The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Discussion as an example of Gothic Fiction and as a critique of Victorian society.
The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Discussion as an example of Gothic Fiction and as a critique of Victorian society.
This book was written at a time of change in the world of fiction as a new form of gothic literature emerged. Fin de Siecle was a new type of New Gothic that had elements that differed from previous gothic stories. Stevenson’s story is based around various shards of the gothic and is mainly focused on exposing the “duality of man” and his struggle to hide it from the outside world. The symbolism of Jekyll and Hyde is truly extended to all with differing parts in all of us. It was not a new idea as it had been seen in the classic example of a good and bad guardian, a devil on one shoulder and an angel on another, and also in gothic literature before it, such as Frankenstein with the duelling personalities of Frankenstein and the monster, creator and creation which is easily comparable with the roles of Jekyll and Hyde, “. Stevenson had his influences apart from classic novels, his past had a tremendous affect on this novella as the language, used by Jekyll in particular is similar to Stevenson with possible links between the two, gives the reader an insight into his mind. His Calvinistic upbringing has a bearing on the way Jekyll tries to describe Hyde in his final statement. We get a lexical set of words like “hellish but inorganic”, “That child of Hell” and “an ordinary secret sinner”. Stevenson was strictly brought up believing that good people went to heaven and sinners went to burn in hell, and the idea of 2 different sets of people with a divide between them stuck in his mind throughout his life. We can see how the idea intrigued him in this story with Jekyll representing the more innocent, pure side and Hyde becoming the evil, “bestial” side of man.
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Another part of his childhood which influenced his writing was of the stories were legends he heard of from growing up in middle class Edinburgh. Tales of Burke and Hare simply fed his imagination and also affected his dreams. These stories of perfectly normal people having a secret life locked in a cupboard evidently had a huge impact on Stevenson as the image of concealment and a double life is a huge part of the story, Jekyll’s struggle to hide his creation from the world, “Jekyll was now my city of refuge; let but Hyde peep out an instant, and the hands of all men would be raised to take and slay him”. As Stevenson added a new dimension to Gothic literature he reinforced his story with another genre, the detective novel. From the outset of the book we are introduced to several classic elements of the genre. The solitary narrator that is Utterson who takes the role of the detective, and then this mysterious house with its peculiar entry, “Did you ever remark that door?”, which is followed by the entry of the classic gothic figure, a sinister “Juggernaut” who immediately invokes a disgust in all whom he meets, “I saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with the desire to kill him”. This helps the reader identify who the villain of the story is, but may also be attack on society’s preconception of judging people simply on their appearances as already he is described with anger within the first instance of his description and this continues throughout the book, “an imprint of deformity and decay”.
This novel was also quite relevant at the time of its publishing which happened at the same time as the murders of the infamous Jack the Ripper. This killer obsessed the city of London and the effect of this novel on the people was seen when people gave the police hints that it could have been Mr Hyde. The description given matched the profile of someone suspicious, “the hand that lay on my knee was corded and hairy”, and “the brute that slept within me”. In the story the vivid description from the onlooker as Hyde brutally murdered Sir Danvers Carew would have struck even more fear into someone reading the book at this time in Victorian society.
One of the characteristics of gothic literature is that it is “challenging particular aspects of capitalist society” and Stevenson’s story appears to me as a subtle attack on the middle classes. He grew up in these and knows all about the concealment and deceit of the duplicitous among society. Jekyll believes himself to be in high society, ”endowed besides with excellent parts,…, with every guarantee of an honourable and distinguished future”. Apart from more similarities with Frankenstein, we can also see how Jekyll sees himself, and it is interesting that the doctor who already has a vast fortune chooses to gamble with his life whereas the normal, less well endowed people, like Poole, do everything to try and save him. I don’t believe Stevenson is saying that the wealthy and rich are mad but that knowledge and money and dreams of fame and recognition can corrupt a good man. We know Jekyll has aspirations of fame, “my imperious desire to carry my head high”. We know that historical events, such as the French Revolution, would have an effect on the lower classes and perhaps this is the reason that Jekyll is a powerful and successful doctor and not some average, doctor of the people.
It is common knowledge that he had troubles with his father and he joined an organisation, which “disregarded everything our parents taught us”. The relationship between Jekyll and Hyde is similar to Stevenson and his father, and Jekyll’s relationship with the outside world is also like Stevenson’s. In some ways he is portraying himself as the lead character and perhaps the character of Hyde is in fact a personification of his illness that kept him bedridden for a long time. The main force behind this book is the duality of men but this battle raging inside him may also have influenced his story and given Hyde a more disgusting, exaggerated image, “lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pllor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde.”