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A Body Undressed for Text: Trilby in Parts

James, Simon J.; Miller, Emma V.

A Body Undressed for Text: Trilby in Parts Thumbnail


Emma V. Miller


George Du Maurier’s best-selling novel, Trilby (1894), is as important because of its defiance of social and cultural norms as it is for its apparent compliance with them. Trilby is a fiction that, like its eponymous heroine, attempts to negotiate the perilously fine line between the highbrow and the lowbrow, or to put it another way, between fine art and political commentary on one side, and pornography and sensationalism on the other. This article examines the way that Du Maurier engages his readership in this textual tease – his seduction of the reader – by suggesting the possibility of a peep show where everything that Victorian respectability abhors may be on display, and then his narratological dressing of the text, to ensure that where there is sexual non-conformity there is also moralism, and where there is social confrontation there is also historical distance. Understanding the textual appeal of Trilby as a character, the artist’s model who enchanted the fin-de-siècle reading public, is essential to appreciating how the discourses of pornography and fine art interact and have consequently evolved. This article therefore examines why Trilby succeeded with the Victorians where other, similarly sexually active heroines – such as Thomas Hardy’s Sue Bridehead – failed. Trilby the novel and Trilby the woman are both broken down by their author into manageable parts, a pornographic fetishistic technique that simultaneously eroticises, and makes more palatable, the textual and the physical bodies.


James, S. J., & Miller, E. V. (2016). A Body Undressed for Text: Trilby in Parts. Feminist Theory, 17(1), 83-105.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 31, 2015
Online Publication Date Jan 6, 2016
Publication Date Apr 1, 2016
Deposit Date Dec 12, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jan 5, 2016
Journal Feminist Theory
Print ISSN 1464-7001
Electronic ISSN 1741-2773
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 1
Pages 83-105
Keywords Aesthetic, Fetish, Fin-de-siècle, Gender, Narratology, Pornography, Sexuality, Victorian


Accepted Journal Article (453 Kb)

Copyright Statement
James, Simon J. and Miller, Emma V. (2016) 'A body undressed for text : 'Trilby' in parts.', Feminist theory., 17 (1). pp. 83-105. Copyright © 2016 The Author(s). Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.

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