How does R. L. Stevenson create horror and suspense in the novel 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?'

Categories: Novel

‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is a classic horror novel written by R. L. Stevenson. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850. He grew up in Edinburgh which had two very different faces: the prosperous, middle-class new town and the ‘old black city’ with its poverty, disease and over crowding. This can be compared to the novel because of the duality of nature between Jekyll and Hyde. The novel would have had a different impact upon its original readers because at this time London was a divided city; there were two major extremes, the rich and the poor, and as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde portray both these extremes the novel is shown from the two ends of the divided London.

Jekyll lives in a respectable area which has ‘an air of invitation’ and Hyde lives in ‘a sinister block of buildings.’

Also, in 1886, the readers of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ would have interpreted the torments of Henry Jekyll as the traditional struggle between good and evil.

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The novel is about a respectable doctor, Dr Jekyll, who transforms himself into a savage murderer, Mr Hyde. A girl is ruthlessly trampled over by this vicious Mr Hyde and he writes a cheque for �100 compensation; however the cheque was signed by Dr Jekyll.

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Mr Utterson and Mr Enfield come across a door which reminds them of the savage murderer and Mr Utterson’s suspicions are aroused when he finds Hyde’s dead body inside the laboratory where Jekyll had locked himself in, inside here is a letter written by Dr Jekyll. Dr Lanyon dies and gives Utterson a letter which said that Jekyll was having trouble with the effects of the drugs. In the final chapter Utterson reads Jekyll’s confessions.

The story of the novel is told through many different narrators, Enfield, Utterson, Lanyon and Jekyll all play a part in telling the story. Stevenson has used this technique of multiple perspectives to heighten the mystery and suspense of the story as this allows the reader to see more clearly into their characters and relationships.

‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is such a well known text that it is known by more people than those that have actually read it, this is because there were no less than four film versions appeared during 1920 and 1953.

In chapter one Stevenson uses many devices to create horror and suspense. The title of this chapter ‘The Story of the Door’ adds secrecy and mystery as it is part of a mysterious house, the street is pleasant except from this shabby house. This strange and always locked door becomes a significant symbol of mystery as we do not know where it leads.

The neglected door on the smart street is also concerned with the duality of nature theme. This door creates secrecy and suspense because it is always locked and you can only enter with a key, also the windows are always shut.

At the start of this chapter we are immediately introduced to one of the main characters, Mr Utterson; he appears complex as there are contradictions in his character ‘lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow loveable,’ this is the major theme of the chapter: duality of nature and it is a reoccurring theme throughout the novel and the narrator hints that he knows people of ill repute.

The setting of most of the novel is at night or early hours in the morning; this creates an eerie atmosphere, and also suspense and mystery because it is rather odd why people are walking out at ‘three o’clock of a black winter morning.’ Whilst Enfield tells ‘a very odd story’ tension is created as he repeats ‘street after street’ and this highlights his isolation and produces tension as the reader can empathise with him if they have ever been in a dark, isolated situation before.

In this chapter secrecy is an important theme; everyone has something to hide and so they are reluctant to ask questions suggesting they do not want to hear an answer. Stevenson creates horror in this chapter as the introduction of Mr Hyde, who ‘trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the floor,’ is a horrific image. This is peculiar behaviour and the reader has maximum sympathy for the young girl. In addition, Hyde is not at all disturbed by the incident of ‘calmly’ hurting her. When he witnesses the incident, Mr Enfield, an unemotional man has a strong reaction about it, ‘sawbones turned sick and white with the desire to kill him.’

In the second chapter entitled ‘Search for Mr Hyde,’ the title builds up a sense of anticipation in the reader because it is like a mystery investigation – searching for something or someone that could be lost or on the run. The will in this chapter is exceptionally odd; it creates a sense of extreme mystery in the reader. This is because Dr Jekyll’s will states that all his possessions shall be passed on to Edward Hyde, this shows the reader that there is some association and connection between Jekyll and Hyde.

