RL Stevenson, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#1

Source:http://www.naruto-wallpaper.net/art-studio/images/4/208.jpg


Mr. Utterson's nerves, at this unlooked-for termination, gave a jerk that nearly threw him from his balance; but he recollected his courage and followed the butler into the laboratory building through the surgical theatre, with its lumber of crates and bottles, to the foot of the stair. Here Poole motioned him to stand on one side and listen; while he himself, setting down the candle and making a great and obvious call on his resolution, mounted the steps and knocked with a somewhat uncertain hand on the red baize of the cabinet door.




Robert Louis Stevenson,The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1886.


Text available at: http://www.online-literature.com/stevenson/jekyllhyde/


Open for discussion on Sunday, 19 September, 2010.​
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#2






Welcome once again to another great literary treat.



There are precedents for this novella and its theme of the double. The most obvious being James Hogg’s 1824 novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. In Hogg’s psychological study in what we now mis-name a ‘split personality’ the narrator commits a series of murders which he justifies because of his ‘faith and religious superiority’. It is one of the earliest novels of a second self.
As you well know the concept of duality is basic to centuries of philosophical and religious thought. Perhaps one of our readers would like to comment on that aspect.

When reading Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde it is helpful to keep in mind the philosophical and religious beliefs that hung in the air about Stevenson’s beloved Edinburgh. He was raised in a fine, if strict, “Scottish Calvinist” tradition. I put that in quotes to denote it is a cliché and hopefully to avoid our discussion from being sidetracked.
I’ll leave the topic as a talking point for one of our readers to expand on.

Previous book discussion have made much of Freud and his three personed psyche. Maybe one of you can talk about how Stevenson use of three different narrators. A rather unusual technique rather reminiscent of the narrative technique #4 a/k/a ‘story told over a bottle’.

Talking point:
Is this story about a symbolic father and a symbolic son and an unholy spirit?
Putting aside Freud’s psychic ménage à trois, I’ll leave the topic open for others to expand on.

Talking point:
Symbolism is in almost every detail of this story and make great talking points.
What can you make of the doors and the passages ways. Indeed the first chapter is called the door.

Talking point:
What can you make of the fact that Hyde’s first and second appearance is outside in the night, the only illumination harsh street lamps. By contrast Dr. Jekyll’s first appearance is inside by a fire in the hearth, outside it is twilight. (twi = two) (there are many associations there, aren’t there?) but I don’t want to rob you of your chance. Make something more out of it and the other uses Stevenson makes of the weather.

Talking Point:
Another bit of symbolism that needs attention is the use of mirrors. I won’t say anymore on this one. I’ve got to leave some fun for you.

Talking point:
And how about the first paragraph of the story as metaphor?
That one you should be able to do in 25 words. Maybe even less.

Talking point:
Is the symbolism about good and evil? Like a Hawthorn story? No? why not?

Talking point for extra points:
Is this dichotomy, of good and evil in one character, essential to Calvinist thinking?

Extra extra points:
How does this theme present itself in other works of Stevenson?

For super extra points:
Is this all a reflection on the general Victorian crisis of identity – where good and bad cannot be separated easily, where moral ambiguity and masks of social behavior cover up shocking secrets (a Wilde thought). Is that the reason Victorian readers felt uncomfortable with this novella.


I am delighted to have finally read this fine work by one who loves the English language and treats it with care and respect. The only negative is having seen so many different movie versions before reading it. What a terrible injustice film has committed against the memory of R.L.S. It took a little work to get over all that and settle down and become properly mystified and terrified. The proof is that after I finished reading it I felt a wee bit beside myself.

Now it is your turn. Continue to impress me as you have done in the past. Carry on.

If you haven’t read the story yet you still have time.
In truth this thread never closes and additions and comments are welcome at any time.

