- a musician in George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894) who trains Trilby’s voice and controls her stage singing hypnotically.
- a person who exercises a controlling or mesmeric influence on another, especially for a sinister purpose; a person who manipulates or exerts excessive control over another
Svengali is a fictional character in George du Maurier’s 1895 novel Trilby. Svengali is a stereotyped Jewish man who seduces, dominates and exploits Trilby, a young English girl, and makes her a famous singer.
In George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby, a young artist’s model named Trilby O’Ferrall falls under the spell of Svengali, a villainous musician and hypnotist. Svengali trains Trilby’s voice through hypnosis and transforms her into a singing star, subjugating her completely in the process. Svengali’s maleficent powers of persuasion made such an impression on the reading public that by 1919 his name was being used generically as a term for any wickedly manipulative individual.
Svengali, villainous hypnotist in the novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier
First Known Use: 1919