‘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.
all intelligent, reputable men and all judges of good wine;
Wine is a motif in the novel. Firstly, a love of good wine is a signifier of the finer sensibilities of the bourgoisie (the conventional, respectable middle class). Lanyon is a picture of contentment when alone with his wine and wine is an indicator of Hyde’s good taste. A ‘particular old wine’ stands companionably between Utterson and Guest while they try to unravel the mystery. It is even implied that a venerated wine will help to remove evil from the city:
‘The glow of hot autumn afternoons on hillside vineyards was ready to be set free and to disperse the fogs of London.’
When Poole visits Utterson to recount recent disturbing events, he leaves the wine ‘untasted on his knee’ and it remains untasted – this is a measure of the seriousness and urgency.
Finally, Jekyll writes that his new-found wickedness delighted him ‘like wine’ by liberating him. Ironically, good wine, at the beginning of the novella, facilitates ‘something eminently human’ to shine from Utterson. Might one therefore say that the symbolic actions of drinking wine and drinking the potion are used to draw a further contrast what is acceptable practice in society and what is not? Note the deluded Jekyll implicitly seeks to justify his actions by comparing one to the other. You may wish to compare Jekyll with Frankenstein: both ambitious men of science who obsessively seek to break into new realms.
Dr. Jekyll … a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness.
In the nineteenth century there was a popular belief that one could identify a person’s nature from his/her external appearance. Faces and heads were regarded as being particularly useful in divining a person’s character and this pseudo science has the name ‘physiognomony’. People have done this for centuries and still can’t help but judge others from their physical attributes. Dr Jekyll’s physical appearance is contrasted with Mr Hyde’s. He is a substantial man, also having a ‘large handsome face’ and later, in the words of Poole, is said to have a hand which ‘was professional in shape and size: it was large, firm, white, and comely.’ Stevenson provides Dr. Jekyll with refined physical attributes with view to directly contrasting them with the troglodytic appearance of Mr. Hyde. He taps into the association in the common mind that attractive features indicate goodness, integrity, kindness etc whereas disability, disfiguration, malapportionment indicate the criminal and untrustworthy.
Even so, Jekyll is given an unexpected ‘slyish cast’ to suggest a deceitful nature. Whether he is deceiving others, himself or both, is for the reader to decide but his character is not entirely good and he is not to be entirely trusted. One must ask whether he is always a reliable narrator in his accounts of events. The tension is thereby raised, although perhaps not on first reading.
“you are unfortunate in such a client. I never saw a man so distressed as you were by my will; unless it were that hide-bound pedant, Lanyon, at what he called my scientific heresies. Oh, I know he’s a good fellow—you needn’t frown—an excellent fellow, and I always mean to see more of him; but a hide-bound pedant for all that; an ignorant, blatant pedant. I was never more disappointed in any man than Lanyon.”
Jekyll praises Lanyon as being ‘an excellent fellow’; he may mean to see more of him but significantly he never does. One might reasonably claim that Jekyll’s guilt leads him lash out at Lanyon – instead of looking to himself. ‘Hidebound’ originates from starving cattle being only covered with a thin layer of skin to hold them together; there is no flesh, no muscle, no sinew, no substance underneath. Jekyll is graphically saying that Lanyon is encased in society’s conventional attitudes, without having any actual independent ideas of his own; what a wonderful metaphor that is! Repetition of ‘pedant’ adds to the scathing criticism.
The large handsome face of Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes. “I do not care to hear more,” said he. “This is a matter I thought we had agreed to drop.”
Here, the physical description and dialogue help us to assess Jekyll’s frame of mind. His ‘pale lips, the sudden ‘blackness round his eyes’ and his curtness all increase the sense of mystery. He seems to be in shock, with all his blood draining from his face, and the abrupt reply shows that his manners have taken a decided turn for the worse; the distinct lack of cordiality shows that he will not swerve from his course; here is a very determined man and one who will not have his actions questioned by anyone.
my position is a very strange—a very strange one.
Perceptive! He does not understand the nature of his circumstances, despite knowing what they are. He says that they are ‘not as bad as’ Utterson thinks but they are worse – and they are not his alone. He believes that he ‘can be rid of Mr. Hyde’ whenever he wishes. However, he does not recognise his own ‘incoherency’ which suggests his deep psychological alienation from the reasoning powers of homo sapiens; he cannot articulate because he has no wish to forgo his base, primitive urges. This is the unfathomable duality of human beings: ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is an allegory of reason and emotion, of good and evil, of the mind and the body, all existing unharmoniously within one body. The Victorian reader would probably have thought about duality and Darwin. For more on this see my page on Mr Hyde
On the other hand, the modern reader will think of Freud: see my commentary in chapter 1.
For more of my pages on ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, please hover your cursor over the Stevenson drop-down menu at the top of the page.
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