Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the perfect example of a split personality created to explore dark desires that were repressed. Edward Hyde was a character entirely created by Jekyll and of Jekyll for that explicit purpose.  The issue arises when, over time, Jekyll becomes less sure that it is Hyde who is the offshoot of Jekyll and fears it may be the other way around and Edward Hyde is the dominant personality.  Victorian men had quite a struggle establishing themselves; Steven Marcus states,     “ ‘An immense effort of self-discipline and self-denial, the ability to learn how to defer gratification indefinitely and to persist in deferral’ was required of any individual, man or woman, who wished to pursue self-advancement in Victorian Society” (147).

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as it was originally titled, follows the story of Mr. Utterson, Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer.  He is concerned about Jekyll, who has a very peculiar will stating that should he disappear without a trace everything is left to one Edward Hyde.  Hyde is a particularly unpleasant fellow. Utterson, after meeting him, says:

The lawyer stood awhile when Mr. Hyde had left him, the picture of disquietude. Then he began slowly to mount the street, pausing every step or two and putting his hand to his brow like a man in mental perplexity. The problem he was thus debating as he walked was one of a class that is rarely solved. Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing, and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him. (Stevenson 19)

Concerned for Jekyll, Utterson periodically checks in on him, but he is seemingly all right, at least until the night when another upper class gentleman is murdered by Hyde, seemingly without provocation.  Jekyll enters into a state of depressed seclusion as he desperately tries to fight for control of his own body with Hyde.  Eventually he runs out of the chemicals needed to transform him back into Jekyll, and at this point Hyde has become his primary personality.  After writing his farewells, he finally returns to Hyde and secludes himself in his office.  His servants, realizing his voice has changed, bring Utterson in to help. After beating down the door to Jekyll/Hyde’s office, he finds a dead Hyde who had committed suicide at the first sign of the forced entry.  He finds a letter revealing the whole situation, that is, that he was both Jekyll and Hyde, along with a record of all the thoughts and deeds of both men.

Jekyll’s potion transforms him into an evil brute unbound by social expectations, seeking only gratification and pleasure.  In the words of Clemens, “Jekyll over-values his public persona of upstanding, benevolent citizen to the extent that the fortress of identity on which he has come to rely for psychological protection and support soon become a ‘prisonhouse’ which he seeks to escape via his magical potion” (Clemens 148).

Prostitution was greatly frowned upon in Victorian England. Although it was common for men of the upper classes to visit lower class districts in search of prostitutes, it was considered improper for them to do so, or to discuss doing so, in proper upper and middle class society.  One journalist, writing about a house of prostitution, stated, “The references Stevenson makes to prostitution are not immediately obvious, but they are there.  For example, the woman who walked up to Hyde offering him “a box of lights” (Stevenson 104) was, as Clemens humorously put it, “offering quite another type of box” (Clemens 125).  Hyde’s response to the woman was to smash her across the face and send her running.  In another example, Enfield relays to Utterson a description of Hyde in his first great acts of violence: “He would be aware of the great field of lamps of a nocturnal city; then of the figure of a man swiftly; then of a child running from the doctor’s; and then these met, and that human Juggernaut trod the child down and passed on regardless of her screams…and at every street corner crush a child and leave her screaming” (Stevenson 15).  Enfield continues, “Then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see. It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut” (Stevenson 5).  The girl, after being raped, runs to her father who, quite upset, confronts Hyde; the father makes Hyde pay one hundred pounds as restitution, which apparently settles the matter.

Child prostitution was real, and Jekyll used his alter ego of Hyde to commit the evil acts which he could not do as Jekyll.  Clemens writes, “Hyde belongs to the ‘night side’ of London life with which many Victorian men were actually quite familiar.  However monstrous he may seem, he is the shadow self not only of Jekyll, but of Victorian society in general.  As the inferior double who embodies and exposes the societies moral deficiencies”  (Clemens 129).  Stevenson himself wrote that:

There was no harm in a voluptuary; and none…in what prurient fools call ‘immorality.’  The harm was in Jekyll, because he was a hypocrite – … but people are so filled full of folly and inverted lust, that they can think of nothing but sexuality.  The hypocrite let out the beast Hyde – who is no more sensual than another, but who is the essence of cruelty and malice, and selfishness and cowardice: and these are the diabolic in man…but the sexual field and the business field are perhaps the two best fitted for the display of cruelty and cowardice and selfishness.  That is what people see; and then they confound.  (Clemens 130)


The contemporary readers of Stevenson’s work were often unsettled by how close to home the criticisms of their double-life behavior hit.  For instance, a friend of Stevenson, John Addington Symonds, a writer and essayist himself, wrote him that the book was “dreadful because of a certain moral callousness, a want of sympathy, a shutting out of hope…it has left such a deeply painful impression on my heart that I do not know how I am ever to turn it again” (Clemens 131).  Symonds himself had struggled against homosexual inclinations, and that likely is why it the book had hit so close to home for him.  He, too, had a secret that he did not want to get out, a subconscious desire to take the form of some brute unrestrained by a moral compass and unrecognizable from one’s usual self, thus shirking all physical responsibility for one’s actions.  Dr. Jekyll writes that, after he has been out on the streets as Hyde:

I began to profit by the strange immunities of my position…Men have before hired bravos to transact their crimes, while their own person and reputation sat under shelter. I was the first that ever did so for his pleasures. I was the first that could thus plod in the public eye with a load of genial respectability, and in a moment, like a schoolboy, strip off these lendings and spring headlong into the sea of liberty. But for me, in my impenetrable mantle, the safety was complete. Think of it—I did not even exist! Let me but escape into my laboratory door, give me but a second or two to mix and swallow the draught that I had always standing ready; and whatever he had done, Edward Hyde would pass away like the stain of breath upon a mirror; and there in his stead, quietly at home, trimming the midnight lamp in his study, a man who could afford to laugh at suspicion, would be Henry Jekyll.  (Stevenson 90-91)

Subconsciously, Victorian men wanted what Hyde was: they wanted the ability Jekyll had to unshackle themselves from society’s expectations and release their repressed emotions in the pursuit of pleasure.  The realization of this desire was unsettling to the conscious mind, as was the inevitable conclusion to which it led that was shown in Stevenson’s work.  Hyde lost all reason and killed a man, and Jekyll had to live with that when he returned; in much the same way, Stevenson’s readers had to live with the realization of what they had already done and the fact that they did not know what they would do if they were unfettered by accountability.  The sheer hypocrisy of saying they were one person and yet being another was pointed out starkly for the contemporary upper and middle class readers.  These men were supposed to be good, proper, kindly gentlemen, either courting women properly or already married, but, for many, there were the specters of prostitution, rape and homosexuality hidden behind the veil of respectability.


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