However, what is even stranger is that he says if he has disappeared or had an unexplained absence for any period exceeding three calendar months, this shows the reader that he is suspecting something might happen to him and builds up a sense of anticipation and keeps the reader interested and want to read on. Stevenson is giving clues about what is going on and Utterson thinks that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll. Hyde also has contradictions in his character, he is described and ‘timid and bold,’ this oxymoron suggests of the duality of his character. ‘He may grow impatient to inherit,’ this suggests that Utterson is worried about his friend Jekyll and thinks he could be in danger as he left all of his belongings to Hyde, and with Hyde’s monstrous reputation he may not want to wait for his inheritance.

The chapter ends with the lawyer in very low spirits, he feels forced to confront the fact that he too has been responsible for certain wrongs which he has taken care to hide, and this all creates suspense and mystery. He suspects blackmail or murder.

In chapter three, Jekyll shows respect and admiration for Utterson and he convinces Utterson of the need for absolute secrecy, Stevenson does this to heighten the suspense and keep the reader engrossed. Jekyll thinks that Lanyon is dismissed as ‘hide-bound pedant’ in his thoughts as they had an argument about scientific thinking. Jekyll believes that Lanyon is narrow-minded and conventional in thinking.

Chapter four is set almost a year later and it is the most horrific chapter in the book. R.L. Stevenson makes it gruesome with disturbing details and it would be extremely shocking for Victorian readers. This is because in Victorian society there was such a large emphasis on manners and behaviour. This chapter is appalling and inhumane to the reader.

The passage which describes Carew’s murder is macabre and distressing, ‘bones were audibly shattered,’ this clause is effective because it appeals to the senses and makes it sound more horrendous and abominable. It is odd that Carew gets brutally murdered like this since he appeared to be such a nice man. This passage also presents horrific details that Mr Hyde beat him with his power and strength. R.L. Stevenson creates more suspense and mystery and gives subtle hints that the murder could have something to do with the mystery of Jekyll and Hyde because it could have had something to do with the will.

The description of the setting as being, ‘a district of some city in a nightmare,’ is a sinister description creating atmosphere and horror. The ever-present fog contributes to the atmosphere as it is gloomy and it also portrays secrecy as it can be used to ‘cover up’ things. A threatening atmosphere is created with the flickering of street lamps and the personification of the fog, for example ‘the fog still slept.’

In chapter five horror and suspense is created by the description of Jekyll as it contrasts with that of before, ‘Dr At Ease,’ however now he looks ‘deadly sick’ and is terrified. This shows the reader that his connection with Hyde is making him ill

Jekyll has received a letter and this creates suspense and secrecy, he is unsure about whether to show it to the police and this creates mystery.

The description of the city as being ‘drowned’ reinforces the air of impending doom and adds slight horror and suspense.

Towards the end of the chapter Utterson is in utter disbelief that Dr Jekyll forged for a murderer, Stevenson uses the description, ‘And his blood ran cold in his veins,’ this creates horror and suspense because it must be something very bad that has happened for someone’s blood to appear to turn cold, and also it makes the reader wait in anticipation. At the end of the chapter a cloak of secrecy descends upon matters and a guest is sworn to secrecy.

In chapter six Dr Jekyll begins to improve with the disappearance of Mr Hyde and he is being associated with good things, ‘charity, and religion.’ Dr Lanyon has had a shock, ‘as a look in the eye and quality of manner that seemed to testify some deep-seated terror of the mind,’ he is scared however it is not that he is scared about dieing but something else. This creates suspense and leaves a sense of anxiety in the reader. However when Lanyon’s face changes and he holds up a trembling hand the reader is led to believe that Lanyon’s decline has something to do with Jekyll.

In chapter seven the incident which the two gentlemen witness informs the reader that Jekyll is suffering from something which he cannot control, this creates suspense because the reader will wonder what it is that he cannot control. The gentlemen’s ‘expression of such abject terror and despair, as froze the very blood of the two gentlemen below,’ shows the reader that this is a link between Jekyll and Hyde as the reaction of the gentlemen from Jekyll reminds us of the reaction of the gentlemen from Hyde.

