Robert Louis Stevenson is renowned all over the world today for his contributions to English literature; he makes his skill evident in his ability to utilize the duality of soul concept through example of one Henry Jekyll, showing in many ways what can and does happen when Jekyll decides to experiment with the aspect of his evil side and bring it to the surface as the twisted character of Edward Hyde; incorporating the interplay of good and evil, in his novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, published in 1886. Stevenson creates an effective mystery tale set in Victorian London and does this by presenting sub themes that relate to the central theme of duality. He keeps readers engaged with the developing plot and unravels pieces of the puzzle as the story unfolds, creating an effective mystery tale while his emotions are shown as the nature of humankind and Victorian moralities are explained in one of the most famous novels of the present day.
In the story I have noted that Stevenson presents the reader with the complexities of human nature through his portrayal of characters. For example, he describes Utterson as being “dreary, and, yet somehow lovable”, he then reveals that although he “enjoyed the theatre” he had not been for “twenty years”. These descriptions are contradictory and reveal that Utterson has two sides to his personality, one of which he now seeks to suppress, the other a respectable, reliable and responsible man. I believe that Stevenson needs readers to relate to and rely on Utterson as he is the most frequent narrator of the story, therefore he presents him with this censored past where he used to be much more outgoing, yet now he is old and respectable.
Also, Victorians were much more impressionable than people of the present day, therefore Utterson’s upkeep of his respectable, sensible side to his personality publicly and the fact that he “drank gin when he was alone”, which helps us to warm to him even more, was vital to Stevenson’s success in displaying the central theme of Duality through the sub themes of Suppression and Respectability, explored through the character of Dr. Utterson. I think this is successful because even in a character such as Utterson, who we all come to empathise with and rely on, can be susceptible to duality, just as any human being can, therefore it makes us think and question ourselves.
Another way in which Stevenson represents Duality is through the setting of the door in the first chapter; aptly titled “Story of The Door”. The door is situated on a typical, fairly rich Victorian street which is described to have “cleanliness and gaiety of note”, this gives the impression that this area has a reputation to upkeep, however, the splendid view of the street is ruined by a door which stands out somewhat, “Blistered and distained” with “prolonged and sordid negligence”. This description uses great imagery that causes an impact on the reader. One interpretation a reader could have is that, despite the cleanliness and class of the street, duality is shown in the fact that behind closed doors things may not always be what they seem, therefore the are two sides, one which seeks to suppress what is really going on inside, and one which has a respectable reputation to uphold; just like the character of Dr. Utterson.
Also, this could be representation of how rich and poor live so close together, as in Victorian times a rich street could be directly adjacent to a poor, therefore Stevenson is demonstrating how different these classes are, yet they are living closely together, another way in which duality is explained. Furthermore, Stevenson could also be relating to his previous life in his hometown of Edinburgh, which was divided into poor and rich, old and new by a single river.
Stevenson, who lived on the rich and new side often ventured into the other and gained an insight on how different the two sides were, whilst seeking his inner temptations and leading a double life, therefore duality was recognised within himself. We know that the door is significant in this chapter and it is evident in the fact that the chapter is named about it, therefore it makes us realised that it is important for a reason, and that reason is to represent duality further in a setting. This is successful as there are many different interpretations to make, yet all lead to the same conclusion of duality, and this chapter is vital in letting readers know that duality is, and will be, the key to the story.
A further way in which Stevenson explores duality is in the structure of the novel. The novel’s structure is unique in the fact that it isn’t written entirely in first person, as it would have been possible to tell the story in the manner of a confession from Jekyll’s point of view. We are limited to Utterson when reading in an omniscient view for the first eight chapters, however after this in Chapter 9 it switches to first person, where we read “Dr Llanyon’s Narrative”, and after this it is again first person, where we hear from Dr. Henry Jekyll himself. The structural and linguistic devices employed by Stevenson create an unusual atmosphere of controlled suspense, which surrounds the story. The gradual building up of horror and destruction is achieved through a slow accumulation of unemotional detail.
The fact that the story is written in the view of three different, distinct people gives it three different endings, making us go back in time to read from another point of view, this uncovers more of the story and keeps the reader engaged as they can finally see behind the closed doors and find out what they have been dying to find out throughout the story. This notion of suspense keeps the genre of mystery intact as only minor clues are given away until the three different endings, each one gathering more evidence, this is extremely successful because of this and further benefits the theme of duality, and of course mystery.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale can be interpreted as a coherent warning to Victorian society of the potential effect of such asphyxiated social, ethical and moral conventions and I would agree that some of these still exist today. Through the use of the sub-themes of characters, setting and structure Stevenson makes us realise that duality is present within ourselves, and can be dangerous at times. Furthermore, he explores what it means to be human thus ensuring that his mysterious tale is as revealing, relevant and enjoyable to a reader in 21st century as it was in the 19th.