The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1886. This book revolves around the socially elite Mr. Utterson, a well-respected lawyer, bachelor and loyal friend. Readers follow his quest in solving the mystery of Mr. Hyde’s dastardly deeds and Dr. Jekyll’s involvement, willing or not. Set in the late 1800’s, Victorian London often shrouded in fog, Stevenson has created a perfect setting that provides a unique opportunity to create suspense, contrast, pathetic falsely and foreshadowing which mimics the dark undertones of horror this book is known for.
Stevenson relies heavily on foreshadowing to create suspense in this early horror/sci-fi novel, from the very beginning of the book Stevenson creates foreshadowing of Mr. Hyde’s ‘evil’ by describing in detail the street on which Mr. Hyde resides. As The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is told from the eyes of Mr. Utterson, the reader must rely on solely the opinions/views of Mr. Utterson, luckily Mr. Utterson reflects the most stereotypical well-to-do British gentleman of this time, he is respecting, conscious, loyal and sensitive to how he can affect others social standards, this means Mr. Utterson is generally unbiased and easy to identify with.
By chance Mr. Utterson and his relative/friend Mr. Enfield find themselves passing by the home of Mr. Hyde, who resides within a two story house, slightly dilapidated and abused by time, without windows and just around the corner from a pristine neighborhood full of pride. This immediately allows the reader to gain a sense of distance, as in, a very proud, hard working lifestyle can be right around the corner from a neglected, dark and hidden place. This foreshadows Mr. Hyde’s character, as well as the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; although Dr. Jekyll is a good man, and does many deeds to improve his standing in society it is all just to cover up his evil side, which is lurking just behind the corner.
Drawing parallels between the City’s inhabitants and their neighborhood’s allows the reader to make assumptions on the character’s true attitudes/beliefs. The comparison between where Dr. Jekyll lives versus where Mr. Hyde lives reflects upon their characters; Mr. Hyde lives in a somewhat dark area, where the homeless often sleep on his stoop, there is no knocker as if the inhabitant desires no company, and graffiti of sorts is notable around the door showing the neglect. To contrast this Dr. Jekyll’s home is in a relatively nice area, and his home is open and welcoming; his butler is useful, and there is obvious signs of care in his house.
Perhaps the most important feature of a horror story is its villain, and the heinous deeds he is known for. Surprisingly, Stevenson does not go into detail of the crimes Mr. Hyde commits, only briefly explaining two of these unlawful deeds, however Stevenson does go into detail on the setting of these crimes; focusing on the streets, time and weather instead of the deed itself. Stevenson draws attention to the darkness of the streets “…black winter morning, and my way lay through a part of town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps…” (2) and how eerie and silent the city was as everyone was asleep.
Stevenson only mentions the crime itself in a brief sentence “for the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground” (3) and then goes on to detail the ramifications of Mr. Hyde’s actions (the crowd, the payment that was decided on, and the reaction of the various people who saw him). Another key metaphor in this novel would be the omnipresent London fog which coats the city. Much like how Mr. Hyde is concealed in a dark mysterious world of shadows, the fog creates this for selected area’s of the city creating the perfect foreshadowing method, and lending suspense at the perfect time.
For example, the night, which Hyde murders Sir Danvers Carew, is described as a clear night. “a fog rolled over the city in the small hours, the early part of the night was cloudless, and the lane, which the maid’s window overlooked, was brilliantly lit by the full moon” (17). Since the maid did not report this crime until two am (the small hours) we can determine that by the time the police arrived, the fog had returned cloaking the scene much like Mr. Hyde being once again hidden away. The moment of clarity, or the lack of fog, which the maidservant had witnessed was a key revealing moment for Mr. Hyde’s true evil, but much like the man himself, all quickly and rather conveniently disappeared.
Mr. Utterson’s nightmare allows the reader to enter the horrific world of an un-desensitized mind. Unlike in current times (2013), horror hasn’t been exploited to the maximum. In the late 1800’s, a comparatively small act seems infinitely more disturbing to grown men in the 1800’s where as 2013, they would be considered small incidents hardly worth attention a second thought. While keeping this in mind, the reader gets to explore what is really haunting about Mr. Hyde’s character, and how it clings to Mr. Utterson’s mind. Thanks to this the novel remains somewhat timeless and has the ability to appeal to audiences more then 100 years later. The nightmare Utterson is haunted by takes place in either his dear friends bedroom, or the winding streets of a city, which by definition is the epicenter of human life, but Stevenson again has turned a city into a desolate and isolated area, which in itself is the perfect atmosphere for a terrifying crime to take place.
This feeling of the unknown; of something that should be familiar and comforting to him being just the opposite is what makes this novel understandably terrifying.“…It glide more stealthily through sleeping houses, or move the more swiftly and still the more swiftly, even to dizziness, through wider labyrinths of lamp lighted city…” (9). It is as if Mr. Utterson views Mr. Hyde as a perfect monster who stalks the streets of London as if it was his natural territory, Mr. Utterson seems to view Mr. Hyde as more then a mere man, and associates supernatural qualities with him, foreshadowing the eerie reality to what or who Mr. Hyde really is.
The very climax of the novel (although it could be argued there are 3 climax’s; one when Dr. Lanyon’s letter is read, one when Jekyll’s letter is read, and one when the body of Mr. Hyde/Dr. Jekyll is found) is extremely detailed, but in not in the usual way a horror/sci-fi books climax usual is. Instead of focusing on the death/body of Mr. Hyde/ Dr. Jekyll like most novels would have done, Stevenson instead drew attention to the setting, focusing on the streets, building suspense through spending long amounts of time describing various buildings, rooms, atmosphere and the weather. This allows the reader to build a clear picture in their mind, without going into too much horrifying detail. Stevenson relies on the foreboding atmosphere to create a sense of fear instead of focusing in on the gory details of the body of Mr. Hyde, which is originally found, or Mr. Hyde’s voice.
“Right in the middle there lay the body of a man sorely contorted and still twitching. They drew near on tiptoe, turned it on its back and beheld the face of Edward Hyde.” a short paragraph is the entire description given for the death of Mr. Hyde, which again reflects upon Stevenson’s choice to not go into severe clarity on the crimes of Mr. Hyde, however Stevenson describes in detail the lay out and search of Dr. Jekyll’s ‘cabinet’ (the building in which Mr. Hyde resides) as if to make the suspense last longer.
If Stevenson had immediately made it clear that Dr. Jekyll was not in the building, the reader would not have the sense of foreboding and concern which is important for this novel to make an impact, instead by drawing out the search of the building the reader still has some hope, and after finding nothing, the reader is left with their mind reeling, wondering where Dr. Jekyll could be. This technique that Stevenson has used proves effective, as readers will continue to follow the story in rapture, even though the evil, Mr. Hyde, is dead and there is no longer a threat.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a time withstanding classic that will continue to draw the attention of many, and inspire them to reflect on their own inner evil. Although many authors since Stevenson have touched on the duality of man, Stevenson created a kind of formula, one which allows the ‘good’ ego to still gain the sympathy of the audience, and the evil alter-ego can still draw all the disgust without any sympathy, although they are the same person.
By using a strong setting, Stevenson has created a unique opportunity for suspense, contrast, pathetic falsely and foreshadowing which helps enhance and emphasize the dark undertones of horror this book is known for. Perhaps without desensitization, the current generations would be as equally terrified with this book as the original audience in the late 1800’s due to Stevenson’s strong descriptive suspense building settings.
Courtney from Study Moose
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