The novelist watched her be
hypnotized, made to obey commands under trance, then awakened.
He saw her obedience to posthypnotic commands and her rationalization
of them as being freely willed choices. He observed her total
unawareness of the previous trance state. He realized the
tragic potential for abuse of such a long-term, unknowing,
Svengali and Trilby The novel,
Trilby, published in 1894, contained some minor technical
errors. Nevertheless, it introduced the basic, sordid facts
of hypnotic exploitation to a mass readership. By the
vehicle of fiction, it presented important facts about abusive
hypnosis. DuMauriers tale of poor Trilby stimulated
a much needed public awareness, and discussion, of unethical
hypnosis. What Svengali did to Trilby has never quite been
forgotten, despite ceaseless efforts by the hypnosis lobby
to discredit the basic facts.
In the novel, Svengali, a
middle-aged, unsuccessful musician, captured Trilby by a disguised
induction, then hypno-trained her into a split personality
(and a brilliant singer). Thereafter, she kept her puppetmaster,
Svengali, living in luxury, supported by her concert performances.
She always sang in an amnesic trance.
He began Trilbys conditioning
by persuading her to agree to a Mesmer-style induction by
Svengali told her to
sit down on the divan, and sat opposite to her, and bade
her look him well in the white of the eyes.
tans le planc tes yeaux.
Then he made little passes
and counterpasses on her forehead and temples and down her
cheek and neck. Soon her eyes closed and her face grew placid.
(Du Maurier, p. 69)
In the novel, as with real-life
subjects, Trilby did not understand how a seemingly harmless
first submission to hypnosis can develop into a terrible longterm
mind slavery. Svengali gradually transformed her from a proud,
independent person into an obedient hypno-tool. Now she lived
a cruel, secret life in addition to the real life
that she consciously lived.
and malicious, he alternately bullies and fawns in a harsh,
croaking voice...Though Trilby is repelled at first by his
greasy, dirty appearance and regards him as a spidery demon
or incubus, she becomes completely his creature under his
hypnosis....Gecko...[is] a young fiddler, small, swarthy,
shabby, brown-eyed, and pock-marked; a nail-biter. Though
he loves Trilby he helps Svengali train her...so that Svengali
may exploit her.(Magill, Masterplots, p. 1158)
At the storys end, foul
Svengali dies. Trilby dies a few hours after. (DuMauriers
presumption that a mind-controlled victim cannot survive without
the puppet master is false.) The novel concludes with Gecko,
Svengalis assistant, trying to explain to Trilbys
grieving former friends what happened to her--and how a hypnotic
split personality functions:
Gecko sat and smoked
and pondered for a while, and looked from one to the other.
Then he pulled himself together with an effort, so to speak,
and said, Monsieur, she never went madnot for
one moment!...She had forgottenvoila tout!
But hang it all,
my friend, one doesnt forget such a...
...I will tell
you a secret. There were two Trilbys. There was the Trilby
you knew...But all at oncepr-r-r-out! presto! augenblick!...with
one wave of his hand over herwith one look of his
eyewith a wordSvengali could turn her into the
other Trilby, his Trilby, and make her do whatever he liked...you
might have run a red-hot needle into her and she would not
have felt it...
He had but to say
Dors! and she suddenly became an unconscious
Trilby of marble, who could...think his thoughts and wish
his wishesand love him at his bidding with a strange
unreal factitious love...When Svengalis Trilby was
singingor seemed to you as if she were singingour
Trilby was fast asleep...in fact, our Trilby was dead...and
then, suddenly, our Trilby woke up and wondered what it
was all about...
(Du Maurier, pp. 456-459)
Trilby is now back in print
(Everyman, 1994), an old fable that refuses to be forgotten.
Svengali, the name that DuMaurier gave to Trilbys evil
hypnotist, is the authors best known character. The
mere word is resonant with sinister implications. A Svengali
is one who attempts, usually with evil intentions, to
persuade or force another to do his bidding. (Websters
Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary)
of Female Stage Mediums
The publication of DuMauriers novel wound up a century
of European hypno-abuse of genetically susceptible persons,
especially young women. Trilby spotlighted the specific problem
of hypnotic exploitation of women (and men) in the theater
The use of somnambulist (highly-conditioned)
mediums on stage, or in seances serving smaller audiences,
was common in that era. The medium tended to be young, female,
and attractive. She was a highly susceptible hypnotic subject,
of courseand not protected by strong and prosperous
The use of hypnotized women
on stage for entertainment emerged from eighteenth century
scientific demonstrations of trance and medical hypnosis.
Scientific researchers regarded their subjects as means to
an end, as useful objects whom they manipulated like laboratory
rats to prove, or disprove, their competing hypotheses. Medical
hypnotists who were followers of Charcot viewed their patients
being treated by hypnosis as disgusting neurotics. Their mechanistic
mind manipulations respected only the knowledge and will of
the operator. Unethical hypnotists viewed subjects as possessions
destined by inborn genetic susceptibility to be ruled by the
power of any master who made the effort to acquire and manipulate
them. Most hypnotists scorned their subjects for the very
quality they worked hardest to develop in them: mindless obedience.
Du Maurier may also have read
the autobiography of Charles Lafontaine before he wrote Trilby.
Lafontaine failed as an actor, but then became wealthy as
a stage hypnotist. The secret of his success on stage was
not his own talent, but that of his female hypnotic subject.
