In writing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson at once creates a statement about the human condition, a critique of Victorian society and a gripping mystery. How does he do this?
Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson, born 1850, grew up in a respectable Victorian middle class household in Edinburgh. His nurse was a fundamentalist Christian who taught Stevenson about good and evil. This teaching gave him nightmares, out of one of which was born ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Victorian Edinburgh had two ‘personalities’: the prosperous middle-class New-Town, where Stevenson lived, and the ‘old black city’ with poverty, disease and over crowding.
Men at that time could not play dirty, meet women and get drunk; the darker and more mysterious forces of the personality were suppressed being considered too uncivilised; this was very rude and disrespectful. So men had to do this secretly which meant they were like living two different lives, having two different faces: one which was good and highly respected and the other sneaky and disliked. Experiencing this double standard Stevenson started his plot for his story; to cheat life and become two different people.
Stevenson’s novel is about mystery and science. The saying of ‘living two different personalities’ was put to real life in his book; one person having two personalities and becoming a different person. However, Stevenson’s theme seems to be a question just how far scientific development should go before we began to ‘play God’. Some have even suggested that he was drawing attention to the dangers of dabbling with drugs.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was set in London where then was a creepy quite place, “The low growl of London from all around” … “the street was small and what called quiet” … “street after street… as empty as a church”. Jekyll lived in a respectable place somewhere in London and Hyde lived in Soho which was exactly the opposite life. In Soho the streets were dark, cramped, old and dirty, “black guardly surroundings” … “[The] mournful reinvasion of darkness” … “ragged children huddled in doorways”. This shows that for a good and respected person such as Dr Jekyll, he would live in a good and clean place, “The street shown out in contrast to the dingy neighbourhood”. However as for Mr Hyde, a dirty and bad person, he would live in “some city in a nightmare” dark and unpleasant, “black winter morning” … “touch of that terror”.
Dr Jekyll has some connection with Mr Hyde in some way. We find out in the novel that Hyde could get into Jekyll’s apartment by a secret back door which no one knew about. The door was a secret to most people and where it led to, “the door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained”. The door had no clue for anyone, it was a mystery.
The novel has multiple perspective narratives, which means lots of different narrators, which we, as readers, have to piece together.
The first section is narrated by Utterson. Because we see events through his eyes we share the mystery and tension he perceives; he thinks its mysterious and tense, se we feel the same. Utterson doubts and disagrees with Jekyll’s will, “I thought it was madness… and now I begin to fear it is disgrace.” Utterson thinks that how can Jekyll give all his will to Hyde, a person who tramples over children, it’s not right. This adds to the mystery making us feel suspicious and confused.
Utterson suspects that Hyde may be blackmailing Jekyll for his will, “Blackmail House is what I call that place with the door.” and he even has a nightmare about it, “dark bed on which he tossed to and fro”. This shows that Utterson is worried about Jekyll and is suspicious about Hyde. This also makes us believe it is blackmail.
The Next day after Utterson’s nightmare, Utterson meets Hyde and starts to speak with him and Hyde says, “It is as well we have met.” and gives Utterson the address to his home in Soho. Utterson, surprised that Hyde gave him his address, thinks maybe Hyde is thinking about the will too, “Good God!’ thought Mr Utterson, ‘can he too have been thinking of the will?” This shows that Utterson suspects more now then from his nightmare that Hyde could be blackmailing Jekyll.
In addition to Utterson’s perspective we learn a lot of important information from others.
We meet Enfield in the first chapter. He tells Utterson the story of how he saw a man, Hyde, trample over a young girl. When challenged, Hyde agrees to pay the girl compensation. He goes through an odd door and comes out with a cheque signed by some else, “a man does not, in real life, walk into a cellar door at four in the morning and come out of it with another man’s cheque for close upon a hundred pounds”. Later on in the novel we find out that the mysterious door goes into Jekyll’s property which connects Hyde and Jekyll for us.
Utterson is worried that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll. He discussed Jekyll with Dr Lanyon and discovers that they have argued over a scientific matter and are no longer friends, “I see little of him now… But it is more than ten years since Henry Jekyll became too fanciful for me. He began to go wrong, wrong in mind; and tough”. In chapter six Lanyon and Jekyll have a bigger fallout, “I wish to see or hear no more of Dr Jekyll” and after this we are told Lanyon falls into a fatal shock and dies, which we suspect has to do with Jekyll.
Hyde has disappeared in chapter five and Utterson goes to see if he’s at Jekyll’s. We are told the Jekyll has changed; he’s pale and scared. There was no sign of Hyde but Jekyll gives Utterson a letter from Hyde which says Hyde will not return. It turns out Jekyll was lying about the letter; no letter was delivered that morning. Jekyll or Hyde must have written that letter, we suspect Jekyll, otherwise why would he have lied.
