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The word "svengali" has come to refer to a person who, sometimes with evil intent, controls another person by persuasion or deceit. The Svengali may feign kindness and use manipulation to get the other person to yield to his or her authority.
Svengali "would either fawn or bully and could be grossly impertinent. He had a kind of cynical humour that was more offensive than amusing and always laughed at the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. And his laughter was always derisive and full of malice". In the novel, Svengali transforms Trilby into a great singer by using hypnosis. Unable to perform without Svengali's help, Trilby becomes entranced. The novel is less a discussion of the relationship between Svengali and Trilby than an evocation of "Bohemian" Paris during
Jewish stereotyping 
The scholar Edgar Rosenberg calls Svengali an example of anti-Semitic stereotyping in English fiction, and identifies him as a version of Ahasver, The Wandering Jew; he notes a reference to "Svengali walking up and down the earth seeking whom he might cheat, betray, exploit..."
The character was portrayed in many silent movie versions of the story and in talking movies, and was played by Paul Wegener in a 1927 German silent film of the same name, by John Barrymore in a 1931 version, by Donald Wolfit in a 1954 version in Technicolor, and by Peter O'Toole in a 1983 made-for-television modernized version, also in colour, co-featuring Jodie Foster. In the 1983 movie, the names of the characters were changed except for "Svengali", which had become famous.
American songwriter and singer Steve Taylor wrote and recorded a song entitled "Svengali" that essentially tells the story. It was recorded on his 1987 album I Predict 1990.
The character of Svengali is mentioned in an episode of the famous TV series Seinfeld (Season 4, Episode 5) when Elaine Benes calls her dominating boyfriend/psychiatrist a Svengali, but mispronounces the word as "Svenjolly."
- Edgar Rosenberg (1960). From Shylock to Svengali: Jewish stereotypes in English fiction. Stanford University Press, 1960. p. 242.
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