A Victorian Jekyll, a primitive Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is my favorite piece we have read this semester. I found myself much more engaged in the story than in previous readings primarily because the story is so non-Victorian. At last, Stevenson’s tale is a tale of de-normalized and de-familiarized Victorian literary traditions. Stevenson’s use of irrational, magic-like conflicts and split personality conflicts opens a new world of topics for Victorian readers to explore. For me, I read Stevenson’s story as a rational reveal of human irregularities that Victorian culture tried so hard to subdue. Stevenson lets the reality of human nature triumph over the artificial rationality of Victorian life.

At the close of the novella I was particularly taken by Dr. Jekyll’s explanation of his hatred for his Hyde-self and Hyde’s hatred for his Jekyll-self. In this section, Stevenson exposes the duality of man, either mad or sane, that troubles the normalcy of morality. Dr. Jekyll explains his split hatred for Hyde, writing, “With Jekyll, it was a thing of vital instinct. He had now seen the full deformity of that creature that shared with him some of the phenomena of consciousness, and was co-heir with him to death” (69). Dr. Jekyll despises the “full deformity” of Hyde out of socialized “instinct.” The civilized half of Dr. Jekyll knows he must hate Hyde’s immoral impulses. This instinct drives Dr. Jekyll into madness due to the consciousness that half of his nature is bound “co-heir” to Hyde. Dr. Jekyll adds, “He thought of Hyde, for all of his energy of life, as of something not only hellish but inorganic.” Aware that Hyde is the “hellish” and ignorant in the landscape of Victorian society, Dr. Jekyll is disgusted by his self-identification with Hyde.

Dr. Jekyll cannot repress his Hyde-self. He concludes his description of Jekyll’s hatred for Hyde, writing, “Insurgent horror was knit closer to him than a wife, closer than an eye, lay caged in his flesh, where he heard it mutter and felt it struggle to be born; and at every hour of weakness, and in the confidence of slumber, prevailed against him, and deposed him out of life” (69). For Dr. Jekyll, Hyde’s horror is usurping his civility and tormenting him. Dr Jekyll is “deposed out of life” due to the conflict of his warring dual personality.

As for Dr. Jekyll’s explanation of Hyde’s hatred for Jekyll, he writes, “The hatred of Hyde for Jekyll, was of a different order. His terror of the gallows drove him continually to commit temporary suicide, and return to his subordinate station of a part instead of a person; but he loathed the necessity” (69).  Here, Dr. Jekyll introduces the role of fear that curbs Hyde’s complete usurping of Jekyll. Afraid of punishment, “the gallows,” Hyde commits “temporary suicide” by returning to his more normalized Jekyll-self. However, Hyde despises “the necessity” of being civil and refers to his non-primitive position as a “subordinate station” suggesting a feeling of inferiority.

Nevertheless, Dr. Jekyll defends Hyde’s hatred for Jekyll, stating, “But his love of life is wonderful; I go further: I, who sicken and freeze at the mere thought of him, when I recall the abjection and passion of this attachment, and when I know how he fears my power to cut him off by suicide, I find it in my heart to pity him” (69). Dr. Jekyll admires his Hyde-self’s “love of life” and fears the complete detachment of himself from Hyde. Aware that he controls his personality, Dr. Jekyll believes that Hyde fears being “cut off” or trumped by Jekyll. Ultimately, Dr. Jekyll’s pity for his Hyde-self suggests that he gravitates more toward his primal Hyde than his civil Jekyll. Through Dr. Jekyll’s account, Stevenson concludes his novella by disturbing Victorian standards of normalcy.

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1 Response to A Victorian Jekyll, a primitive Hyde

  1. Breanna Moret says:

    I think Charlotte is focusing on the weird and complicated nature of the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde. Are they actually different? Are they two sides of the same coin? Is their interaction a larger point about humanity and the fact that everyone has both a light and dark side within them? I think it’s possible that the story overall, though it may not seem Victorian, very much is between it’s directly dealing with this idea of what’s normal and “the other.” I think Stevenson may have framed his story in the context of magic and used potions to throw off the reader, make them uncomfortable, much like Professor Hensley does when he makes us write papers single spaced. By placing people outside of their comfort zone, you can get different responses and perspectives. Stevenson I think shows this with his characters, but I still got the impression that it was a distinctly Victorian piece of literature from both the subject matter and the way in which the narration is set up and the open-ended question that the reader is left with at the end of the novella. The reader is left to struggle with that just as Victorian people were left to struggle with society and its demands.

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