Stereotyping Svengali: Antisemitism in George du Maurier's Trilby.

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This thesis discusses whether the portrayal of the character Svengali in George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby classifies the novel as an antisemitic novel. In order to do so, it first examines the Jewish stereotypes that were most prevalent at the end of nineteenth-century Victorian England. The first chapter explores the five most prominent stereotypes: the ruthless international Jew, the sturdy Jewish immigrant, the Jew-Devil and the Jew-Sissy, as well as the Wagnerian stereotypical Jewish musician. The second chapter analyses the character of Svengali based on these stereotypes; in addition antisemitic remarks towards Svengali, as well as inconsistencies between the portrayal and the other Jewish characters in the novel are specified. The last chapter analyses Svengali’s portrayal in the 1895 play Trilby and the 1931 film Svengali and contrasts this with his portrayal in the original novel. The findings address the emphasis that is put on Svengali’s Germanic characteristics, as well as the overall presence of anti-Germanic sentiment in the novel, whereas the play and the film stress his appearance as a villain and reduce the focus on his Germanic ancestry. Coupled with the less biased portrayal of the other non-Germanic Jewish characters in the novel, this leads to the conclusion that du Maurier’s representation of Svengali in the novel Trilby shows a particular type of antisemitism which is directed at Germans and the German type of Jews known as Ashkenazi Jews, rather than at the entire Jewish race. Keywords: antisemitism, Svengali, Trilby, stereotypes, Jews, Victorian literature
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