George Du Maurier (father of novelist Daphne Du Maurier) based many parts of this novel upon his experiences as a student in Paris during the height of "La Vie Boheme" at the end of the 19th century. The protagonist, Little Billee, is a young English painter with great talent. He and his friends Taffy and the Laird share a studio in a Quartier Latin neighborhood full of artists and musicians, including a German-Polish music teacher named Svengali. The group become acquainted with an artists' model named Trilby, who was orphaned as a child and who works to support her little brother and herself. Trilby is lively, charming, unpretentious, and beautiful, and soon Little Billee is madly in love.
When his mother learns that Little Billee intends to marry an artists' model (nude models were almost as socially unacceptable as protitutes) she travels to Paris and tells Trilby that such a marriage would mean ruin for Billee and his family. Trilby promises that she will never see Little Billee again. Soon afterward, Trilby vanishes, leaving Billee sick and distraught.
Many years later, Billee and his friends hear of a singer called "La Svengali" who has astonished all of Europe. By attending one of her performances, they learn that "La Svengali" is the wife of the music teacher they knew in the Quartier Latin, trained by him to sing with more technical mastery than anyone has ever heard. When "La Svengali" appears on stage, they see that she is none other than Trilby. Her singing moves the audience to tears, though everyone notices that she moves stiffly and strangely and that her face is as blank as an automaton's. Not until Svengali dies suddenly during a concert is Trilby set free from the hypnotic spell that has controlled her for years.
This report prepared by Jacqueline West