‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by R L 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. My annotated comments, which 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 meaning.
an aged and beautiful gentleman with white hair … bowed and accosted the other with a very pretty manner of politeness … the moon shone on his face as he spoke [which] seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self-content
We learn about Sir Danvers Carew’s murder through the third person narrator’s account of the maid servant’s experience; the maid is not an intradiegetic narrator because she does not directly tell her story to another character. However, the narrator here is not omniscient either: for instance, he tells us that the maid ‘seems to be romantically given’. Also, we are only told what the maid sees of the murder; this narrative device, known as internal focus, enables Stevenson to create greater mystery by filtering the murder events solely through the maid’s observations.
Mr. Hyde … had in his hand a heavy cane, with which he was trifling; but he answered never a word, and seemed to listen with an ill-contained impatience. And then all of a sudden he broke out in a great flame of anger, stamping with his foot, brandishing the cane, and carrying on (as the maid described it) like a madman … with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot and hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered and the body jumped upon the roadway. At the horror of these sights and sounds, the maid fainted.
Whilst the ‘focus‘ is the maid’s, the actual language used to describe Carew’s murder is not faithful to that of a servant: ‘trifling’; ‘ill-contained impatience’; ‘flame of anger’; ‘ape-like fury’ are not the phrases of a girl who would have left her Victorian school by the age of ten.
Rather, the language has distinct echoes of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue‘ (1841) in which an Ourang-Outang, otherwise described ‘as the ape’, violently kills a mother and daughter with an anger that becomes ‘phrenzy’ when one victim’s ‘leg and arm were more or less shattered. Here, Hyde is said to be in an ‘ape-like fury’ as he hails down a metaphorical ‘storm of blows’ and ‘the bones were audibly shattered’ – note how this phrasing is reminiscent of Poe’s story. Furthermore, in both stories, the weapon is ‘heavy’ and the killer is said to be ‘a madman’ and the events are viewed with ‘horror’. Jekyll’s later admission that he came forth as ‘a fiend’ reminds us of the Rue Morgue ape’s ‘fiendish jabberings’.
Do these intertextual similarities have any significance? I venture to say yes, especially when considering the novella’s form. The age and language of gothic horror had firmly settled upon the Victorians for a number of reasons, including:
Darwin’s insights into human evolutionary history disrupted their core Christian beliefs;
The Victorian Compromise, the term which was used to describe the placid acceptance of social inequalities and the conflict between moral values and actual behaviour, had started to wear rather thin; the middle class view, that the rogue individual was an inexplicable occurrence in an otherwise cohesive milieu, became unsustainable; intra- and inter-personal contradictions began to be given greater attention;
Fin de siècle ‘devolution’ and degeneration ideas began to take hold whereby each and every person (specifically the male person, as far as literature was concerned!) might find himself overcome by his primal urges, irrespective of the consequences.
The moral insight to the character of Dr. Jekyll – and, by implication, to all Victorian men – is that, no matter how outwardly respectable, when inner nature comes forth at the ‘fatal crossroads’, it will not be as an ‘angel’ but as a ‘fiend’. Jekyll lamely hypothesises that things might have been different if he had had ‘approached [his] discovery in a more noble spirit’ (ch 10), but Stevenson ensures that there is no such possibility!
[the officer’s] eye lighted up with professional ambition.
Stevenson’s portrayal of the inspector is satirical: the inspector is not proactive; he simply hops into a cab along with Utterson, who also takes the lead when talking to Hyde’s servant. Newcomen believes that he has ‘nothing to do but wait for’ Hyde. His function in the novel is that of an incompetent second string and, in such manner, he precedes the inadequacies of Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes stories and Inspector Japp in the Hercule Poirot series.
Mr. Utterson had already quailed at the name of Hyde; but when the stick was laid before him, he could doubt no longer; broken and battered as it was, he recognised it for one that he had himself presented many years before to Henry Jekyll.
The symbolism here is unmistakeable: the word ‘presentation’ implies respect for moral rectitude and social standing; once broken, this has been destroyed and the cane now represents turpitude and the loss of virtue.
“Particularly small and particularly wicked-looking, is what the maid calls him,”
Hyde’s height has a meaningful contrast with Jekyll’s and, together with his loose-fitting clothes, which ‘hung formlessly on [his] shrunken limbs’ (ch 10), it represents immorality, depravity and primivitism et al. The significance of clothing imagery goes back, at the very least, to Biblical Times with people to being clothed in virtue or vice.
