a1 Oxford University
The diagnosis made by Dr P. C. Remondino, M.D. was unambiguous. “Trilby is a masterpiece when viewed in the light of a study in heredity,” he announced in the pages of Practical Medicine in 1895. “Du Maurier has given us . . . the well digested results of a careful as well as discriminating study. . . . Neither Darwin, [nor] Galton, . . . could have given us a more comprehensive or more lucid study of the subject. Neither could Maudsley” (380–81). Despite the good doctor's critical insight, Trilby's deployment of degenerationist discourse has often gone unnoticed. On the rare occasions it has been touched upon, it has most often been subsumed under the banner of fin-de-siècle anti-Semitism or connected to Du Maurier's anti-Aestheticism. Yet what this essay reveals is that art, degeneration, and anti-Semitism were, in fact, intimately connected in the late nineteenth century, and that this not only influenced literature, it also shaped its reception. This essay examines Trilby (1894) in conjunction with The Master (1894), a novel by the most important British Zionist of the late nineteenth century, Israel Zangwill. Since Zangwill's death in 1926, literary critics have paid him scant attention. His contributions to degenerationism have been wholly overlooked even though his notion of the “melting pot” was almost certainly the theory of ethnicity with the most traction in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.