Though Trilby brought du Maurier fame and fortune, it also brought him an untimely death; some of his final words were reportedly, “Its popularity has killed me at last.” He died in October 1896, at the height of the Trilby boom and just after completing his last novel, The Martian, which began its first installment in Harper’s that very month. In a tribute to him, Willa Cather wryly noted that “Du Maurier certainly did his duty by his American publishers. They made a fortune on Trilby, and now to effectually advertise his new book he conveniently dies.” Cather ended her eulogy of du Maurier and Trilby on a less cynical note:
As has been said the chiefest charm of du Maurier's work is not its literary craft, but its human charm. One reads and re-reads Trilby, not so much for the characters of the book as for their genial warm-hearted father, George du Maurier. That is the charm of the book, the wise, gentle, sympathetic personality to whom every sentence brings you closer. Always you feel behind the book the strong, tender personality of a man who has seen much of love and sin and suffering, and has not solved the riddle of it all. To read him makes one feel kindly toward the world, and it is worth reading a very long book to feel like that.
Trilby’s popularity waned significantly after du Maurier’s death, and most twenty-first-century readers have never even heard of it, though its influence on popular culture is still apparent today: it is often cited as the inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra (The Phantom of the Opera), and the term Svengali is still used to describe a person who manipulates and controls with evil intent.