Chapter eight opens dramatically with the entrance of an unexpected Poole, who is Utterson’s butler and his appearance is altered by a shock. The title of this chapter ‘The Last Night’ makes the reader think that this could be the last night or someone or something, for example, Jekyll dieing or a secret being revealed. Suspense is added when it says, ‘crushing anticipation of calamity’ as they are just waiting for something bad to happen. In this chapter the reader is meant to think that Mr Hyde is in the room and that he has killed Jekyll for the will and so Mr Utterson’s predictions were correct, this adds suspense because the reader does not know for definite if it is him in the room and they want to find out.

In the novel Hyde has always been described as animal, for example in chapter four, ‘with ape-like fury’ and also in chapter two, ‘hissing’ this is comparing him to a snake and snakes can be seen as evil. In Victorian London, when it was a divided city, the poor received no schooling and could not vote, the wealthy people were afraid of them and saw them as being like animals, Hyde is also described as an animal. In chapter eight, R.L. Stevenson portrays many clues to lead the reader to think that it is Hyde, ‘crying out like a rat,’ and also it says, ‘and this was more of a dwarf,’ as the reader we know that Jekyll is tall and Hyde is shorter.

There was a ‘mask upon his face’ so this creates suspense as the reader wants to know who it is. R.L. Stevenson is building up a sense of foreboding and expectation as the reader will think the thing he is describing is Hyde, ‘London hummed solemnly all around; but nearer at hand, the stillness was only broken by the sound of a footfall moving to and fro along the cabinet floor,’ this creates suspense as the reader knows that something bad is going to happen. Stevenson uses descriptions which appeals to the reader’s senses and so you can imagine you were there.

He uses the technique of authentication and the reader is made to feel as though they are involved on an intimate revelation of feelings and events as the plot of the book is revealed through diaries and letters. This makes the reader feel included and keeps them interested.

In chapter nine, ‘Dr Lanyon’s narrative,’ the reader is about to discover the truth about what Dr Jekyll has been up to. Stevenson chose to set this chapter at midnight as it is the witching hour; this adds mystery and horror because of the time of night that it is set in. The novel is structured so that the mystery and suspense is built up right until the penultimate chapter, this chapter reveals Jekyll’s terrible secret. Up until this point the reader can only see Hyde through the eyes of the other characters and as the reader becomes drawn into the mystery of the novel it tells the reader important information about the characters. Stevenson chose midnight for the arrival of the strange messenger because it is known as the witching hour and Hyde is thought of as inhuman.

Finally, in the last chapter, ‘Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case,’ the reader sees the end of the story from Jekyll’s point of view. Stevenson decided to end it in this way to create tension so that the reader would only read Jekyll’s side last and keep them in suspense.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde represent the two sides of good and evil, as Jekyll does ‘pious work’ and Hyde uses ‘blasphemies,’ both of these connecting with religion as it is an extremely important part of Victorian people’s life. It poses the question – which is more powerful good or evil? Stevenson makes evil prevail in the end because Jekyll is banished by Mr Hyde, however this could be Stevenson telling us that evil is stronger or because humans are weak-willed. His opinion of this could be shaped like this because of his background; he was brought up as a Calvinists and this emphasised that our desires are naturally evil, so this would mentally affect you as a child.

To conclude, it would be impossible for the modern reader to read this novel as an unsuspecting Victorian might have done because people see things like Jekyll’s double identity in everyday life, on the television and read it more in books so they are aware of what could happen, however in Victorian times they did not have television and so the only place where they would see this is in books.

All of the devices that Stevenson has used to create horror and suspense have a strong impact upon the book because he wanted to keep the readers in suspense for as long as possible and he tried to make them discover for themselves the ending by leaving a series of clues.

Overall, I think this was an interesting book, at times I found it quite difficult and got a bit confused, however I soon picked up again. I think that Stevenson was clever in the way that he used multiple perspectives to heighten the suspense of the story and thought that it was a good novel.

Finally, the novel has had such a large impact on language that it has become a saying now. The phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ describes someone with a split personality as being nice and nasty.

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How does R. L. Stevenson create horror and suspense in the novel 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?'. (2017, Nov 02). Retrieved from

How does R. L. Stevenson create horror and suspense in the novel 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?'

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