How Does the Author, Robert Louis Stevenson, Present Good and Evil in his Novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’?
The novel ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was written in the late 19th century (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson who first began to study engineering only with the aim of following his father’s footsteps. However, Stevenson who had not really wanted to study engineering, compromised with his father and decided to study law instead. Although he ‘passed advocate’ he did not practise law as he had already decided to become a writer. Following his dream, he chose to go to France to be in the company of some other artists, writers and painters. He later published volumes of writing which were regarded as some of his best. Immediately after Stevenson’s ‘inland voyage’ in 1876 he met his future wife, Fanny who changed the rest of his life. He was twenty-five years of age and she was a thirty-six years old independent American ‘new woman’ separated from her husband with two children. Two years later, Fanny decided to obtain a divorce from her husband and Stevenson set for California in order to be with Fanny. This was where he wrote his sensational novels.
The novel is set in the 19th century Victorian Era in “the nocturnal streets of London” when religion was more looked upon than science. However, the industrial revolution then increased the importance of science slowly pushing out religion. This novel falls into the genre of mystery and gothic horror. Gothic horror which often has nightmarish qualities and is usually based around the dark side of human nature is a genre which generally uses fantastic settings far removed from reality in order to make an uncomfortable comment about society. The novel ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelly was another famous gothic horror which influenced Stevenson as both novels are about arrogant creators (Jekyll and Dr. Frankenstein) who are destroyed by their creations (Hyde and the monster). The genre of the book is also science fiction. As Stevenson was influenced by Sir Charles Robert Darwin, a British scientist who laid the modern foundation of the evolution theory, he used quotes referring to animals which are less evolved creatures than man. Moreover, Stevenson was influenced by whose theory stated that everyone is made up of two or more conflicting personalities. During those times horror books were very uncommon and therefore, this book brought fear into the hearts of all those who read it. Many readers were surprised when Stevenson wrote this novel as there was a large contrast between ‘Treasure Island’, a story about people on an adventure and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, a Victorian gruesome gothic horror. The book reflected his two halves, the two contrasting sides of his soul, his Yin and Yang (Chinese symbol showing two sides of something: good and evil). The book is set on the duality of respectability, which is derived from Stevenson’s youth. The main themes of the book are the duality and conflict between good and evil. When Stevenson was young he lived in the new part of Edinburgh with respectable, pious, middle-aged men. From time to time, however, R.L. Stevenson went to the filth of brothels and shadiness. His character and life reflect Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Jekyll being the respected figure while Hyde is the evil dirty side of him. Many people during the Victorian times believed in physiognomy (the use of facial features to judge somebody’s character or temperament) and therefore Hyde would have been thought of as evil because of his appearance. Physiognomy was a pseudo science as we know that one’s appearance does not judge the character of that person. Charles Robert Darwin was becoming famous because of his theories of evolution and natural selection. Like several scientists before him, Darwin believed all the life on earth evolved over millions of years from a few common ancestors. Stevenson who was influenced by Darwin uses many descriptions of his characters to animal behaviour. For example, he refers to Hyde’s anger “with ape like fury” saying that Hyde is like a creature who has not fully evolved.