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‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a typical Gothic horror story in the way the novel is written and described. Some people may disagree with this statement because in the Cambridge guide to English literature, Gothic fiction is described as – a type of novel or romance popular in the late 18th and early 19th century and the word ‘Gothic’ had come to mean ‘wild’ ‘barbarous’ and ‘crude’. Gothic novels were usually set in the past and in foreign countries, they took place in monasteries, castles and dungeons.
Plots hinged on suspense and mystery often involving the supernatural. Having read the statement and also ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ some parts of the statement do not agree with the novel, for example, the novel is set in London and there are no castles or dungeons. Where as in Dracula by Bram Stoker and also Frankenstein by Mary Shelley are both set in foreign countries and also in mysterious locations – Dracula being set in a castle and Frankenstein in a laboratory.
To deal with human nature Stevenson discusses the ideas of Charles Darwin. Around the 19th century Charles Darwin began to write theories of animals and evolution, Stevenson was obviously influenced by these ideas and uses them to describe one of the main characters – Mr Hyde. Stevenson also mentions religion when he discusses the ideas of Christian and non-Christian aspects in the novel.
Stevenson uses lots of Gothic images, one of the first gothic parts of the novel is the trampling of the young girl. This scene is described as ‘a black winter morning’ with the word ‘black’ being very strong in that sentence because it makes the place seem evil and sends a shiver down your spine. The location is Gothic as it gives off a sense of darkness and fear. This is the part of the novel where religion is first mentioned, although it is not part of the Christian area of religion. Stevenson describes Hyde, as a ‘juggernaught’ when he tramples over the young girl – this is very strange considering ‘juggernaught’ was something associated with the Hindu religion.
Another Gothic feature in the novel is the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, two quotations which are Gothic are ‘The bones audibly crunching’ and ‘The body jumped upon the roadway.’ These sentences are quite interesting in the way they are described, first the crunching is a good use of an onomatopoeia by Stevenson, as the word ‘crunching’ is very disturbing and you can almost hear the bones crunching in your head. The second makes you think of a dead body jumping around on the road. This is Gothic because the act that Hyde commits is an evil one, and where it actually takes place is a mysterious and strange location. The meeting of the two ‘men’ also has an air of mystery surrounding it, as they meet in the dead of night when no one else is around. Stevenson uses the ideas of Darwin to write his description of Hyde, in the novel Hyde is described as an ape ‘…..with ape like fury he clubbed him to the earth.’
A Gothic location is a place where it is usually dark, dingy and foggy – a sinister place that you really would not like to be. For example Dracula’s castle is a gothic location, because it is old and also because it is dark and mysterious. Many of the locations in the novel are gothic, one of them being the description of Hyde’s house and the street outside. The novel quotes ‘the fog lifted a little and showed him a dingy street.’ Then in the same chapter Stevenson describes the front of the dissecting room as a ‘Sinister block of building’ and ‘two storey high, no window.’ This house seems mysterious by the way it has no window and it leaves you wondering right from the very start of the novel what is actually inside that building.
One of the strange things that I noticed when reading the novel is the description of the surrounding area when Dr Jekyll is there towards the end of the book, the novel quotes ‘ Fine clear January day, wet under foot where the frost had melted….,and the Regents park was full of winter chirrupings and sweet with spring odours.’ This is obviously not Gothic at all but it seems unusual that this is the only location in the novel, which is non-Gothic. It seems strange that Stevenson has decided to change from Gothic into something completely different, which really has no real connection to the story, itself.
Human nature features in a number of areas in the novel. One of them is the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, besides being Gothic this has something to say about human nature as well. When Hyde begins to go mad and he kills Carew, the novel quotes ‘all of a sudden, he broke out in a great flame of anger.’ Here Stevenson is using the element of madness and the ideas of schizophrenia, which was being researched around the 19th century. Stevenson also uses Darwin’s theories of evolution to describe Hyde as inhuman, ‘with ape-like fury.’ Here the message that Stevenson is trying to give about human nature is that humans have the will and the power to kill something and each other.
Stevenson also looks at the idea of split personalities; nearly every character has one. Dr Jekyll is the best example because his character is full of good and evil, when he turns into Hyde he is just pure evil. So when Jekyll loses control he changes from himself into Hyde. Stevenson is saying here that evil is more powerful than good in humans and that is why Hyde overpowers Jekyll, because he is pure evil.
In the opening chapter of the novel when Hyde is first mentioned when he tramples over that girl ‘….the man trampled calmly over the child’s body…’ then Hyde decides to pay ï¿½100, ‘we screwed him up to one hundred pounds.’ Hyde does this instead of apologising to keep the family quiet. This is another example of human nature where some people – including Hyde – try to pay their way out of trouble.
Overall, I feel what Stevenson is trying to say about human nature is that all humans have vices such as drinking and gambling. The creation of Hyde allows Jekyll to do what he wants, when he wants and hopefully he will not get caught. Jekyll does not want to have his reputation ruined, so that is why he creates Hyde so he can do all these things. Stevenson is saying that humans have pessimistic views so they will act evil to get away with something.
In conclusion, I think that this novel is a Gothic horror story, but also does have something to say about human nature. Stevenson does mention human nature in the novel as I have discussed previously, for example the trampling of the girl and the murder of Danvers Carew. Of course, the novel could not have discussed human nature if Stevenson’s wife, Fanny had not been involved. In Jenni Calder’s introduction to ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,’ Calder writes ‘ Stevenson dreamt the essentials of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.’ ‘ It was initially the Gothic aspect of the story that excited him….’ ‘ Fanny didn’t like it, she felt there was more potential for more than just a mere horror story, that it might have something to say about human nature.’ Overall, the human nature aspect of the novel, makes the story more interesting.