby, repented of her ways, and was most justly forgiven

'Quia multum amavit!'

Whether it be an aggravation of her misdeeds or an extenuating circumstance, no pressure of want, no temptations of greed or vanity, had ever been factors in urging Trilby on her downward career after her first false step in that direction the result of ignorance, bad advice (from her mother, of all people in the world), and base betrayal. She might have lived in guilty splendour had she chosen, but her wants were few. She had no vanity, and her tastes were of the simplest, and she earned enough to gratify them all, and to spare.

So she followed love for love's sake only, now and then, as she would have followed art if she had been a man capriciously, desultorily, more in a frolicsome spirit of camaraderie than anything else. Like an amateur, in short a distinguished amateur who is too proud to sell his pictures, but willingly gives one away now and then to some highly-valued and much-admiring friend.
Sheer gaiety of heart and genial good-fellowship, the difficulty of saying nay to earnest pleading. She was bonne camarade et bonne fille before everything. Though her heart was not large enough to harbour more than one light love at a time (even in that Latin Quarter of genially capacious hearts), it had room for many warm friendships; and she was the warmest, most helpful, and most compassionate of friends, far more serious and faithful in friendship than in love.
Indeed, she might almost be said to possess a virginal heart, so little did she know of love's heartaches and raptures and torments and clingings and jealousies.

With her it was lightly come and lightly go, and never come back again; as one or two, or perhaps three, picturesque Bohemians of the brush or chisel had found, at some cost to their vanity and self-esteem; perhaps even to a deeper feeling who knows?

I'd much rather fall in love with Trilby O'Farrel than with, say, Madame Bovary...

Posted by Ideofact at March 29, 2008 12:30 AM