The strange case of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was written in 1886 by Robert Lewis Stevenson. Robert Lewis Stevenson was born and brought up in Edinburgh in the 1850’s. He was part of a middle class family, his parents were strict Christians and it was very important to them that Stevenson behaved respectfully. When Stevenson was a child, Stevenson’s nanny frightened him with stories of hell and suffering which may have contributed to his ideas in the novel.
When he was a young man in Edinburgh he may have used a false name or a hidden identity in order to indulge himself in forbidden activities or he may have fantasized about them, like crime, affairs and homosexuality. In Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Stevenson uses his experiences to describe the unpleasant side of life. The novel is about how Dr Jekyll leads a double life and its devastating consequences. The book reflects Victorian concerns about city life such as crime and poverty.
The novel is set in the city of London and is significant in the novel because in general most gothic novels at that time were set far away or in unfamiliar surroundings, yet Stevenson sets the novel in London which shocked readers because it was a place they all knew which made them think that the themes discussed in the novel could be happening near them. This makes it more frightening to the reader and therefore made it a more popular novel. In the novel Stevenson describes London as ‘labyrinths of lamp lighted city’. This suggests that the city makes it possible for people to easily lose themselves in London. We see this in the novel when Stevenson says ‘he was often absent; for instance, it was nearly two months since she had seen him till yesterday’ (the day of the murder). This tells us that Hyde was often absent and it relates back to people losing themselves in the city.
Another important aspect of the setting is the weather, which for most of the novel is described as ‘fogged city moon’ This creates an atmosphere of mystery and unknown and it also suggests that something might be about to happen. The chapter which describes the Carew murder case is an important event in the novel because the murder forces Mr Utterson to investigate and piece together the link between his friend Dr. Jekyll and the murderer Mr Hyde.
The reader learns, however, that they are the same person. Stevenson sets the murder scene in a lane which the maid’s window overlooked and interestingly chooses the murder to be ‘brilliantly lit by the full moon’. He does this in order to display every detail of the murder and to show the viciousness of the attack. For example the murder is described as ‘a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered’. This tells us how brutal and violent the murder was by the maid being able to hear the victim’s bones being broken. It also gives the reader the full affect of the damage that had been done. The murder is particularly shocking because it enables the maid to describe the murder so well as a result of the murder scene being so brilliantly lit by the moon.
The characters’ houses in the novel also suggest something about them, Dr Jekyll’s house, for example, is described as having ‘a great air of wealth and comfort’. Hyde’s rooms are described as ‘well furnished’, but they’re located in Soho which is a seedy area full of unrespectable people.
The themes in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, for example crime and concealing forbidden activities touched on issues Victorians were concerned with because it was set in a familiar place and it made people think the sort of themes discussed in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde could be happening around or near them. Darwin’s ideas about evolution and how human beings descended from apes changed Victorian beliefs. His ideas about people being evolved from apes’ suggest that animalistic urges and desires might be present in all men. Victorians tended to see crime as being carried out by the poor, who they thought of as being more ‘brutish’ or animal like. Hyde is described as ‘ape like’ but he is the other side of Jekyll, so Stevenson is saying all men are capable of brutish behaviour, regardless of their class.
He is also described like this because of the brutal behaviour he shows during the Carew murder case. This suggests that Hyde is less evolved than other human beings. The reader learns however that Hyde is also Jekyll; this makes the reader think that anyone is capable of ‘ape like’ behaviour.
Another theme that is discussed in the novel involves people leading a double life. The idea of a double life, like the one Jekyll leads, would have appealed to Victorian readers because of the familiar background the novel was set in. Also Victorian codes of behaviour and social rules were strict and repressive, so people liked the idea of breaking out of this.
In this novel the setting is important because it creates a sense of uncertainty and creates atmosphere because of the novel being set in dark and fog for most of it. Stevenson created a genre called urban gothic, this is because he set the novel in a familiar place and also at the time he wrote the book. He created a modern urban setting in order to engage his readers which mean they feel all the emotions more intensely because they can imagine it happening to them.
The idea of the double life in the novel not only is of interest to Victorians but also to modern day readers because of the familiar setting. The phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality is used today when someone shows two very different sides of their personality because the book is about Dr Jekyll who leads a double life as Mr Hyde. So by saying a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality it is like saying a ‘split personality’. We can see many of the ideas that are in the novel in our present times for example leading a double life and this suggests that the ideas behind the novel are still as relevant today as they were in Victorian times.