Utterson consults Guest; a hand writing expert. He compares Hyde’s letter to the writing on an invitation written by Jekyll and notes it’s very similar, “it’s a very interesting autograph… there’s a rather singular resemblance; the two hands are in many points identical; only differently sloped.” This makes us even more suspicious about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; they’re defiantly both linked somehow.
The truth is revealed after Jekyll/Hyde has died through the narratives of Lanyon and Jekyll. Jekyll provides autobiographical details and expresses his views on human personality which help the reader unravel the plot.
Hyde, Jekyll and Lanyon change throughout the novel. At the start of the novel Hyde tramples over a child accidentally, “and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground.” He crashed into her without noticing but he then paid compensation to the child’s parents. In chapter four Hyde behaviour changes and he becomes wild, “And then all of a sudden he broke out in a great flame of anger, stamping with his foot, brandishing the cane, and carrying on like a madman… with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot, and hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered.” He changes from bad to worse and now he’s responsible for a death.
Jekyll also changes; his feeling and personality. At the beginning of the novel he his calm and relaxed, “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness”. Getting into the novel in the middle, Jekyll becomes stressed and nervous, “looking deadly sick. He didn’t rise to meet his visitor… and bade him welcome in a changed voice… [Utterson] did not like his friend’s feverish manner.” After this matter, Jekyll says that Hyde is gone for good and “a new life began for Dr Jekyll”, “He came out of his seclusion, renewed relation with his friends… he face seemed to open and brighten… and for more than two months the doctor was at peace.” Getting close to the end Jekyll turned bad again and changed a lot; he doesn’t want anyway visitors, not even his close friend Utterson, “he’s shut up again in the cabinet… Mr Utterson, sir, asking to see you… Tell him I cannot see anyone.” This shows that Jekyll has changes a lot from good to bad to good again then back to bad.
Dr Lanyon changes throughout the novel too. At the start he’s a warm and welcoming man with no problems, “This was a hearty, healthy, dapper, red-faced gentleman… and a boisterous and decided manner. At sight of Mr Utterson, he sprang up from his chair and welcomed him with both hands.” Dr Lanyon was a good man at first but moving on through the novel he changes; his health and look, “but when [Utterson] came in, he was shocked at the change which had taken place in the doctor’s appearance.
He had his death-warrant written legibly upon his face. The rosy man had grown pale, his flesh had fallen away; he was visibly balder and older”, and becomes slightly aggressive, “I wish to see or hear no more of Dr Jekyll’… in a loud, unsteady voice, ‘I am quite done with that person”. To the end of the novel we are told Dr Lanyon becomes so sick and shocked that he dies, “and in something less than a fortnight he was dead”. Lanyon changed a lot from a kind healthy person to a sick shocked person and at the end dies.
Another theme seems to be a critique of the repressive Victorian society, which often led to violence and secrecy. The story is full of locked doors, barred windows and windowless structures. The think, muffling fog also contributes to the theme of secrecy, which is also expressed thought the dialogue.
There are a lot of different narrators but each one only knows a certain amount of information and some of which is kept secret.
Enfield conceals the name of the person who wrote the cheque Hyde gave to the parents of the trampled girl, “and signed with a name that I can’t mention… a name at least very well known and often printed.” This makes us clueless and to wonder who the cheque owner can be.
Jekyll slams shut the window when he’s talking to Utterson and Enfield, “But the words were hardly uttered, before the smile struck out of his face and succeeded by an expression of such abject terror and despair… They saw it but for a glimpse had been sufficient, and they turned and left the court without a word… They were both pale; and there was an answering horror in their eyes. ‘God forgive us! God forgive us!” Utterson and Enfield saw something they were not meant to and were shocked. We don’t know what they saw so this adds to the mystery and secrecy, but we may suggest it was Jekyll turning into Hyde.
Hyde’s body is found, “Right in the midst there lay the body of a man sorely contorted and still twitching… and beheld the face of Edward Hyde.” and Utterson and Poole keep it secret, “in that case can we venture to declare this suicide… I would say nothing of this”. They keep it secret so nobody would examine it and find the truth.
Jekyll’s drugs are kept locked away, “to open the glazed press on the left hand, breaking the lock if it be shut.” Jekyll has locked his drugs secretly so no other human shall meddle with them, damage or use the drugs themselves and create something disastrous.
In addition to the secrecy, the multiple-perspective narrative contributes to the mystery. We are told the tale through the eyes of Enfield, Utterson, Lanyon and finally Jekyll. By revealing the plot through letters, diaries and finally, a casebook, the author makes us feel that we are involved in an intimate revelation of true feelings and events. Until ‘Dr Lanyon’s Narrative’ we a re only given glimpses of Hyde through the eyes of the other characters, which draws us into the mystery as well as revealing information about those characters themselves. The moral of this story is to not try to play God.