In the Victorian Era many people were indeed superstitious of various issues that were classified by class, for example, becoming drunk would not be considered as normal, or as proper, with people from the upper classes; whereas with people from lower or working class this would have been deemed a standard activity and most likely occurred on a daily basis.
In Robert Louis- Stevenson’s novel of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde just about every aspect to do with the fear of a typical upper class Victorian is explored by the life of the unfortunate Doctor.
The face of Hyde is described as a criminal from everyone’s view and one of the memorable first sightings of Hyde, met by a distant cousin of Mr. Utterson, namely Mr. Enfield, claimed ‘he gave me one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me like running.’ It’s a human reaction on first sightings of someone never before seen to be very stereotypical, as was the case with many upper class Victorians. If someone from a lower class did not look ordinary than they would most likely be considered a criminal.
As such, the reaction from the majority of accusers was as follows: ‘I had a loathing to my gentlemen at first sight. So had the child’s family, which was only natural.’ If this was the case, than there was little the accused could do for himself, because the lower classes were never given the benefit of the doubt when there was an important or rich family involved. ‘I saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with the desire to kill him.’ Even the doctor had been so taken aback by the ferocity and ugliness of this so-called human, despite doctor’s professionalism not to be judgemental in times when their attention is needed. This only shows the type of opinions that Victorians held from a range of a backgrounds.
This appealed to the Victorians in a sense that, by introducing the new police force, they had succeeded with trying to bring in a law abiding country and ridding it of these criminal faces.
In the early Victorian years, Charles Darwin produced a theory that claimed we had not been created by God and had instead evolved from nature. He omitted to mention which animal we had evolved from, but many ideas were developed. One such idea was the primitive ancestor reflected the troglodytic actions performed by Mr. Hyde at certain occasions. On one of these occasions Hyde murders Sir Danvers Carew. In killing Carew, Hyde ‘clubbed him to the earth’, similar to a caveman, along with ‘ape-like’ fury, and eventually ‘trampling his victim underfoot’.
This idea of Darwin’s had induced a new fear in the hearts of Victorian people, that they and others around them could, perhaps, at any time, lose control of themselves or something akin to the actions of Hyde.
A brief point could be made about alcohol. In the tale there are many references to the upper class doctors and lawyers; for example Mr. Utterson, who drank alone and only in small amounts for fear of the alcohol giving him cause to lose himself. He could not be seen to embarrass himself, by drinking too much and losing his social standing. This would have rendered him unacceptable to his fellow gentry. This is very similar to the life of Dr. Jekyll as drinking too much would have lead to the exposure of Hyde and his evil deeds.
The way in which Victorian London has been described could have intimidated many into behaviour which avoided prejudice, at all costs, from across the classes. The two characters in the novel divided by good and evil both live in completely different conditions in London. As Hyde is a criminal and as he lives in the ‘dismal quarter of Soho, with it’s muddy ways and slatternly passengers’ then it must have caused some relief to the upper classes when they were living in clean conditions and considered to be acceptable places to reside, in turn taking the criminal far away from them.
This though, brought around the new danger of these criminals escaping from their filthy conditions and creeping around the streets and labyrinths of those thought to be safe; therefore having access to their private lives and secrets. Also, Hyde’s flat is illustrated as untidy and disorganized, very similar to the life of a criminal, where they would have only a single night perhaps to lay at rest before they had to be on the move.
Secrecy played an important part in Victorian lives and Stephenson’s novel explores this. ‘…within there was another enclosure, like wise sealed and marked upon the cover as” Not to be opened until the death or disappearance of Dr. Henry Jekyll”‘ and ‘All my drugs were in the cabinet – a long journey down the two pairs of stairs, through the back passage, across the open courtyard and through the anatomical theatre’. In the case of the letter, Jekyll would rather have his secrets unveiled after he has died. This is due to the good doctor trying to save himself from the embarrassment and mockery he would receive had someone discovered what he got up to when he was alone.
This was also a problem with many among the upper classes, as their many ‘distractions’ in life, like alcohol, were not considered acceptable, so they would have had to be done in secret. In the second quote, it is a surprise to find a doctor with drugs and medicines hidden away in the most secluded part of this house. This links back to the same point of revealing his habits and what could happen to him, living in shame for the rest of his life. Intolerable to Victorians was shame. This relates back to many Victorians regarding their class as imperatively important, not something to lose in the agony of public humiliation, should their private activities be revealed in the public domain.