chapter  14
19 Pages

Du Maurier and the ‘Oriental Israelite Hebrew Jew[s]’

BySarah Gracombe

'Svengali, the weird unwashed Hebrew, the fantastical, musical magician, so dominates the story, that the author of his being will be remembered as George Jew Maurier.' Indeed, when Du Maurier labels Svengali an 'Oriental Israelite Hebrew Jew' — an epithet cheekily overloaded with racial, religious, national and linguistic associations — he exposes nineteenth-century culture's contradictory understandings of Jewishness. These contradictions also permeate the frequent but a forgotten representation of Jews in Du Maurier’s other novels, poems, illustrations and letters. Fundamental to Du Maurier's cultural analysis are the ideas that Englishness is artistically negligible and that Jewishness might provide a helpful counter-influence. Not surprisingly, these are also ideas that induce palpable apprehension within Trilby. Navigating between so many spaces — Paris and London, the 1850s and 1890s, Jewishness and Englishness — Trilby ultimately finds comfort in the centre.