‘The Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
Key Moments and Extracts
Here are some more extracts, usually in the order that they appear in the text; they are printed in black with quotes, for discussion and analysis, being underlined. My text annotations, which comment explain, interpret and analyse, are in blue. I deal with themes, characterisation, tone, authorial purpose and context, as well as how the text’s form, structure and language create tension and meaning. You will also find character profiles on the site.
There [Utterson] opened his safe, took from the most private part of it a document endorsed on the envelope as Dr. Jekyll’s Will, and sat down with a clouded brow to study its contents.
In chapter 1, Richard Enfield narrates the strange events and brought up the possibility of Dr Jekyll being blackmailed. He apologised for gossiping but Utterson, without him realising that Utterson has quietly encouraged him to do so. On being told the name, ‘Hyde’, Utterson does not register any knowledge of him; however, he now knows that Mr. Hyde can get a cheque for a substantial sum from Dr. Jekyll, in the middle of the night, and that he has a key to the building which is ’round the corner’ from Dr Jekyll’s house. One might note that Stevenson implies Jekyll’s guilt without our realising it, by using the name ‘Je kyll’. The mystery has begun and Stevenson now takes it further.
Without the reader knowing why, Utterson is said to be in ‘sombre spirits’ and have a ‘clouded brow’. This writing technique is a cataphoric structural device (known as cataphoric referencing) whereby Utterson’s concerns precede our knowing the reason for them; the result is an increase in anticipation and, thereby, in tension.
The Will is the means that Stevenson uses to deepen the mystery and convey the reader to the next narrative stage.
This document had long been the lawyer’s eyesore. It offended him both as a lawyer and as a lover of the sane and customary sides of life, to whom the fanciful was the immodest. And hitherto it was his ignorance of Mr. Hyde that had swelled his indignation; now, by a sudden turn, it was his knowledge. It was already bad enough when the name was but a name of which he could learn no more. It was worse when it began to be clothed upon with detestable attributes; and out of the shifting, insubstantial mists that had so long baffled his eye, there leaped up the sudden, definite presentment of a fiend.
Utterson’s earlier ‘ignorance’ (which we might interpret as his innocence) is contrasted with his later ‘knowledge’ of evil, of the ‘fiend’; here are allusions to Genesis chapter 3, which relates the story of The Fall: like Adam and Eve, Utterson is now ‘clothed’ with ‘detestable attributes’, i.e. in the knowledge of evil; evil rises out of the baffling ‘mists’ of ignorance just as the symbolic fog of London hides ‘a fiend’ (an evil spirit) from being seen clearly. The theme of good versus evil is enriched by Stevenson’s use of The Old Testament’s myth and language.
Lanyon: “it is more than ten years since Henry Jekyll became too fanciful for me. He began to go wrong, wrong in mind; and though of course I continue to take an interest in him for old sake’s sake, as they say, I see and I have seen devilish little of the man. Such unscientific balderdash,” added the doctor, flushing suddenly purple, “would have estranged Damon and Pythias.”
Lanyon’s own speech inadvertently reflects the theme: ironically, he does not know that his colloquial expression of seeing ‘devilish little of the man’ is due to the devilish side of Jekyll determining that very situation. Utterson regards the ‘fanciful’ as the ‘immodest’ because he is a conservative (with a small ‘c’), who wishes only to tread the paths which are ‘customary’, but Lanyon uses the same word ‘fanciful’ to say Jekyll is being unrealistic. The repetition of ‘wrong’ and the derogative term ‘scientific balderdash’ together emphasise the difference between the doctors: Jekyll is in the mould of Frankenstein who obsessively pursues his scientific research; whereas Stevenson uses Lanyon to present the views and set ways of the scientific establishment. At this stage in the novel, the reader cannot help but wonder what Jekyll is doing that arouses so much venom. Stevenson creates a deepening sense of mystery: the reader hears of events related by outsiders to the core Jekyll/Hyde action, who do not know the whole truth. Later, we become aware of more irony in our discovery that Jekyll is onto a scientific breakthrough (of sorts!).
He would be aware of the great field of lamps of a nocturnal city; then of the figure of a man walking 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. Or else he would see a room in a rich house, where his friend lay asleep, dreaming and smiling at his dreams; and then the door of that room would be opened, the curtains of the bed plucked apart, the sleeper recalled, and lo! there would stand by his side a figure to whom power was given, and even at that dead hour, he must rise and do its bidding. The figure in these two phases haunted the lawyer all night; and if at any time he dozed over, it was but to see it glide more stealthily through sleeping houses, or move the more swiftly and still the more swiftly, even to dizziness, through wider labyrinths of lamplighted city, and at every street-corner crush a child and leave her screaming. And still the figure had no face by which he might know it; even in his dreams, it had no face, or one that baffled him and melted before his eyes;
Dreams played a part in the the story’s genesis. Mrs Stevenson tells of her husband complaining that she had woken him when he was ‘dreaming a fine bogey tale’ and ‘the powder … he couldn’t eliminate because it was part of the dream’.
In the extract above, we have Utterson being haunted by dreams. The room is symbolically ‘dark’ and curtained’, and the scenes are revealed to Utterson on a ‘scroll of lighted pictures – i.e. a linear zoetrope – which become all the more alarming because of the medium’s movement and immediacy.
“If he be Mr. Hyde,” he had thought, “I shall be Mr. Seek.”
Stevenson allows Utterson to express some dry humour, here. He is also, however, drawing attention to how important names are, in the novella. Utterson utters on i.e. speaks about. Poole has the same surname as Grace Poole in ‘Jane Eyre’; Jekyll has a homophonic (sic) suggestion of jackal (an animal associated with magic, witchery, death and evil spirits); Stevenson conveys in the name ‘Hyde’ that sense of the hidden and secret urges in human beings.
