“He had but to say ‘Dors!’ and she suddenly became an unconscious Trilby of marble, who could produce wonderful sounds—just the sounds he wanted and nothing else—and think his thoughts and wish his wishes—and love him at his bidding with a strange, unreal, factitious love ... just his own love for himself turned inside out—a l’envers—and reflected back on him as from a mirror ... un echo, un simulacre, quoi? pas autre chose!... It was not worth having! I was not even jealous!”
This last passage, I think, suggests that Mr. du Maurier would have produced a much less charming story, indeed, but a vastly more artistic one, had he directed his readers’ attention rather upon the tragedy of Svengali than upon the tragedy of Trilby. For Svengali’s position as complete master of a woman’s will and yet unable to call forth more than a factitious love—“just his own love for himself turned inside out and reflected back on him as from a mirror”—is a really tragic one, and a fine variation on the old Frankenstein motif. The tragedy of Frankenstein resides in Frankenstein himself, not in his creature.
An Incongruous Story.
In short, Trilby seems—as Peter Ibbetson seemed—to fall into two parts, the natural and supernatural, which will not join. They might possibly join if Mr. du Maurier had not made the natural so exceedingly domestic, had he been less successful with the Trilby, and Little Billee, and Taffy, and the Laird, for all of whom he has taught us so extravagant a liking. But his very success with these domestic (if oddly domestic) figures, and with the very domestic tale of Little Billee’s affair of the heart, proves our greatest stumbling-block when we are invited to follow the machinations of the superlative Svengali. That the story of Svengali and of Trilby’s voice is a good story only a duffer would deny. So is Gautier’s La Morte Amoureuse; perhaps the best story of its kind ever written. But suppose Thackeray had taken La Morte Amoureuse and tried to write it into Pendennis!
Sept. 21, 1895. Stevenson’s Testimony.
In his chapter of “Personal Memories,” printed in the Century Magazine of July last, Mr. Gosse speaks of the peculiar esteem in which Mr. Frank R. Stockton’s stories were held by Robert Louis Stevenson. “When I was going to America to lecture, he was particularly anxious that I should lay at the feet of Mr. Frank R. Stockton his homage, couched in the following lines:—
My Stockton if I failed
It were a sheer depravity;
For I went down with the ‘Thomas Hyke,’
And up with the ‘Negative Gravity.’
He adored these tales of Mr. Stockton’s, a taste which must be shared by all good men.”