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Simon Cooke and Paul Goldman, eds., George Du Maurier: Illustrator, Author, Critic. Beyond Svengali

Farnham: Ashgate, 2016, 276 p. ISBN: 978-1-4724-3159-2
Maxime Leroy
Bibliographical reference

Simon Cooke and Paul Goldman, eds., George Du Maurier: Illustrator, Author, Critic. Beyond Svengali, Farnham: Ashgate, 2016, 276 p. ISBN: 978-1-4724-3159-2

Full text

1This collection of essays casts fresh light on an author usually remembered for only one novel, Trilby, and the mysterious Svengali, arguably his most famous character. The subtitle chosen by the editors, ‘Beyond Svengali’, clearly indicates that they aim at proving that Du Maurier’s work also deserves recognition for other reasons. The book includes chapters on his three illustrated novels (Trilby, Peter Ibbetson and The Martian) as well as on his illustrations for other novelists such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy and authors of sensation fiction. Several contributions examine his satirical cartoons for the press. Other chapters bear on his theories of illustration, film adaptations of Trilby and the reception of Du Maurier in the twenty-first century. The volume is therefore an encompassing introduction to an author, artist and critic whose work, for the most part, has been neglected by academic research.

2One common thread linking the various aspects of Du Maurier’s creative and intellectual life is the relationship with nineteenth-century culture and society. For example, Susan Zieger shows how The Martian reflects the changes in Haussmann’s Paris, while Peter Ibbetson’s experience of ‘dreaming true’ acts as ‘the beginning of a long history in which we are still enmeshed—one in which immersive media and the information technology and computing optimize bourgeois work and leisure’ (125). Genie Babb explores two kinds of sources for The Martian: Du Maurier’s interest in contemporary science (in particular the works of astronomers Camille Flammarion and Percival Lowell) and Flammarion’s imaginative work Urania (1889). Her conclusion is that Du Maurier, embracing the implications of Darwinism, ‘turns the evolutionary tables on Flammarion … [and] exalts the English as embodying the best of humanity, though the French come in a close second’ (161). Sarah Thornton focuses on the specific role of food in Trilby and shows how the heroine’s kitchen ‘emblematizes some of the tensions and exchanges between art and cookery that exist within the novel’ (208) as well as in contemporary Bohemia in Paris and London. On the artistic side, Paul Goldman’s analysis explores the multiple influences on Du Maurier’s book illustrations and on his cartoons and drawings for Punch and The Cornhill Magazine. His work was ‘always surprisingly varied’ (31), borrowing from the Comic style, Pre-Raphaelitism, Melodrama, the Idyllic School and the Eloquent style, among others. The volume could be said to expand Henry James’s statement that Du Maurier ‘has made “society” completely his own—he has sounded it in depths, explored its mysteries, discovered and divulged its secrets’ (cited by Goldman 20).

3Different methodologies are used accordingly, ranging from the history of printing techniques to text/image studies, lexicography (in Anne Hall’s analysis of French voices in the novels) and social history. In his own contribution, Simon Cooke puts forward a new ‘method of interpreting [Du Maurier’s] designs’ by linking them to ‘the illustrator’s own pronouncements on the history and nature of illustration’ (83) in ‘The Illustrating of Books’. Thematic echoes, through the analysis of concepts as problematic as imagination, beauty, memory, theatricality and femininity, among others, link the contributions together. At the same time, the diversity of Du Maurier’s work is always foregrounded, for example in David Wooton’s comparison between the book illustrations and the cartoons, which reveals significant differences—most importantly that his fiction ‘not only stands in contrast to the urbanely witty pictorial satires but even questions the social system that they seem to support’ (176). This partly contradicts the assertion made in the introduction that ‘the two branches of his art are used to express a shared body of ideas’ (7-8) but the interpretative problem lies more in Du Maurier’s heterogeneous oeuvre than in any lack of unity in this collection of essays. The four parts of the book (‘Du Maurier as an Artist and Illustrator’, ‘Du Maurier as a Novelist’, ‘Image, Text, Commentary’ and ‘Changing Perspectives: Du Maurier’s “After-Lives”’) do provide a unified approach as they set his work, as noted earlier, ‘within a series of contemporary contexts’ (10).

4The numerous black and white illustrations reproduced in the volume give a fair impression of this heterogeneity, and also of the fact that Du Maurier, in the wake of other artists, elevated illustration to one of the fine arts. For example, his final picture for Isa Blagden’s Santa, ‘The Old Water-Rat’ in Peter Ibbetson and ‘A Time to Dance’, published in Good Words in 1861, are haunting images with high technical complexity and multiple levels of meaning. A key concept emerging from the analyses of illustrations for Hardy’s The Hand of Ethelberta and A Laodicean, and for Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, is that of re-creation. Philip V. Allingham shows how Du Maurier ‘enhances [Hardy’s] text by setting up expectations’ (80), while a missing character in ‘Maman, Maman’ is interpreted by Alan Shelston in the light of ‘the larger artistic tradition’ (62), the influence of Dürer and classical representations of grief. In that sense, Du Maurier’s novels and images, which encompass contemporary social issues, scientific and psychological theories, and the history of art, match his own definition of the artist’s work: ‘if the illustrator in black and white has done his work well, he has faithfully represented the life of his time—he has perpetuated what he has seen with his own eyes’ (cited by Shelston 66). It is this depth of observation which makes this book a valuable resource for specialists in fiction, art and cultural studies alike.

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Electronic reference

Maxime Leroy, « Simon Cooke and Paul Goldman, eds., George Du Maurier: Illustrator, Author, Critic. Beyond Svengali », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [Online], 85 Printemps | 2017, Online since 21 March 2017, connection on 24 February 2018. URL :

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Licence Creative Commons
Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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