An illustration for George du Maurier’s Trilby, serialized in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1894
In a recent Science of Us post, Melissa Dahl investigates the evolution of the exclamation mark. As one grammarian tells her, “Exclamation points are becoming the standard after salutations and happy or eager statements such as ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you’ … It almost seems mandatory in e-mail.”
While few can deny that an unexclamated text reads as terse today, the overuse of the exclamation mark dates to far before the dawn of Seinfeld, let alone the proliferation of electronic communiques. Most recently, I was struck by George du Maurier’s promiscuous use of punctuation in his 1894 novel, Trilby.
To the extent that anyone talks about Trilby today, it is usually because the book was the genesis of the term svengali; because said Svengali is an egregiously anti-Semitic caricature; or just because the author was the grandfather of Daphne. A century ago, it was known for its depiction of bohemian Paris and the portrait of its title character, a sexually liberated but pure-hearted Englishwoman who falls prey to the sinister machinations of Svengali.
Svengali—who does indeed practice mesmerism, as well as speaking a really-hard-to-read German-accented French that is written out phonetically—spends a lot of the novel monologuing in a villainous manner: Read More