“Trilby” is a very different book, and it would be a catholic palate indeed that would relish equally the story of the Paris grisette and the story of the Manx deemster. In “Trilby” the blending of the novel and the romance, of the real and the fantastic, is as much of a stumbling-block to John Bull as it is, for example, in Ibsen’s “Lady from the Sea.” “The central idea,” he might exclaim, “is utterly extravagant; the transformation by hypnotism of the absolutely tone-deaf girl into the unutterably peerless singer is unthinkable and absurd.” The admirers of “Trilby” may very well grant this, and yet feel that their withers are unwrung. It is not in the hypnotic device and its working out that they find the charm of the story; it is not the plot that they are mainly interested in; it is not even the slightly sentimental love-story of Trilby and Little Billee. They are willing to let the whole framework, as it were, of the book go by the board; it is not the thread of the narrative, but the sketches and incidents strung on it, that appeals to them. They revel in the fascinating novelty and ingenuousness of the Du Maurier vein, the art that is superficially so artless, the exquisitely simple delicacy of touch, the inimitable fineness of characterisation, the constant suggestion of the tender and true, the keen sense of the pathetic in life and the humour that makes it tolerable, the lovable drollery that corrects the tendency to the sentimental, the subtle blending of the strength of a man with the naivete of the child, the ambidextrous familiarity with English and French life, the kindliness of the satire, the absence of all straining for effect, the deep humanity that pervades the book from cover to cover.
If, therefore, we take “The Manxman” and “Trilby” as types of what specially appeals to the reading public of England and America, we should conclude that the Englishman calls for strength and directness, the American for delicacy and suggestiveness. The former does not insist so much on originality of theme, if the handling be but new and clever; there are certain elementary passions and dramatic situations of which the British public never wearies. The American does not clamour for telling “curtains,” if the character-drawing be keen, the conversations fresh, sparkling, and humorous. John Bull likes vividness and solidity of impasto; Jonathan’s eye is often more pleasantly affected by a delicate gradation of half-tones. The one desires the downright, the concrete, the real; the other is titillated by the subtle, the allusive, the half-spoken. The antithesis is between force and finesse, between the palpable and the impalpable.
If anybody but George Du Maurier could have written “Trilby,” it seems to me it would have been an American rather than a full-blooded Englishman. The keenness of the American appreciation of the book corresponds to elements in the American nature. The Anglo-French blend of Mr. Du Maurier’s literary genius finds nearer analogues in American literature than in either English or French.