It was by this time about nine in the morning, and the first fog of the season. A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr. Utterson beheld a marvellous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths. The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful re-invasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer’s eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare. The thoughts of his mind, besides, were of the gloomiest dye
Much has been written about the symbolism and pathetic fallacy here. The suggestion of death appears in the ‘pall‘ covering the demised body of heaven; note the ‘mournful’ reinvasion and the homographic suggestion in ‘wreaths’. The fog does not hold complete sway over the city, which seems engaged in an fast moving battle between light and dark, daylight and twilight, good and evil. Utterson is in the midst of the battle between exhausted daylight and darkest night which is taking over in daytime. It appears that evil is in the ascendant, that the city in daytime is enduring a nightmare we understand why our investigator is darkly despondent; all these things point to evil soon gaining absolute supremacy.
the fog lifted a little and showed him a dingy street, a gin palace, a low French eating-house, a shop for the retail of penny numbers and twopenny salads, many ragged children huddled in the doorways, and many women of different nationalities passing out, key in hand, to have a morning glass; and the next moment the fog settled down again upon that part, as brown as umber, and cut him off from his blackguardly surroundings. This was the home of Henry Jekyll’s favourite; of a man who was heir to a quarter of a million sterling.
Hyde’s house is in this cheap and seedy setting of poverty and alcoholism. Utterson’s fears for Jekyll are brought to the fore by his ironic observation of the contrast between this setting and Hyde’s substantial, future inheritance.
An ivory-faced and silvery-haired old woman opened the door. She had an evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy; but her manners were excellent.
Entirely consistent that Hyde should have such a servant and one who rejoices in her schadenfreude of ‘odious joy’. She is evil by nature but she masks it by deception.
even the master of the servant-maid had only seen him twice; his family could nowhere be traced; he had never been photographed; and the few who could describe him differed widely, as common observers will. Only on one point, were they agreed; and that was the haunting sense of unexpressed deformity with which the fugitive impressed his beholders.
The unknown is psychologically far more frightening than the known. There are many examples of this in film, literature and human life. (Consider this darkly humorous ‘comedy of menace’ example from Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’: Davies, on entering a dark room with no light and having no matches, is terrified witless by Mick using a vacuum cleaner!)
Hyde is a man of both physical and metaphorical darkness; he is unidentifiable; he is unknown; he has no history;
‘there was added a curiosity as to his origin, his life, his fortune and status in the world.’ (ch 9)
he has no recognisable characteristic other than ‘deformity’. It is this that ‘haunts’ all those who come into contact with him, as if he were a ghost at the metaphorical feast of of wealthy Victorians, who enjoyed considerable prosperity due to the Industrial Revolution and laissez-faire economics with all its inherent injustices.
In ‘Strange Case’, the privileged few are epitomised by their appreciation of fine wine and are metonymically identified by their fine houses and expensive furnishings.
Hyde’s rooms which
were furnished with luxury and good taste. A closet was filled with wine; the plate was of silver, the napery elegant;
show that he shares these values and that he is part of the establishment which was immune to the harsh living conditions of the working class. The poor are shunned but they are also used by such patriarchal pillars of society as Enfield and Jekyll to satisfy their hidden desires. Hyde, therefore, is the nightmarish figure who, by right of birth, wealth and social position, turns up at the metaphorical feast of bon-viveurs; these gentlemen falsely believe they are entirely secure in their social clique, with their butlers and maids to run and maintain their houses, to answer the door and carry out errands. Consider Enfield’s bland, complacent and unashamed self-assurance of having come ‘from some place at the end of the world’ (ch 1).
The chapter ends powerfully with the reference to deformity which is an important motif in the story. See my notes on Chapter 9 but, for the moment let us consider Samantha Schalk (Miami University), who writes in her article on the nature of evil in Hyde:
By keeping people with disabilities in prisons, workhouses and freak shows Victorian society created a boundary between the “normal” and the “abnormal,” allowing those on the normal side to feel safe from the possible evil and monstrosity of the abnormal.
The horror of Hyde is all the greater because he is one of them. The hidden abnormal is the violent, homophonic ‘Hyde’ in our very midst. This is given considerable impact because Hyde actively impresses his ‘deformity’ on the ‘beholders’; this is their the sole point of agreement.
Stevenson further emphasises Hyde’s unsettling physical presence, in two ways (a) by placing it at the end of the chapter and (b) by giving a dramatic internal focal perspective of onlookers when previously he had used the more impersonal third person external focus, in chapter 2.
Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation (ch 2)
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