Is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde a typical gothic novel? Essay
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“Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is described by many as a Gothic novel. The height of popularity for Gothic novels was the late Victorian period; however they are still being published today, showing an undying thirst for them. The recognised criteria for a gothic novel include: the story of an outsider, one who does not fit in to society, a misfit. They can explore the boundaries of evil and good and even try to break them. In gothic novels the weather tends to be of a cold, dark nature to signify the personality of the character plus the often, dark nature of the story.
Animals associated with fear are often included and generally there is a form of civil unrest due to the actions of the title character. The story is more often than not characterised by mystery and supernatural horror.
A reason why I think that “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is a typical gothic novel is because of the description of scenery. The street upon which Jekyll/Hyde resides is “on the left hand”; immediately this tells me that the house has an air of evil about it. In religious culture the left hand is often associated with being led astray, as it says in the Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.” This signifies that those who choose the right hand choose the path of good; those who choose the left are easily corrupted.
Also it is associated with evil because of the etymology of the word “sinister” which in Anglo French reads as “senestre” meaning on the left and from the Latin “sinistr-” meaning on the left side. The house is “sinister” and “thrust forward”, which tells me that it is a dark, menacing place, it being thrust forward tells me that it does not fit in nor conform to anyone or anything else. The house also has no windows; windows are often referred to as “eyes to the soul”; I think that this is a reference to Hyde himself. The fact that there are no windows symbolises that Hyde has no soul.
At this point I would like to make clear that the aforementioned street is in fact Hyde’s dwelling. In contrast Jekyll’s dwelling which coincidentally is the same house that leads onto a different street. Jekyll’s “street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighborhood” (Hyde’s dwelling) and exudes an “air of invitation”. This is completely the opposite of Hyde’s street and is used to symbolise Jekyll’s character. The two streets are symbolic of the dual nature of man- a very common element of a gothic novel.
However, there seems to be a lack of a common, if not vital, element of a Gothic novel- Architecture. In a Gothic novel the architecture is of a sharp, curved, spooky nature. There are often haunted castles, graveyards, crypts. For example in the 1839 short story by Edgar Allan Poe- “The Fall of the House of Usher”, there are “many dark and intricate passages”. This is just one of the many example of gothic architecture in the story. However, in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” the architecture seems to be typically Victorian, with little or no Gothic features.
Another reason is the story revolves around the constant struggle that “man is not truly one, but truly two”, this details that all men have a good side but we are constantly at war with our impulses to do evil. In this story Dr. Jekyll breaks the bounds between the two and becomes utterly consumed by evil. This is similar to another gothic novel- Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. In this story the bounds are between life and death- “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds”. This struggle presents the weakness of man in regards to resisting temptation, and is a very common feature of a gothic novel.
A different reason is because of Mr. Hyde himself. He is described as “a little man who was stumping”. This allows me to imagine that because of his size and stature he is not a whole person; something is missing; a vital piece of the puzzle that forms a human. Hyde is also described as a “damned Juggernaut”. In my opinion this word was used as it can have many meanings- it could mean a “large, overpowering, destructive force”. This could signify the evil that is devouring Jekyll. Or it could mean- “anything requiring a cruel sacrifice”. I believe that Jekyll is cruelly sacrificing his goodness for the darkness which lies within not only him but every other human being.
There is a significant event that occurs within the story which gives us a sample of his true nature- “the man trampled calmly over the child’s body”. The very thought of this incident sends a shiver down my spine and evokes anger within me, the fact that he did it in a calm manner tells me that he has not one ounce of remorse, not for the girl nor her family and would not think twice about repeating his actions. Also, the fact that the incident occurred on “a black winter morning” tells me that Hyde has a black heart and is a cold, slippery character. I think because it is morning, which is when the sun rises, it signifies the rise of the hold that evil has over Jekyll.
The next reason why “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is typically Gothic is the weather”…and the first fog of the season. A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven”. The fact that it was the first fog of the season signifies Hyde’s fist evil deed in his season of corruption. Fog adds a definite eeriness to the scene, it corrupts our eyes, shrouds us in an unknown abyss. This is basically what is happening to Jekyll; he has been blanketed in a thick fog which has stolen his ability to differentiate between good and evil. However, weather in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is on the sparse side. However, the 1869 novel by Richard Dodderidge Blackmore- Lorna Doone includes a lot of Gothic weather:”violent rain” and “bitter frost”an example of a Gothic novel that uses a wide range of symbolic weather.
Stevenson incorporates Social criticisms into his novel. These are his own personal views in which he subtly criticises society. One of the issues that Stevenson makes an example of is that of child prostitution. Previously, I mentioned Hyde trampling over a young girls body, this event took place at “about three o’clock of a black winter morning”. This raises the question- what on earth would a young child be doing on the streets at that hour of the night?
Mary Shelley also incorporates social criticisms into her novel- “Frankenstein”. Everyone in the story judges the creation on his appearance, Shelley’s criticism is that we should judge people on their character, personality and values; not by any means their appearance.
Romance is also a common feature of a Gothic novel. For example in “The Modern Prometheus”, Frankenstein himself is in love- “I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her”. In “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” there is not a single wisp of romance, the novel is completely and utterly void of it. Yet another Gothic feature that “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” lacks.
In conclusion “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has some aspects of a Gothic novel, yet it lacks some small and yet some vital elements of one.