‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was a novella in 1886 by Robert Louis Stephenson. The story is set in Victorian London, besides the fact that Stephenson has never travelled to London in his life and was ‘born and bread’ in Edinburgh. Reputation is a key feature in this story as it shows the duality of man. This was inspired by one William Brodie who can be compared to Hyde. He was an upper class, well respected man by day and a thieving, drunk at night. Also secrecy and hypocrisy are prevalent features as well. These features are mainly come up around the theme of the characters repressing their sexual desires and their lust for ‘living on the edge’
At the time Darwinism was rapidly and controversially changing the views on the creation of man and causing mass arguments on both sides of the belief system. As many people at the time were of a catholic faith, or similar religion, this came as a shock to many and Darwin was ridiculed. But his worked showed the link that humans have to primates and how they are their ancestors. This is shown y Stephenson as he describes a lot of Hyde’s emotions and actions as those of which an animal and, more importantly, a primate would have. “The animal within me licking the chops of memory”
The story was written in the third person from the point of view from Mr Utterson. This shows an outsider’s point of view which seems to show that he is solving the mystery at the same time we are, he knows as much as we do therefore his surprise and curiosity make the reader want to keep on reading because it is as thought we are inside his head. “And at the next moment, I had sprung to my feet and leaped back against the wall, my arm raised to shield me from that prodigy, my mind submerged in terror.” We know what he see’s inn the real world and we also know what he is thinking of them which leads the us to uspect the same thing which keeps the hunger of the brain pleading with hunger to know what will happen next. Also the names of the chapters give the story a better sense of a detective story. i.e. “Henry Jekyll’s full statement of the case” and “Incident at the window”
This novella is set in London in the mid 18th century which, around that time, was a very controversial place to be living. Half of London was poor and living in squalor where as the other half was high class and rich. There was a middle class, but that was pretty poor as well compared to the wealthy so they were considered poor. Many of the rich men would hide secrets for their dignities sake. For example late at night men would go out to drink, gamble, use prostitutes and partake in illegal events such as cock fighting. In the story, this theme is shown when Mr.Enfield says “I was coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o’clock.” In this statement it shows that Enfield does not want his companion knowing about his antics.
The fact that the script is often set in less reputable parts of towns i.e. where Hyde lives, coupled with the darkness of the night and the darkness that surrounds most of the book’s events, causes a creepy atmosphere, although this is largely complimented by the fog which surrounds Hyde’s antics which then adds to the secrecy of things as when there is fog you cannot see what is clearly going on. “About three o’clock of a black winter morning, and my way lay through a part of town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps.” This quote shows that wherever something to do with Hyde then there is a creepy setting to it. Mr Enfield then finds himself looking for a policeman to keep himself feeling safe. Stevenson does ‘creepy’ well, as the mood changes depending on which characters are in the scene.
Examples of this would be the trampling of the little girl, which happened late at night; the dark atmosphere giving the audience the fear that something odd or dangerous was about to occur. Also, however, on the strolls described by Utterson, the scene portrayed is one set in a daytime setting, which makes a large difference to what we see when Hyde is in action. This shows that when ever it is the characters with a high class reputation then the setting seems to be a lot more ‘delightful’, as in the sun is shining, clean streets etc. On the other hand when a character with a more inadmissible reputation is in the scene, the setting is more at night in a dark, foggy, dingy little backstreet where those with a murderous demeanour can prey on their victims.
In this novella, there are major setting factors which show the real life boundaries which occur in real cities with different classes and cultures. At the time this was written, many cities had large boundaries; the one that would have been most obvious to Stevenson would be the two sides of Edinburgh, where he grew up and wrote the story. The side where the rich people lived with high class, posh reputations and then there is the lower class side which is dirty, dark and dingy. However in the book, the two places are Soho and Cavendish square, which are both in London. With the posh house of Jekyll that is juxtaposed to the dirty slum in Soho where Hyde lives.
This theme of darkness links in the secrecy of the book, all doors have locks on and everyone has secrets to keep. For example Jekyll’s laboratory is securely locked and also the house in Soho where Edward Hyde lives. Whilst Jekyll’s is the most prominent, Utterson’s secret lust for gin is also one of the secrets that are often passed over. “Black winter morning.” This shows that as Hyde appears or where ever he is then there is a creepy demeanour to it. This is a demonstration that whilst people, and civilisation, in the book may look like a model world, there are darker aspects lurking beneath the surface in depth of their own secrets and regrets.
This ties in to man’s duality; everyone looks nice however every one keeps secrets. The theme of duality was inspired by William Brodie, who by day lived a respectable life in the profession of carpentry in which he built practically everything and also the ‘deacon of trades guild’ on the Edinburgh city council. Whilst at night he gambled, slept with prostitutes and drank. This later lead to burglary, taking keys whilst in his normal life, invited as a guest into houses, and using them when his recklessness took over. In the book the whole plot levitates around man’s duality, Hyde being the culprit of this. Hyde could be a representation of what is in all of us, the secret lusts which we all have.
Sigmund Freud said that we are all bad people and we only pretend to be good. And it seems with Hyde that he just stopped pretending. Hyde being our essence and secrets, and Jekyll being the outward personality which we proudly display to the world. It has also been mentioned that Hyde could be described as devolution, which ties partly to Darwinist theories appearing at the time. Evolution explains we evolved from simpler organisms and at some point in the chain, apes. Well devolution states that Hyde is going back down the chain and this is why some people have said that he is very ape like.
This is backed up by the “hunched over”, ape like figure described as well as the hissing that also emanates from Hyde. The theme of duality is also connected closely with hypocrisy, which is evident in the book. Utterson is the main culprit of this, for example, drinking gin at the excuse of destroying his taste for wine, which is a much less alcoholic substance. He also has an interest in theatre even though he hadn’t been to one for 20 years. Both of these points link to “Freudian suppression”, the “bottling up” of anxiety and anger, for example in Jekyll in which the released of this has been personified into Hyde.
The names of the characters are subtlety linked to their personality; the most obvious being Hyde, which has been commented on in the book “if he shall be Mr Hyde then I shall be Mr Seek”. But also the word “hide” can also mean skin, which could be Stevenson subtly saying that the things that Hyde does are only skin deep. Or that Hyde is Jekyll in a different skin, being able to live out his desires. Jekyll also could be a reference to a jackal, which has a reference in language ‘jackaling’ as a way of speaking derogatively and judgingly to others, this links to Jekyll because as Jekyll would never condone the use of drugs, but then he is making a super drug/potion to release Hyde. Also Utterson is a character whose name can be deciphered, sounding like “Utter(ing)” As in the type of speech. This could be a reference to the way that he tells of Jekyll’s will that he believed to be blackmail.
In conclusion its seem that Robert Louis Stephenson compares the duality of man to that of good and evil. He shows however nice and perfect one can seem, they have a much darker side to them and that Dr Jekyll was merely grasping at his and getting to “walk on the wild side” so to speak. Describing the heartlessness of Hyde he uses the characteristics of animals, mainly the primate, to show how brutal and careless he is. This shows the brilliance of Robert Louis Stephenson and the creativity that may have destroyed him like Mr Jekyll.