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LA SVENGALI:

A PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDY.

BY J. ELIZABETH HOTCHKISS, A.M., PH.D.

In his charming description of the Latin Quarter, with the freedom of its Bohemian life, Du Maurier has struck a sympathetic vein that was wholly unexpected to himself. It would be well to pause and search for the psychological reason of this phenomenal success. Why is it that unromantic bachelors particularly-even those who are not likely to be converted to the changing novels of the day—are completely won over to these fascinating pages? To give a definite example, one confirmed bachelor whose hair had grown white with advancing years experienced a dream in which he seemed to be reading "Trilby" aloud to a gathering of friends, and as the interest grew more intense he came to this passage: "Why are we speaking of Trilby now? She has long been dead," and as he uttered the words he glanced about him. There were tears in the eyes of every man in the room, and he himself awoke sobbing, the tears actually rolling down his cheeks.

If this was the unconscious experience of one bachelor who is not given to indulging mere romance, there was a reason for his sympathetic grief over the supposed death of Trilby which lies beyond his artistic pleasure in the life of the Latin Quarter. Why is it that Taffy, the Laird, and Little Billee stand out so definitely that you are half convinced you have known them yourself? There is a spirit of good-fellowship not only in the life they lead, but in the individuality of every one of these characters. There is a wholesomeness in their artist life which gives a peculiar sweetness to their sense of freedom. There is a gayety in their freedom that offers no suggestion of license.

They are mutually sympathetic, and yet there is no lack of individuality. In such a life there seems to be no place for woman unless she could partake of the easy good-fellowship with themselves, and with infinite skill Du Maurier has created a woman who could enter into their life without disturbing it. We find in her the same spirit of good-fellowship. The charm of Trilby is not that she is a woman, but, with no less feminine grace, still she is a comrade. It is this spirit of camaraderie that has chained the attention to the first part of the book. It is pure; it is clean; it is free.

When Trilby once entered the studio of the three comrades she also introduced a very womanly element into their artist life. She never overlooked any of the little housewife attentions. They respected her and shared their jolly comradeship with her as if she had been one of them. She was always welcome, for she was frank and mirthful and helpful and kind, and no wonder Little Billee had never been so happy in all his life before. For such a life to continue would have put a conclusion to romance. There was the greater susceptibility in Little Billee, who lacked the experience and wisdom of Taffy and the Laird; consequently he was the one to forget the high spiritual atmosphere of art which never differentiates between man and woman. It was he who found in Trilby not a comrade but The little dream of Paradise was soon dispelled when the love-story entered in, for this brought limitation-as it comprised only two.

a woman.

The change in the studio life came with Trilby's awakening to a realization of her love for Little Billee. Love brings quick flashes of white light, and so illumines the soul as to reveal whatever scars of character exist within. Trilby had never before experienced a consciousness of wrong, but, under this searching light of honest love, consciousness awakened in the sleeping soul and brought with it the pangs and misery of remorse. It has seemed to many an honest critic that this ignorance of sin was quite impossible so long as the fact existed, but they forget that "nature is not ethical"—to quote the words of Lafcadio Hearn; it is only by the standard of ethics

that the consciousness of right and wrong finds an awakening. The modern psychologist recognizes the fact that it is impossible actually to suffer from a thought except in consciousness. The mere repetition of words is no true expression of a fact. Although mental concepts are often formed by anticipation, they gain life by experience, and Trilby's experience of the knowledge of good and evil came most naturally with the experience of love; and in the light of ethical standards as held up to her in the shocked expression of Little Billee when he entered Carrel's, in the Rue des Potirons, and found Trilby posing for "the altogether." Her association with art and nature had never suggested to her a sense of shame for the human form divine. This new standard was a revelation. It worked a complete change in her, and just at this first moment of consciousness the child of nature becomes a woman. The simplicity is gone. She passes out of her Paradise forever, henceforth to bear the burden of her sin, suffering, and repentance, with its tardy fruits of reparation and restitution. From this point, when the consciousness of the world entered in, she becomes the mere plaything of despair.

