‘Explore how Stevenson creates a sense of intrigue and engages the reader’s interest in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.’ The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. This book is a classic and has been very successful; therefore it has been turned into several films and theatre productions. The book seizes the reader’s attention and gets straight into drama and action, making it hard to put down. This well thought out and complicated book touches on many topics and themes. There are many reasons why Stevenson has done such a good job of making it very hard to put down this novel, for example, Stevenson’s strong characters, the setting, the plot, how the book is written and the several themes. There are countless themes in the book, one being good verses evil. There are two foremost characters clearly identified in the book from the very beginning, Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll.
These characters are unquestionably the opposite of each other. Mr Hyde is ‘something displeasing, something downright detestable.’ Mr Utterson, a main character and a lawyer solving the mysterious crimes in the book has many strong views of Mr Hyde. He says ‘I never saw a man so disliked and yet I scarce know why.’ This is a very strong view of someone, consequently Stevenson has clearly made Mr Hyde the depraved and evil character in the book; Mr Hyde’s character reflects many characters of those in Victorian times, for example the well known Jack the Ripper or many other villains who committed crime. Having such a strong and ruthless character immediately urges the reader to find out what the character will do next, what crime he will commit, or who he will upset. Hence this suggests that Stevenson created such an extreme character like Mr Hyde to draw the reader intensely into the book and to make the story grabbing and scary.
There are also many descriptions of Hyde’s appearance in the novel. Mr Utterson describes Hyde’s appearance as having ‘ something wrong with his appearance.’ Already just from reading this , even though there is no description of Hyde’s physical features, we can picture Hyde as being a strange, mysterious, odd and evil man. This may encourage people to read on, because they will want to know what Mr Hyde actually looks like and the description of his physical features. Later the reader finds out that Mr Hyde is described as ‘ pale and dwarfish; he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice’.
From these negative descriptions of Hyde the reader can have a disturbing image of what Mr Hyde looks like. As the reader knows Hyde is an evil, uncontrollable and ‘murderous’ person this persuades people to read, because they are drawn to horror and are eager to see what Hyde’s next move will be. Whereas the good character in Stevenson’s novel, who is also a main character, is Dr. Jekyll, who is the complete opposite of Mr. Hyde. ‘He is a large, well made, smooth faced man of fifty, with something of a stylish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness’. From this quote alone, it is clear that Stevenson has made Jekyll the complete opposite of Hyde, which relates to the theme good verses evil. Dr Jekyll is definitely seen as innocent, as Mr Utterson makes wrong assumptions towards Mr Hyde. Mr Utterson thinks Jekyll is being blackmailed by Hyde to give him everything in his will, which is also evidence that Jekyll is a vulnerable, nice, innocent character.
The theme good versus evil, might encourage people to keeping reading because, the reader might want to know what will happen to Dr Jekyll and if he will stay good forever, which we soon find out. Another theme in the book is loneliness and isolation. Chapter one leads straight into this theme, and from describing a house, the reader immediately picks up the whole theme of the story. The house represents mystery and isolation, which continues throughout the beginning of the book. ‘A certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two storeys high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower storey and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence’.
The first chapter is called the Story of the Door and Stevenson may have included the house in the chapter in order to set the mysterious and quite gothic language to the story. Stevenson doesn’t waste time at the beginning of the book; he goes straight to the theme of mystery, which only makes the reader ask questions and so read on to find the answers to the questions. Also throughout the book Jekyll isolates himself, which leads the reader to want to find out why. ‘Now that the evil influence had been withdrawn, a new life began for Dr. Jekyll.’ When the reader finds out that Jekyll is under the ‘evil influence’ of Mr Hyde, Dr Jekyll feels he has to hide away from his friends, so they will not see who is taking over him and who may at any time get angry and lose control. Therefore Jekyll isolates himself, which encourages the reader to read on, because they want to find out if Jekyll will always have the evil Hyde underneath him. A main character is Mr Utterson, a lawyer and loyal friend of Jekyll and Lanyon, who the narrator focuses the audience to follow in his quest to discover the identity of Hyde. Mr Utterson relates to the loneliness and isolation theme too.’
Mr Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lightened by a smile; a cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow loveable’. From this description of Mr Utterson, we get a real sense of who he his and how he is a strange and lonely character. Stevenson has been clever the way he worded his description, because he has used alliteration which creates a certain effect and mood. ‘Lean, long, dusty dreary.’ Stevenson has also used hard sounding words which grab the attention of the reader. Stevenson’s characters are not normal, average characters; they are strange, or evil with secrets.
Therefore making the reader want to find out the secrets of the characters and what they may be hiding. The theme isolation and loneliness creates mystery for the reader and the reader knows that Utterson is lonely for a reason, so this encourages the reader to find out in depth what the character has been through. The setting relates to the genres and themes and also intrigues the reader to read on as the setting creates the mood for what is going to happen next. For example there are lots of descriptions of the weather, particularly in chapter four. Stevenson describes the weather, as ‘a fog rolled over the city in the small hours, the early part of the night was cloudless, and the lance was brilliantly lit by the full moon’. Stevenson has set chapter four at night, as night is the scariest and gothic time and particularly with a fog, as it makes it hard to see any faces, which could be lurking in threatening London. The full moon also makes you think about werewolves and vampires, which reminds you of Mr Hyde’s character.
The description of the weather sets the certain mood Stevenson wants to create and indicates what is going to happen; for example there is a lot of description of the weather in chapter four to prepare for Hyde murdering the gentleman, which again reflects the bad, ‘madman’ Hyde is. The book is set in London and shows London being a somber and threatening place. Stevenson writes ‘in spite of the low growl of London from all around, very silent. There is a threatening and dark side of London, which the author uses to describe London. The setting makes the reader interested and engages the reader’s interest, because if there is a long depiction of the setting and weather, then the reader knows it is building up to a striking exhilarating crime scene. Stevenson wants to build up tension to an important plot scene, therefore focuses his writing on the setting.
The book could fit in more than one genre: crime, detective, horror, gothic. There are several genres at the start of the book, which makes the genre not immediately clear, but ultimately the genre of the book is very much to do with the gothic, or the horror genre. I think these genres attract the reader, because they are thrilling to read, they are page turning and our generation likes gore, crime and action, we don’t like boring fairytales. Also in 1886 when Stevenson wrote the book, it related to many of the crimes going on at the time. There are many novels written at about the same time, which are also in the genres of horror and gothic, for example the successful book Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I think when the book was first published the readers would have felt it related to Victorian London at that time and would have interconnected to the crimes and problems London was facing.
Also at the time I think people would have been interested in this fantastical approach to ideas about human creation. Stevenson’s book has had various modern adaptations made in the theatre and in films. The book is still successful today which proves it does encourage people to read on, because if it wasn’t an interesting book, then people wouldn’t have made so many adaptions of it. Today we have an increased understanding of the original context than readers did when it was first published. Nowadays more fantastical creatures are made up, so we are used to the ideas of fantasy, however in 1886, knowledge would have probably been more limited.
In conclusion I definitely think Stevenson engages the reader’s interest in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde because the themes in themselves are exciting and the characters’ actions make you ask questions and to find answers, you have to read on. The book is definitely a thriller, with crimes being committed and Hyde trampling on people. Also the setting and language used is very effective and relates to the mood of the story, which make this classic successful book so interesting to read. The book really relates to crime and secrecy in the Victorian era, which was when it was written, but modern reactions help us to also learn about the crimes in the Victorian era. The characters in the book make us eager to know more which overall make Stevenson’s novel a page turning and gripping successful novel.