‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is a novella that was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in the late Victorian period. It was published in 1886. The novella tells the story of a prominent doctor (Dr. Jekyll) who conducts a scientific experiment in which he compounds a certain mixture. He consumes this and transforms into an ugly, repulsive creature (Mr. Hyde), representing the pure evil that exists within him
When this book was published it caused a lot of controversy as Mr Hyde resembled an ape-like human. This scared a lot of the Victorian people as Darwin had just published his book on human evolution saying we are descendents from apes, so it made people rather anxious. It was because nearly everyone believed in God and they had never heard such a thing so it came as a shock. Not only that but, this was around the time of ‘Jack the Ripper’. He was a mass murderer that killed prostitutes in the Soho area of London without ever getting caught. This frightened them as well because in the book Mr Hyde murders a famous MP called Sir Danvers Carew brutally on the streets of London in the night.
In the book Stevenson presents the public image of each character differently. This is good as it gives a kind of contrast between them. First of all Dr Jekyll is presented as a highly recommended, nice, professional and kind man. However, when behind closed doors, he seemed to be rather mysterious and in a sense depressed. I think this because he has giving Mr Utterson a will which says everything should go to his good friend Edward Hyde, “In disappearance or unexplained absence for any period exceeding three calendar months” Unexpectedly he is said to be “fanciful” by Dr Lanyon, a fellow doctor.
Mr Hyde is presented as a mysterious character that has something about him which makes the public feel scared and on edge when around him. He’s the same really throughout the novel as he always seems to be up to something bad. He is once said to be “like some damned Juggernaut.” This is because he is seen trampling over a girl in the street. I think this is a great description as gorillas are a bit like juggernauts. He is also said to have a “deformity without any nameable malformation”. That basically means that there is something about him that makes he deformed but there’s nothing really visible. However the family of child thought the same, they had taken a loathing to Hyde.
Then there’s Mr Utterson. A very to him self type lawyer who is always there for Dr Jekyll and is portrayed as a really nice friendly character but as the book says still “a man of a rugged countenance”. He also doesn’t help in the investigation into Sir Danvers Carew’s murder as he wants to keep Jekyll from been a suspect as he cares for his reputation.
Not only that, but at the beginning of the novel it is quoted that he “drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages.” This shows that although in the public eye he is a top class lawyer, at home he acts as if he were a common person by drinking gin which he doesn’t like, rather then the expensive wine he could afford. He does this because he doesn’t think he deserves the wine. Its quotes “He was austere with himself”. That basically means self-disciplined and severely moral.
Finally there is Mr Enfield whom shares a great bond with Mr Utterson. He’s the character who seems to know a lot about the city and the people in the area. It quotes him to be “the well-known man about town”. He is also the type of person that you would like at your party. However he is said to have been “coming back from some place at the end of the world2 at 3 o’clock in the morning. This could mean he has been doing something bad which no one knows about. This links in with human nature as he could be up to no good and he’s not telling anyone about it, which does happen in everyday life.
There are also a handful of minor characters in the novel. One of the minor characters is the MP Sir Danvers Carew. He is a well known MP who gives off a sense of innocence. When Mr Hyde murders him, it makes it seem much worse than it actually is. This is because Sir Danvers is a really old, gentle, loveable person who hasn’t done anything to deserve getting killed off. I also think it shows that Hyde’s getting stronger and taking over Jekyll. Another minor character is the police officer. The police officer is a greedy character who is only bothered about himself. After he finds out that Sir Danvers Carew has been murdered he all of a sudden becomes interested. It quotes “his eye lighted up with professional ambition”.
All he is bothered about is getting the credit for solving this case as he wants to be well known and thought of. Another minor character that doesn’t really get mentioned is Hyde’s mid. We get told that she is “An ivory-faced and silvery-haired old woman”. From this we assume she is a lovely old character. However she seems to be very interested in gossip as she keeps asking the Inspector questions, such as” He is in trouble! What has he done?” Again you could say that it links in with human nature because she is really nice but is a bit of a gossip which isn’t a good thing.
The descriptions giving about London in this novel fit in with what Stevenson is saying about human nature quite well. The settings include Jekyll’s fine home in a formerly grand neighborhood which was now in decay and Dr Lanyon’s comfortable home in Cavendish Square, where many distinguished doctors had their houses and offices. London is described with “A fog rolled over the city in the small hours”. This sets a rather spooky atmosphere for what is about to take place. It links in quite well as in our lives as if we were in a city in the early hours with fog about we would normally be spooked as it’s mysterious and you don’t know what could be lurking in the streets.
A good example is the street which Dr Jekyll lives on. It is quoted as a street which “drove a thriving trade on the week-days” and which is always full of life. However being a really nice street, there is a scruffy old tattered door which stands out from the rest of the street. It symbolizes quite a lot as it is a bad thing in something really nice and that’s what Stevenson has tried to say throughout the novel. It also links in with Hyde as it is the door which he uses and he is portrayed as a bad character , so he uses the bad door.
Then there is Soho, the bad part of London. This is where Mr Hyde hangs about with all the down an outs. It is scruffy, dark, cramped and smelly and is full of drunks and prostitutes. This is also the area in which Jack the Ripper murdered around. It is quoted to have “Muddy ways, and slatternly passengers”. This backs the idea of it being a dark mysterious place, as muddy ways means it’s dodgy and bad things go on there. However London its self isn’t bad, its really just saying even the nicest places have bad areas.
It was at an historical turning point that Stevenson wrote ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. As you read through the book you can see signs of society undergoing major changes. The reactions from the public were quite varied when this book came out. Many people could see the links between Darwin’s theory and this book. People thought it was challenging the existence of God and didn’t really like the book. They also could relate it to life in London as some areas such as Soho were in decay. London had just undergone a period of darkness at this time and this book in a way told the story of what it was like to be on the streets.
In my opinion Stevenson believed that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done you always have a good side and a bad side. Even the nicest of people have bad sides. Throughout the novel he shows this by secretly hiding in how he describes and write things. One example is the door. The tattered and scruffy door which stands in the middle of a beautiful street is basically giving us the message. That is human nature.
In a way I still think that this novel has influences on society today. For example people with split personalities and people with schizophrenia. These are both examples of like a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ scenario as they are the same person but are completely different at times and don’t always remember who they are. There are also steroids which I think this relates back to the idea of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. People who take steroids generally get more aggressive at times and start to change into a ‘Hyde’ like character.