Trilby, a novel written by George Louis du Maurier in 1894, was exceedingly popular for many years. The heroine, Trilby O’Ferrall, was so enthusiastically accepted that she became a marketing phenomenon. People bought Trilby soaps, Trilby perfumes, Trilby shoes, and a host of other Trilby articles of dress. The Trilby hat, soft felt with an indented crown, became the accepted headgear among the fashionable. After Trilby had a run in the theater, Trilby articles became worldwide favorites.
Svengali was a Hungarian musical genius who mesmerized Trilby and gained control over her. Through hypnosis, the villainous Svengali controlled Trilby’s singing voice and transformed her into a great singer. When Svengali died, Trilby lost her voice, fell ill, and died, too.
A person exercising unusual or mysterious control over someone else is said to be a svengali.
Du Maurier (1834-1896), once a caricaturist for Punch and an illustrator for the works of some prominent authors, never became as well- known as his granddaughter, Daphne du Maurier, a writer of romantic novels.