...taught her a theatrical
role that she then performed beautifully on the stage before
a large audience and of which she could remember nothing
in her waking state. (Ellenberger, The Discovery of
the Unconscious, p. 157)
have read Auguste Lassaignes autobiography. Lassaigne
was French, born in 1819. He was just a touring solo juggler
the day he watched an 18-year-old girl named Prudence receive
treatment from a magnetizer. Observing her somnambulist behavior,
he became fascinated with the possibilities of hypnosis. Perhaps,
he also suddenly envisioned a more prosperous professional
future for himself. He courted and married Prudence. Thereafter,
she traveled with Auguste, and his act became a stage show
in which he hypnotized her.
Offstage, Auguste used hypnotic
suggestions to sexually arouse Prudence, which produced heavenly
voluptuousness. His control, however, was imperfect;
an angry Prudence could resist induction! (Ibid.)
In 1894, the same year that
Trilby was published, a legal case involving a disreputable
psychic healer, Ceslav Lubicz-Czynski, was reported. He had
a chronically abused medium:
He made use above all
of a method which nowadays is hardly ever applied and which
was called Psychic Transfer. He hypnotized a
female employee who served him as a medium (and at the same
time as a lover) and suggested to the patient sitting nearby
that his pains and sufferings would be transferred to the
medium. (Hammerschlag, p. 35)
In deep trance, the young
woman was caused to experience other peoples ailments,
daily acquiring her mental version of their pains and suffering.
How cruel! The sexual exploitation was also objectionable,
for Czynski was at that time pursuing a rich aristocratic
client, the Baroness Hedwig von Zedlitz, with the hope of
marriage to her. He conducted his courtship during
his hypnotic services to her. That is what caused the legal
case (not his psychological and sexual abuse of the medium),
for the Baroness said Yes under hypnosis--and
her relatives reported the matter to the police.
Death on Stage
In 1894, another hypnotist, Franz Neukomm, also made European
news. Ella first was hypnotized by two doctors who were hired
by a relative to treat her for a nervous
ailment. Their power of suggestion temporarily suppressed
the symptoms, but then she got even worse. Neukomm happened
to be passing through, and her relative took Ella to be mesmerized
by him. He also achieved an effective cure of her problem.
Neukomm then saw opportunity knocking. He convinced Ellas
relative that the somnambulist girl might again
relapse in the absence of his hypnotic influence and therefore
should remain in his care. He would look after her without
charge. Her relative then abandoned Ella to Neukomm. Thereafter,
she traveled with the hypnotist as his medium. Neukomm was
effective, to say the least. One day, he suggested
to Ella that a cold needle, which he placed on her hand, was
red-hot. Its touch then produced a real burn on her hand (a
known somnambulist phenomenon).
During each show, Neukomm
invited an ailing volunteer from the audience up on stage.
Then he would hypnotize Ella and give her a suggestion to
place herself in the mind of the patient and provide information
about his or her state of health. The night that Ella died,
Neukomm, to increase the audiences sense of drama, had
changed his hypnotic instructions in a small, but significant
way. He told Ella, Your soul will leave your body in
order to enter that of the patient.
Ella showed an uncharacteristic,
strong resistance to that hypnotic suggestion. She tried to
Imperious master Neukomm deepened
her trance,and firmly repeated the leave your body
command. Once more, she resisted. He further deepened the
trance and repeated the command again.
Ella Salamon died. The postmortem
stated that heart failure, caused by Neukomms hypnotic
suggestion, was the probable cause of her death. Neukomm was
charged with manslaughter and found guilty. (Schrenck-Notzing,
1902) Ellas death was similar to what anthropologists
call voodoo death, death by suggestion.
Subject Killed on Stage
In another case of that era, a stage hypnotist named Flint
was performing in Switzerland, when his program went terribly
One of his acts was to
lead on to the stage his wife, who was his partner in the
show, and bring her to a state of rigidity. He would then
place a heavy piece of rock on her stomach and invite volunteers
from the audience to come and smash the rock with a hammer.
One night a member of the audience misjudged his blow with
the hammer and, instead of smashing the rock, he hit the
performers wife and caused internal injuries from
which she died shortly afterwards. (Magonet, pp. 19-20)
Hypnosis in Literature
novelists write about unethical hypnosis, they deal with issues
of dominance versus submission, the predators technical
expertise versus the subjects ignorance, and betrayal
versus trustworthiness. In storyland, however, the mind-controlling
villain never enjoys a final victory.
the late 1800s, the subject of hypnosis dominated in French
nonfiction publishing. Some years, every book published in
France was about hypnosis. French fiction writers also wrote
about it. Alexander Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers,
wrote six novels which involved mesmerism, The Marie
Antoinette Series. De Maupassants last short
story, Le Horla, featured a man who realizes he
is a victim of predatory hypnosis. E.T.A. Hoffman was another
European writer who was fascinated by hypnosis. His fiction
is saturated with every aspect of it. He viewed deep trance
as true penetration of the hypnotists mind into the
subjects mind. Hoffman said that hypnotism
be either good or evil. The evil magnetizer is a kind of
moral vampire who destroys his subject...Therefore, the
magnetic relationship can be either good (friendly, fatherly),
or evil (demoniacal). (quoted in Ellenberger, p. 160)
Manns 1931 story, Mario and the Magician,
sees hypnotism as an overthrowing of a persons normal
duality and balance of surrender and control tendencies:
capacity for self-surrender,...for becoming a tool, for
the most...utter self-abnegation, was but the reverse side
of that other power to will and to command. Commanding and
obeying formed together one single principle, one indissoluble
ended that story by letting the hypnotists insulted
subject hit back. Dr. George Estabrooks observed a similar
incident in real life. He...
a stage exhibition and arrived late. He was horrified to
see a respectable acquaintance stripped to his underwear
with a broom handle for a flute gamboling around the stage
under the delusion that he was a Greek faun. Highly gratified
also to see the faun knock the hypnotist flat the moment
the trance was removed. (Young, in LeCron, p. 385)