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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde



 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is perhaps one of the most famous examples of literature of the 'double' or 'doppelganger', in which an individual is either split into two or more contrasting personalities, or haunted by a 'shadow' figure who may or may not be a repressed or discarded part of himself. The novella can be read in a number of ways, and I would like us to focus on two of these in particular, psychological (and psychobiographical) readings, and social-historical readings. There is sufficient basis in the text to support both. In terms of psychological approaches it is significant that Stevenson has recorded the origins of the novel in a dream sequence, which formed the basis for the "Window scene" of Chapter 7: the dream involved Stevenson the dreamer having horrifying sight of a dreamer at an upper window, and it is significant that in reworking the dream into this novella Stevenson worked feverishly and in self-enforced solitude to complete it, rather like Dr Jekyll's self-imposed exile There is also much intriguing evidence from Stevenson's life (1850-1894). He was born into a "covenanting childhood", strictly presbyterian, the son of a strict clansman of the church of Scotland and a strictly Calvinist mother, in turn the daughter of a minister. Although Stevenson records that his childhood was happy, he did suffer from poor health, and was subject also to periods of melancholia. Dr Jekyll wasn't Stevenson's first sojourn into explorations of the 'double': he had explored the theme in 'Markheim' and the rejected 'The Travelling Companions', and less directly in The Master of Ballantrae, with its two contrasted and conflicting brothers. We shall return to this psychological reading later, but it goes without saying that, psychologically speaking, the text is remarkably profound in its exploration of the ethically directed 'ego' and the immoral or amoral 'other' represented by Hyde: there are also grounds for seeing the text as a diagnostic exploration of the failure to acknowledge the 'dark' or 'shadow' side in each individual. It is worth noting also that there is another 'pairing' in the novel, less dramatic but, in psychological terms, still significant, namely the pairing of Utterson and Enfield.
 Approached in social and historical terms Dr Jekyll proves just as interesting. David Punter, in The Literature of Terror raises a number of interesting possibilities, as we will see. At one level the novella can be seen as dramatising the contrast between middle class bourgeois repression of the 'darker' side, i.e., as a kind of venting of libidinal rebellion against the striving for middle class respectability: Hyde, in this sense, could represent the 'shadowy' otherness of' the working classes or proletariat. Alternatively, remembering that late nineteenth century Britain was, above all, an Imperialist culture, it is possible also to see the novella as dealing with the relationship between of Imperialist Master and Slave.
 We'll begin by looking at aspects of the novella in detail, focusing on particular issues where relevant, before moving outwards to wider perspectives:
  1. Like Dracula and The Turn of the Screw, Dr Jekyll uses multiple narration and epistolary modes of telling: how effective is this in providing an interpretative framework for the dramatic interest of the novella?

  1. The novella begins, also, with the relationship between Utterson and Enfield, and their walks together through London streets. Utterson is, by his own description, "austere with himself", unusually tolerant with everyone else, whereas Enfield is a man "about town". Do you find this a significant pairing, and would you draw any parallels with the Jekyll/Hyde pairing?

  1. How are Jekyll and Hyde presented, when seen through the eyes of others (we will return to Jekyll's description of himself and of Hyde)? Look particularly at Chapter II, where Utterson confronts Hyde, at Chapter V when Utterson confronts Jekyll, at Chapter VIII when Utterson and Poole burst in on Hyde, and at Chapter IX (Dr Lanyon's narration)., Try also to keep vivid memories of Spencer Tracey out of your mind as you answer these!

  1. The 'Window'. This is worth focusing on because this, in effect, is where the story began for Stevenson. What symbolic significance do you find at this moment, and how effectively do you feel it is rendered?

  1. Dr Jekyll's confession. This is the most significant chapter in the novel. What does Jekyll's confession reveal, both about Jekyll himself, and about Hyde? Note that Hyde is not "chemically produced", but is, according to Jekyll, a natural part of his own personality which has become dissociated. Does this carry wider social or psychological significances? What does Jekyll's narrative tell us about the nature of both personalities, and about the relationships between them. You might look particularly at Jekyll's account of the murder of the MP, and perhaps think also of the recent Michael Douglas film, Falling Down. There are, of course, profound psychological and ethical issues raised by this account. It is worth noting that Freud's theories were perceived to be so shocking because of the gauntlet they threw down to notions of "bourgeois respectability" and ethical bases of civilisation. Does this text also throw down a gauntlet, and if so, of what nature?

