How is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde typical of a Victorian Gothic Novel? Essay
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The term “gothic” came to be applied to this genre of literature due to the fierce emotional ties and vastly enigmatic themes. Nearly every Gothic novel takes place in a strange, mysterious location, such as Dracula’s castle or the Thornfield manor in Jane Eyre. However at the onset of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the novel appears to stray from this easily identifiable Gothic tradition. London is chosen as the setting rather than a remote foreign castle. London is portrayed to be “a fire in a forest” with an atmosphere which had “an air of invitation.
It gives the impression of a warmth and convivial Victorian lifestyle. Conversely on the other hand “a fire in a forest” could be construed to be dangerous or a threat to your safety. The reader’s first opinion of London is that it embodies a pleasant vibe. However Stevenson incarnates London to fit in with the Gothic tradition. He utilizes a classic Gothic feature of the progression from light to dark in London.
The first feature of the Gothic technique the novel embodies is the exploitation of progression from light to dark. London at the onset of the book is pleasant and positive. Stevenson uses phrases such as ‘the street shone out’ and ‘like a fire in a forest’ to show the reader its initial appeal and warmth. The fact that the street ‘drove a thriving trade on weekdays’ and that there was an ‘air of invitation’ gives the effect of a welcoming and social lifestyle the Victorian era had. However some aspects of a Gothic setting and typical Victorian Society are unravelling. The neighbourhood is described as ‘dingy’, suggesting London at the time was dark and dreary (mainly due to coal being burned). Dingy is particularly successful in illustrating London’s neglected streets and conditions.
When Mr Utterson walked the ’empty’ streets’ on a ‘black winter morning’ the atmosphere being produced is a frightening one. London is now beginning to fit the traditions of Gothic literature. Again another characteristic of Victorian culture is mentioned when Mr Utterson ‘longs for a sight of a policeman’ showing us that London in the era of Queen Victoria a spooky and perhaps dangerous place to live. The ‘lamp lit streets’, a metaphor reveals to us that Victorian England had to be presented as a wealthy and civilised country, when behind the mask it was riddled with problems such as drugs, poverty, and murder. Almost every Gothic novel takes place in a strange, mysterious location, and London in this novel matches the criteria well.
Mr. Utterson represents the typical Victorian gentleman. Stevenson characterizes him as having “a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile.” He is “cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse,” “backward in sentiment” “dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable”. Utterson’s temperament is the epitome of Victorian norms
The central theme revolves around the dual nature of man. The concept of everyone having a dark side: The evil side that everyone shunts away from appearance and the light side: the good side that everyone shows to the rest of the world. The superego or Freud that Dr Jekyll is trying to create ultimately ends in him creating the Id of himself. Stevenson uses the back and front doors to represent the recurring theme of good and evil and the public face and private face. The front door a polished exterior ‘that wore a great air of wealth’ is the one used by every person to enter the house and leads to the dining room- Jekyll s public image. The back door however is ‘blistered’ and ‘distained’ and leads to his laboratory where he releases Hyde. The back door signifies the hidden evil in all of us. Jekyll declares that “man is not truly one, but truly two”, suggesting his own understanding of the duality.
In the nineteenth-century the strict divide between middle/upper class and working class was vast. The British Empire had to show the world that they brought prosperity and civilisation to the countries they invaded so fine living for the rich and morality for upper class was a necessity. Mr Utterson being a prime example of showing his light in public and keeping his dark in private. He is fond of wine but ‘drinks gin when he’s alone, to mortify his taste for vintages’ suggests he doesn’t want others to see his true identity and the fact that he is an alcoholic. Respectability and reputation was very important for upper classes in the Victorian period.
Within the story Stevenson associates the environment of the squalid, poor, dirty parts of society with Mr Hyde (looked down on); whereas the homes of the wealthy, upright, high class of society are linked with Dr. Jekyll (respected). Mr Hyde is often seen going into a door, the back door which is situated on a shabby street that leads into a house described as “a certain sinister block of building”, signifying the poor and immoral people of London. In contrast Dr Jekyll is a well-respected man of excellent social standing- servants and a large house. When he was young, he seemed to be heading for “an honourable and distinguished future”. He was born “to a large fortune”, suggesting an upper-class upbringing. Dr Jekyll represents the rich and powerful.
Mr Hyde is regularly juxtaposed with evil. For instance when Hyde ‘calmly tramples a girl’, Enfield describes it as ‘hellish to see’, suggesting the inhuman nature of Hyde. Hyde is also hazily described as ‘oddly deformed’, ‘detestable’, and a ‘juggernaut’. Most people simply decide that he appears ugly and deformed in some indescribable way; “impression of deformity without nameable malformation”. Mr. Hyde isn’t an approachable person, for example when Mr Utterson met him for the first time he “shrank back with a hissing intake of the breath”; the Onomatopoeia gives Mr Hyde an animal like trait. He is beyond words like he is beyond this world. People cannot give a reason why they dislike Hyde, it’s like they can feel the evil within him.
During the progression of the novel Stevenson exposes the use of pathetic fallacy to interpret the mood of characters and events that have occurred. The weather is used in great effect to reflect per sanity. The fog itself like ‘dark brown umber’ is effective to show loneliness and the ever imposing presence of evil within Jekyll. The ‘dreary’ and ‘gloomy’ streets portray death (murder of Carew) and fear (Hyde’s existence in London) of what will happen next. Also I think the wind is used in great effect to make the setting seem like it is full of violence and menace. The changes in weather heighten tension and anxiety. For instance a dark and evil atmosphere is created in the scene when Pool and Utterson ready themselves to break in to Dr Jekyll’s lavatory because the wind causes the clouds to cover the moon. Stevenson uses the weather to reflect an evil environment and what the characters are feeling.
The evil side of Jekyll not only grows physically but grows inside of him. All this like an allegory for opium addiction which was a real problem in Victorian times. Jekyll becomes increasingly addicted to his “id” and Hyde becomes stronger throughout because of it. Dr Jekyll overstepped the mark just like Victor Frakenstein goes too far in creating a monster. Man is not meant to have the “spark of being” or the “instruments of life”. God is the only creator and destroyer. Dr Jekyll and Victor Frankenstein both strayed into the territory of God…. and both were punished.
Stevenson wanted to point out to everyone the hypocrisy of the Victorian society. He satirises the split personality of Victorian society. The gulf between the rich and poor and how Victorians hid the dark underbelly that the outside world could not see. He wanted to emphasize the fact that there is good and bad in everyone and used many symbols to stress the point.