Freud argued in Totem and Taboo (1918) that where there is taboo there is also desire; we might reverse this idea slightly with regard to Trilby to say that where there is conflicted desire there is, and must also be, taboo, in order to contain and manage the troubling aspects of desire. That is, the novel is willing to portray with sympathy women dressed as men, men obsessed with feet, and groups of men living, wrestling, and sleeping together, only when (and because) anxiety regarding and fear of gender transgression is displaced onto the scapegoat figure of the effeminate Jew Svengali. Du Maurier's novel is undoubtedly progressive in many ways, but its progressivism is carried on the back of its anti-Semitism. Trilby can express transgressive desires only by simultaneously displacing anxiety regarding those desires and particularly anxiety about masculinity onto the figure of the foreigner and the Jew. This displacement suggests something, not only about the personal psychology of Du Maurier, but about the reasons his novel appealed to such a large audience, and even suggests a new way of thinking about why racism and anti-Semitism were on the increase at the fin de siècle.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 476-492
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.