First, a tall, bony individual of any age between thirty and forty-five, of Jewish aspect, well-featured but sinister. He was very shabby and dirty, and wore a red béret and a large velveteen cloak, with a big metal clasp at the collar. His thick, heavy, languid, lustreless black hair fell down behind his ears on to hisshoulders, in that musicianlike way that is so offensive to the normal Englishman. He had bold, brilliant black eyes, with long, heavy lids, a thin, sallow face, and a beard of burnt-up black which grew almost from his under eyelids; and over it his mustache, a shade lighter, fell in two long spiral twists. He went by the name of Svengali, and spoke fluent French with a German accent, and humorous German twists and idioms, and his voice was very thin and mean and harsh, and often broke into a disagreeable falsetto.
He is a marvelous pianist up to point of extreme facility but lacking the qualities of soul adequate to Beethoven. He has a poor singing voice but a great appreciation of the art and a desire to find a talented singer that he could train and accompany. He thinks he has found one:
Svengali had heard her sing at the Brasserie des Porcherons in the Rue du Crapaud-volant, and had volunteered to teach her; and she went to see him in his garret, and he played to her, and leered and ogled, and flashed his bold, black, beady Jew's eyes into hers, and she straightway mentally prostrated herself in reverence and adoration before this dazzling specimen of her race.
So that her sordid, mercenary little gutter-draggled soul was filled with the sight and the sound of him, as of a lordly, godlike, shawm-playing, cymbal-banging hero and prophet of the Lord God of Israel—David and Saul in one!
Svengali has entered the language as any mesmeric manipulator of his fascinated creature.
Graham Greene in his entertainment Stamboul Train (1932) draws on reserves of suburban prejudice in his portrayal of a Jewish currant merchant, Myatt on his way to a sharp and treacherous deal in the dried fruit trade. To quote would be to eviscerate the book. Greene’s entertainments mostly fail in my view, the usual doom and guilt that is his USP a faltering wistfulness and snobbery. I haven’t seen the film they made of it but I believe that Myatt is more sympathetically portrayed than in the book.
Now that the Jew is out of bounds the literary intelligentsia have only the Muslim to play with. It was ironic to see Netanyahu’s sinister clowning at the U.N. with a bomb that we last saw being held by a cartoon anarchist. Behind the anarchist, a simple goodhearted fellow, was a hook-nosed Svengali with a similarly shaped object, a bag of gold.