He was "a tall, bony individual," George du Maurier wrote in his 1894 novel Trilby, "well-featured but sinister." He had "bold, brilliant black eyes" and a "thin, sallow face" and a "beard of burnt-up black which grew almost from his under eyelids." And "he went by the name of Svengali."
That is the first-ever appearance of a character that has been both obscured and made elemental by the passing of time. Du Maurier's Svengali was a diabolical, explicitly anti-Semitic caricature with no shadings as to his character. It was with pure villainy and literal hypnotism that he transformed our titular heroine-the joyous, poor Parisian milkmaid Trilby, with whom everyone fell in love-into a dead-eyed international singing sensation. Throughout the glorious opera houses of Europe, and all while under his masterful trance, she became known as "La Svengali," and she bred a craze: "Svengalismus."