At the heart of George Du Maurier's Trilby are juxtaposed attempts to convert the novel's heroine and namesake. On the one hand, there is Svengali, the Jewish musician and mesmerist, who tries to convert Trilby into a cosmopolitan diva. On the other hand, there is Little Billee's effort to remake Trilby into a model of Englishness——an effort that has received little critical attention. These opposing conversion strategies raise important questions about if and how one can become English, emphasizing Englishness not as a juridical or geographic identity so much as one attainable through what Du Maurier calls "English training," particularly the consumption of English novels and English food. These dual conversion attempts also reveal Du Maurier'smarked ambivalence toward what I term "cultural Englishness," a combination of both everyday and artistic culture. Du Maurier is deeply invested in elements of English everyday culture. Yet he is highly critical of England's Philistinism, suggesting that Englishness can benefit from an "infusion" of Jewish creativity and vitality. The novel ultimately insists, however, that such an infusion can be healthy only when taken in "diluted homoeopathic doses." This essay, then, argues for the importance of Englishness in Trilby and for the way that Jewishness functions vis-àà-vis Englishness in several of Du Maurier's works, which, like a number of Victorian contemporaries, repeatedly turn to Jewishness as medicinal——"homoeopathic"——yet reflect a contrary desire to "dilute" it into safety.
- ©© Regents of the University of California