By ten o’clock, when the shops were closed, the by-street was very solitary and, in spite of the low growl of London from all round, very silent. Small sounds carried far; domestic sounds out of the houses were clearly audible on either side of the roadway; and the rumour of the approach of any passenger preceded him by a long time. Mr. Utterson had been some minutes at his post, when he was aware of an odd, light footstep drawing near.
Stevenson brings an uneasy impression of threat, which at first is difficult to identify. After all, shops are often closed and streets can be very quiet without us becoming concerned. Still the cumulative effect is palpable: no-one is out and about. The ‘by-street’ is away from the main thoroughfare of human activity; it is ‘very solitary’ and ‘silent’;there is an intimidating wild animal growl from the city; an unidentified pedestrian can be heard from some distance and there is something not human about the footstep. The tension is built up.
Mr. Hyde shrank back with a hissing intake of the breath.
God bless me, the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say? or can it be the old story of Dr. Fell? or is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent? The last, I think; for, O my poor old Harry Jekyll, if ever I read Satan’s signature upon a face, it is on that of your new friend.”
As well as perhaps simply expressing surprise, Utterson is seeking God’s protection angainst the alliterated ‘hardly human’ manifestation. He feels there are three possibilities that may account for Hyde and he has three questions. The first is asking whether Hyde comes from the Darwinian past when our ancestors were neolithic primitives. The second asks whether there is simply something he does not like about Hyde, in the way that Thomas Brown did not like Dr. Fell. The third alternative, ‘the last’, is his preferred choice: there is a ‘foul soul’ that breathes through and changes the clay from which he was created. (Job says to God ‘thou hast made me as the clay’. (Job 10:9))
The result is expressed in the alliteration ‘Satan’s signature’, which is a powerful metaphor: it at once suggets Satan owns the man as well as revealing the unmistakeable signs of evil which change the original clay material that God first worked to produce Adam. Through these questions and the preferred answer, we see that Utterson is therefore neither a scientific ‘darwinian’ nor a witty libertine, as Brown was, but a man of faith. The developments are therefore all the more frightening because Utterson, the rational man, decides pure evil has created that ‘haunting sense of unexpressed deformity’ (ch 4), which the servants all see. This evil haunts Utterson, in his dreams, and the very streets of London, in the darkness of the night.
Jekyll’s house: Round the corner from the by-street, there was a square of ancient, handsome houses, now for the most part decayed from their high estate and let in flats and chambers to all sorts and conditions of men: map-engravers, architects, shady lawyers, and the agents of obscure enterprises. One house, however, second from the corner, was still occupied entire; and at the door of this, which wore a great air of wealth and comfort, though it was now plunged in darkness except for the fan-light, Mr. Utterson stopped and knocked. A well-dressed, elderly servant opened the door.
Jekyll living in a once prosperous area in an ‘ancient handsome houses’ is a metaphor for his present state of affairs: whilst still having ‘a great air’ of respectability, he is now alarmingly ‘plunged in darkness’ because his moral substance has ‘decayed’; One might usefully note the contrast between Jekyll and Hyde’s servants.
“my mind misgives me he is in deep waters! 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. Ay, it must be that; the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace: punishment coming, PEDE CLAUDO, years after memory has forgotten and self-love condoned the fault.”
Expressed here is society’s counter to ‘complete moral insensibility’. The idea is that divine retribution for one’s sins is inexorable (unstoppable) and will take such forms as being haunted by one’s past or having a malignant growth in the mind. Either way, the erring human is followed by the slow-moving personification of injustice remaining unpunished, which will eventually catch up. The formality of the ancient Latin phrasing ‘PEDE CLAUDO’ gives the idea greater power and a greater sense of inevitability. Also note the graphological use of capitals or italics, depending on the publication.
“This Master Hyde, if he were studied,” thought he, “must have secrets of his own; black secrets, by the look of him; secrets compared to which poor Jekyll’s worst would be like sunshine. Things cannot continue as they are. It turns me cold to think of this creature stealing like a thief to Harry’s bedside; poor Harry, what a wakening!
We may reasonably ask why Utterson thinks that Hyde would go to Jekyll’s bedside. Is Stevenson is implying that Utterson thinks Jekyll is in a homosexual relationship with Hyde and that this is the basis for the terms of the Will and blackmail? Jekyll, on being given the chance to speak openly and without censure, says, ”it isn’t what you fancy [i.e. imagine]; it is not as bad as that.” The depth of Utterson’s character is developed though his specified fears as well as through that unexpressed one. Eight years after the novella was published, in 1894, Alfred Lord Douglas writes of a homosexual relationship as ‘The love that dare not speak its name’, in his poem ‘Two Loves‘. In his dream, Utterson sees a figure entering Jekyll’s bedroom and drawing open the bed’s curtains. This is horror of a malignant visitor at the very moment that you are at your most vulnerable. But it is also part sexual fantasy? In a similar vein, one might reasonably wonder why Carew ‘politely accosted’ Hyde on a foggy night, and what he said that suddenly drove Hyde into a ‘flame of anger’. It is very difficult to assess Stevenson’s conscious or subconscious intentions but the modern reader will draw his/her own conclusions – I just ask that you support them well with textual and sound contextual evidence,
Note the effect of contrasts such as light and dark, black and sunshine, day and night, daylight and darkness etc etc. Be aware that ‘creature’ and ‘cold’ are textual motifs and need to be addressed carefully: creature words, which include ‘rat’, ‘ape’ and ‘monkey’, suggest ruthless and unrestrained self-interest; cold words, including ‘icy’, ‘froze’, ‘chill’, ‘cool’ ‘coolly’and ‘coolness’, create a sense of the horror of Hyde and everything associated with him metonymically.
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