A writer of romance simply tells his story from life and paints things as he finds them. There are three ways of pointing a moral. It is done either by the author himself, by the character, or by means of a Greek chorus which is more definitely described as popular opinion. In this case the Greek chorus sings in no uncertain strain. Trilby suffers like Margaret in "Faust." Her peace is gone. Her character is broken. She proves that she is of noble intention by voluntarily relinquishing the one who was dearest to her, but the sacrifice brings no atonement with that severe and unyielding condemnation of opinion. It is just at such moments that bruised and wounded spirits need guidance, mercy, and love, a firm but tender and Christ-like sympathy-and it is just at such moments that they seldom find it. What real concern was there in the mind of the Rev. Thomas Bagot for that woman's immortal soul? None whatever. Hence it naturally follows that she was cast down into the abyss.

From this time on, Trilby was nothing more than a mere machine. Broken in spirit, rejected from the charmed circle of love and sympathy and life, with no hope for the future and no will to master it, she was "caught upon the rebound," in the most dangerous moment of life, and became the helpless tool of the first positive influence that presented itself. This was Svengali. There is a suggestion of his influence on the cover of the book. Here is a cobweb in which a golden heart with outstretched wings is hopelessly entangled, and a prey to the cunning of an ugly black spider. This little sketch, so cleverly conceived by Du Maurier, the writer and artist in one, happily suggests the whole story of "Trilby." It was Trilby's golden heart with its outstretched wings that became entangled in the web of Svengali. It was the helpless, hopeless Trilby, her resistance overcome by sorrow and disappointment, upon whom the hypnotic eye of Svengali wrought such marvellous results. Later in the book you will find another little sketch of the spider's web, and this time the spider has actually assumed the head and features of Svengali. Does this introduction impress the mind with the consciousness of love that was thwarted, and hopelessly entangled, under the influence of a strange power so malign in its effect that we shrink from it with a nameless dread? If so, then the author has sounded an honest note to the wary, and all further responsibility rests with you. We shall wisely conclude from this impression that "Trilby" was not written for the thoughtless novel-reader. While there is a great diversity of public opinion, yet the author implies that it was never intended to be placed in the hands of those ubiquitous young girls whose innocence the mother's love has sought to protect through ignorance. The lessons of the book are valuable ones if properly read, and its influence will be found to be one of sweetest charity.

The psychological phase of the book has been little considered, perhaps for the reason that it has never been taken seriously. It matters not whether Svengali's experiment has ever been successfully performed, although some reports claim that the description is founded upon actual experience, and even give

the name of a well-known Englishwoman whose marvellous voice was known to the public less than forty years ago, which effect was said to have been produced by hypnotic control. However true this may be, the author of a scientific novel has every license for the full play of imagination, and in such expression of the idea the fact may follow. This suggestive thought is the basis of many a valuable discovery, for it leads to experiment, and experiment to realization. In this sense the author may be taken seriously, and at the outset we may find in his idea of success, in which two are necessary to the perfect result, a valuable thought for the higher realm of expression.

Here is a complemental potency for artistic creation. Hypnotism, it is true, is a compulsory influence, and as such leaves room for the advancement of the idea to the still higher plane of mutual co-operation. This is a field toward which the development of art in its higher phase is surely tending. Two minds can often act better than one. It is wedding intuition and judgment, the one restraining, correcting, and yet completing the other; and the results will be as unexpected as was the voice of La Svengali issuing from the lips of the tone-deaf Trilby. Svengali is actually the strong character of the book. We despise him at the same time that we recognize his skill. He is ugly with that menacing threat of conscious power that has been usurped for a selfish end. He has learned the art of producing results from a knowledge of the subtle forces of nature. He knows well how to play upon the sensuousness of Trilby, who is perfectly constituted, physically and emotionally, for the accomplishing of his task. His whole attitude is compulsory, which is a base violation of personal freedom; consequently the result brings about his own destruction as well as that of his victim. Little by little exhaustion creeps in until at last it proves fatal to both.

Svengali had heard of Trilby's resonant voice, and, professing to cure her of neuralgia, he accomplished the cure, it is true, but he gained a fatal power over her that was destined to continue to the last hour of her life:

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