George du Maurier’s Trilby: A Victorian Phenomenon

In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle doffs his hat to a half-forgotten Victorian sensation

Here’s a question for you: what was the biggest-selling novel of the Victorian era? And who wrote it – Dickens perhaps? George Eliot? Robert Louis Stevenson? It was none of these, though they all enjoyed huge sales. Instead, the accolade arguably goes to a man who was principally known, not as a novelist at all, but as a cartoonist. (I say ‘arguably’ because reliable sales figures for nineteenth-century books are not always easy to find.)

The cartoonist’s name was George du Maurier and the novel is Trilby (1894). Du Maurier had made his name as an illustrator: in 1895 he was responsible for the famous curate’s egg’ cartoon (with its complaisant curate assuring the vicar, concerning the bad egg he’d been served up, that ‘parts of it are excellent’), and he’d even been responsible for coining the phrase ‘bedside manner’ in a medical cartoon of 1884. But owing to failing eyesight, du Maurier had begun to complement his illustrating work with novel-writing as a way of continuing to make a living from his pen. He certainly succeeded: Trilby would become the sensation of the age, not just in Britain but in the United States. In time, even when the novel was largely forgotten, its title would be immortalised in the name of a hat.

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A Short Analysis of Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) was Tennyson’s favourite of all Thomas Hardy’s novels, and the poet Coventry Patmore (author of The Angel in the House) was enthusiastic about it, although he wished it had been written in verse. The working title for the novel was ‘A Winning Tongue Had He’ (a line from an English ballad called ‘On the Banks of Allan Water’); Hardy thought better and renamed it A Pair of Blue Eyes.

This early Hardy novel has been unfairly neglected in the Thomas Hardy oeuvre, and deserves closer attention and analysis.

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A Summary and Analysis of Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Here’s a question for you. What was Thomas Hardy’s last novel? Easy, some might say: Jude the Obscure, the 1895 book whose hostile reception convinced Hardy to abandon novel-writing and return to his first love, poetry. But in fact, Jude wasn’t Hardy’s last ever novel – at least, not exactly. For in 1897, two years after Jude’s appearance, a final novel was published: The Well-Beloved. It’s an overlooked novel, but deserves more attention and analysis – not to mention a wider readership – than it tends to receive.

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