  1. Psychological readings. There is much that can be brought in from a psychological viewpoint, particularly a Freudian perspective. Hyde, it might be argued, represents the 'otherness' of the unconscious 'id', which invades the stability of the conscious 'ego' (Je Kill!). One of the most profound readings of the novel, I would argue, is Barbarah Hannah's, in Striving Towards Wholeness. Her argument is that Dr Jekyll shows a failure to integrate the sources of energy and will which become personified in Hyde: because Hyde (who had been a necessary part of Jekyll's whole psyche), is unacknowledged by Jekyll and, therefore, he becomes split off and relations between the two are antagonistic. Psychologically Jekyll, the conscious personality, must integrate Hyde (not the other way round) and she places great import on the psychological implications of this for reading not just the novella, but also Stevenson himself. The relationship between Utterson and Enfield is intentionally drawn, for it shows a healthier integration and relationship between potentially antagonistic elements. Hannah also makes the point that it is interesting that female characters and personalities play little part in the novella: normally, she argues, such a character or personality would play a mediating or intervening role in the relationship between 'ego' and 'shadow'.

(vii)David Punter provides a contrasting series of perspectives on the novella. I have reproduced here the whole of Punter's discussion of Dr Jekyll. How far do you agree with what he has to say, and how does his perspective contrast with (or rule out) purely psychological readings:

" Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde needs no introduction as the best-known Doppelganger story of them all. It follows on from an easily identifiable Gothic tradition, including Hogg's Confessions and Poe's 'William Wilson', both of which influenced Stevenson, yet it has captured the popular imagination more strongly than any of the others, feasibly partly because of its 'contemporary', metropolitan setting and detective-story trappings, but feasibly also because of a stranger phenomenon, its obvious connection with actual late Victorian fears about similarly untraceable murders, centred on the archetype of Jack the Ripper. It is interesting in passing to note that, while Jekyll and Hyde itself is not in any overt way concerned with the Gothic problem of the aristocracy, popular imagination nevertheless has had its way by tying the text in with this body of semi-legendary history which unmistakably aristocracy-oriented: the one thing nobody ever seems to have thought about Jack the Ripper was that, when unmasked, he might be someone working class or unknown. Jekyll and Hyde is, from one aspect, the record of a split personality, and the nature of the split is in its general outline one now familiar to a post-Freudian age, although one which Stevenson outlines with particular sensitivity: 'the worst of my faults', says Jekyll, describing his youth,

was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public. Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me, and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life. Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame. It was thus rather the exacting nature of my aspirations, than any particular degradation in my faults, that made me what I was, and, with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man's dual nature.

