The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

XIII. Lesser Novelists

§ 18. George Du Maurier

The province which George Louis Palmella Busson Du Maurier added in his best known novel Trilby (1894) was of a different kind; the book is our English Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, appropriate omissions being made; it fails in the attempt to delineate the artist of genius. As in this writer’s other novels, Peter Ibbetson (1891) and The Martian (1896), the story is helped out by fanciful occultism and by melodrama which is stark staginess. The charm of each of the books is found in the chasse des souvenirs d’enfance, in the pictures of schools and studios at Passy, Paris and Antwerp, and of early comradeships with Whistler, Poynter, Lamont and the rest; Taffy in Trilby is one of the great Victorian sentimental characters. The writing is in the kindlier vein of Thackeray; the colloquial idiom and the confidential attitude are other points of resemblance. The History of the Jack Sprats is a clever piece of social satire, but, in general, Du Maurier reserved the satire of conventional society for his other art, that of black and white; he does not often escape from the drawing-room; there, however, is to be found the ideal scene for the staging of the mid-century comedy of which the heroine is Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns, and the theme, the striving of the plutocrat’s women folk to touch the hem of the garment of penniless aristocracy.

Briefly, it may be remarked, in regard to these treatment of place and setting, first, that the novel is seen to be taking possession of its full inheritance, quidquid agunt homines; secondly, that a closer presentation of the scene not only helps on the general tendency towards realism, but also conduces to concreteness, and is a safeguard, in some degree, against the intrusion of doctrine and “viewiness”; and, thirdly, that we may see the process at work by which the individual novel comes to deal with special, almost insulated, areas of life.