This is a very rich passage. One must, of course, be careful not to interpret it as the narrative voice, since it is part of Jekyll's own statement, and Jekyll is certainly remarkably pompous and possibly a self-deceiver. However, Jekyll's view seems to be that the split in his being has derived much less from the presence within his psyche of an uncontrollable, passionate self than from the force with which that self has been repressed according to the dictates of social convention. The original tendency of Jekyll's alter ego, so he claims, was by no means towards the vicious, but rather towards the 'loose', a neutral desire for certain kinds of personal freedom which has been repressed by the 'imperious' need not only to conform to, but also to stand as a public example of, strict virtue. Jekyll's problem, surely, is largely put as a social one, and one can interpret it in two connected ways: literally, as the problem of a member of a 'respectable', professional upper middle class, who is supposed to 'body forth' social virtue in his person and to eschew any behaviour, however harmless, which might tend to degrade that stance, and also metaphorically as the problem of a member of a 'master-race'. Jekyll's dificulties are those of the benevolent imperialist: they are not at all to do with the political problem of sanctioning brute force, but with the maintenance of dignity under adverse circumstances. It is strongly suggested that Hyde's behaviour is an urban version of 'going native'. The particular difficulties encountered by English imperialism in its decline were conditioned by the nature of the supremacy which had been asserted: not a simple racial supremacy, but one constantly seen as founded on moral superiority. If an empire based on a morality declines, what are the implications for the particular morality concerned? It is precisely Jekyll's 'high views' which produce morbidity in his relations with his own desires. Thus, of course, the name of his alter ego: it is the degree to which the doctor takes seriously his public responsibilities which determines the 'hidden-ness' of his desire for pleasure. Since the public man must be seen to be blameless, he must 'hide' his private nature, even to the extent of denying it be any part of himself. And although this is in one sense a problem locatable within a particular historical development, we can also sense in it echoes of older Gothic problems: it is, Jekyll claims, his 'aspirations' which render him particularly liable to psychic fragmentation, just as the younger Wringham's aspirations towards total purity caused his breakdown. But Jekyll's aspirations are of two kinds: they are moral and social aspirations, but they are also scientific aspirations, as in the case of Frankenstein. The great strength of Jekyll and Hyde lies in its attempt to connect the two more clearly even than Mary Shelley had done, and to show that Jekyll's familiar desire to 'make another man' stems from problems in the organisation of his own personality. Like Frankenstein and The Island of Dr Moreau, Jekyll and Hyde relies upon and even exploits public anxieties about scientific progress and about the direction of this progress if undertaken in the absence of moral guidance, but this aspect seems to be largely metaphorical. The scientific emphasis is very perfunctory; Jekyll himself slides over it, suggesting that details would only bore. What he does not slide over is his series of attempts to comprehend the precise nature of the relation between himself and Hyde, which Stevenson carefully avoids describing merely as a relation of opposites. Hyde is not Jekyll's opposite, but something within him: the fact that he is smaller than the doctor, a 'dwarf', demonstrates that he is only a part whereas Jekyll is a complex whole, and this is underlined in one of Stevenson's more startling insights: 'Jekyll had more than a father's interest; Hyde had more than a son's indifference' (Works, IV, 75). This, of course, was precisely the aspect of relationship which Mary Shelley suppressed in connection with Frankenstein and his monster, probably because such 'unnatural' creativity seemed too close to a parody of the divine. Stevenson admits to Hyde's status as a parodic 'son of God', but only at the expense of certain other authorial repressions, principally sexual. Not only does the relation between Jekyll and Hyde exclude women, the whole tale moves - like Dorian Gray and Dr Moreau in a world substantially composed of leisured bachelors, and even when Stevenson ostensibly tries to portray Hyde's tendency towards sexual excess and deviance, which could hardly not be at the root of Jekyll's fastidious disgust, he can get almost nothing on paper. Most of Hyde's nastiness is withheld: Stevenson deals with it merely in generalities, and whether this is because of Jekyll's revulsion or of a poverty in Stevenson's ability to imagine the sexually criminal remains obscure: 'into the details of the infamy at which I thus connived (for even now I can scarce grant that I committed it)', Jekyll says, 'I have no design of entering; I mean but to point out the warnings and the successive steps with which my chastisement approached' (Works, IV, 72). He does then proceed, however, to allude to one incident, which we have already been told about, when Hyde has been seen to meet a child at a street corner, and to have 'trampled calmly over the child's body and left her screaming on the ground'. 'It sounds nothing to hear', says Enfield, who is telling Utterson the story, 'but it was hellish to see' (Works, IV, 6). He is right: it does sound nothing to hear, and it is not even very easy to imagine. It lingers in the memory, but only because of its strangeness, which may have been Stevenson's purpose. It is, of course, symbolic: it is designed to show the inhumanity of Hyde where a more purposive crime would not. Hyde is described here as a kind of Juggernaut, and it is his 'thing-ness' which finally appalls Jekyll: 'this was the shocking thing; that the slime of the pit seemed to utter cries and voices; that the amorphous dust gesticulated and sinned; that what was dead, and had no shape, should usurp the of offices of life' (Works, I V, 83 ). Again, there is a problem here, a further reticulation of the Doppelganger structure, about the relation between Stevenson and Jekyll. It is reasonable that Jekyll should not want, or be able, to acknowledge Hyde as in any way human, and indeed that onlookers like Enfield should hold whatever opinion they please, but Stevenson himself appears to stop short of certain realisations. If it is indeed repression which has produced the Hyde personality, further denial of Hyde's claims can only result in an ascending scale of violence. And this, of course, is exactly what happens, but Stevenson shows no clear signs of knowing why. Jekyll's later attempts at repression compound Hyde's fury: 'my devil had been long caged, he came out roaring' (Works, IV, 76). There is an underlying pessimism in the book which results from Stevenson's difficulty in seeing any alternative structure for the psyche: once the beast is loose, it can resolve itself only in death. Jekyll rather feebly suggests at one point that, if he had been in a different frame of mind when he first took the drug, the second self thus released might have been very different: the prospect of an alternative Hyde, constructed of sweetness and light, is attractive but perhaps somewhat unrealistic. Briggs's work suggests that the issue of the relations between the human and the bestial which occurs in Stevenson, Wells, Stoker and later in such writers as Forster and Lawrence springs largely from the attempt to deal with Darwinian revelations about the nature of evolution. Thus Jekyll's transformation is a change of state of the most extreme kind: when he takes the drug, 'the most racking pangs succeeded: a grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death' (Works, IV, 68). This is the reversion of the species, the ever-present threat that, if evolution is a ladder, it may be possible to start moving down it. Not surprisingly, this threat cannot be named in the text: Jekyll says that he has brought on himself 'a punishment and a danger that I cannot name' (Works, IV, 37), and Hyde is constantly spoken of as possessing unexpressed deformities. As in much Gothic, there is a dialectical interplay here between the unspeakable and the methods of verification evidenced in the complexity of narrative structure, but post-Darwinian fears have given a new twist to the concept of degeneration. Early in the story, Utterson suggests that something unspoken from the past may be coming to claim Jekyll:

He was wild when he was young; a long while ago, to be sure; but in the law of God, there is no statute of limitations. Ah, it must be that; the ghost Or some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace; punishment coming, pede claudo, years after memory has forgotten and self-love condoned the fault. (Works, IV, 19)

But in the context of the tale, Utterson is, despite the encouraging pun in his name, an old-fashioned moralist, and his attempt to impose a conventional 'sins of the fathers' explanation fails. If Hyde represents a 'ghost' and a 'cancer', it is a general one: the absence of just limitations goes farther than Utterson cares to think. The human being may be the product of a primal miscegenation, a fundamentally unstable blending, which scientific or psychological accident may be able to part." (from The Literature of Terror)

 

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