 

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
#3
I find the story an excellent depiction of the turmoil of a deeply divided mind, and unlike religion, a rather sympathetic and non-judgmental presentation of this fundamental conflict. Though it very clearly points out the weakness in Jekyll's character, that he understood the consequences of his actions and yet gave in, it refrains from painting it all black and white. Touching is the part when Jekyll talks about Hyde's love for him: "But his love of me is wonderful; I go further: I, who sicken and freeze at the mere thought of him, when I recall the abjection and passion of this attachment, and when I know how he fears my power to cut him off by suicide, I find it in my heart to pity him." Do people get emotionally attached to the evil in them? Because this evil is as much a part of them as the other more desirable traits, and it is this attachment that further nurtures the evil? It's a very complicated topic that has been handled with impressive delicacy and superb balance.

For me the story rests on two fundamental paradoxes. One relating to the human condition, that good and evil co-exist in human beings, with only the propensity for the expression of one or the other varying and hence the battle between the two rages forever. And the other relating to science as well as religion, namely that which you can use to understand the world, you can also (and will) use to manipulate it. In this case Jekyll's profession of science, and the crowning achievement of his research, the potion. I believe this is because "evil" usually has the upper hand, a result of the peculiar but strong trait of human beings of choosing instant gratification over sensibility, power over moderation, or in oversimplified terms, evil over good, and to this extent Jekyll comes across as deeply masochistic.

One of the most disturbing lines in the story is where Jekyll suggests, in his confession, that evil has to be expressed and exhausted, rather than be suppressed, to be got rid of. "The evil side of my nature, to which I had now transferred the stamping efficacy, was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed. Again, in the course of my life, which had been, after all, nine tenths a life of effort, virtue and control, it had been much less exercised and much less exhausted." Almost as if we all carry a certain measure of evil, which unless it is exercised can't be exhausted. I'm not sure I agree with this thought in general, but as regards the story it serves the purpose of indicating to the reader the dark depths of Jekyll. It also points out the extent to which he had underestimated his own fascination with the dark, as the more Hyde expressed himself, the more Jekyll wanted to let Hyde express himself. Meaning, the exercise of evil only encouraged it more and there was never going to be such a thing as exhaustion of it, merely the catching up of consequences.

I could go on but I'd like to hear thoughts of others. This has been an excellent read: the characters are unforgettable, the plot riveting, the psychological profiles deeply impressive, and the language masterly. I have read a few other stories by Stevenson (not the novel Treasure Island though) and evidently a keen understanding of the human mind is one of Stevenson's special gifts. But Jekyll and Hyde trumps them all. In fact, I think it trumps most stories I have read over my entire life. It's one of those extremely rare combinations where everything is just right and comes together in a spell-binding way. It is indeed a pity that the duality of Henry Jekyll was reduced to a caricature in subseuent literature and other artistic creations. I saw the 'League of extraordinary gentlemen' the other day, and like most movies it made the mistake of depicting Hyde as the monstrously blown-up version of Jekyll, thereby distorting one of the messages of the story that "evil" is monstrous not because of its physical size or strength but because of its diabolical intentions and because of the weakness of the so-called good.

By the way, thanks for the mention of the James Hogg story, I wasn't aware of that. :)
 

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
#5
When reading Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde it is helpful to keep in mind the philosophical and religious beliefs that hung in the air about Stevenson’s beloved Edinburgh. He was raised in a fine, if strict, “Scottish Calvinist” tradition. I put that in quotes to denote it is a cliché and hopefully to avoid our discussion from being sidetracked.
I did not keep any of that in mind and I only vaguely recall the definition of Calvinism. One of my traits is to approach a piece of work with a completely blank mind. I often do not even like to read any reviews if the title of a book interests me for I do not want anyone planting thoughts in my head. Like everything else in life, this too has its advantages and disadvantages. :D


Maybe one of you can talk about how Stevenson use of three different narrators. A rather unusual technique rather reminiscent of the narrative technique #4 a/k/a ‘story told over a bottle’.
The multiple narrative technique is reminiscent of Dracula (somewhat), and I find it very clever as it allows different points of view to come forth.

What can you make of the doors and the passages ways. Indeed the first chapter is called the door.

What can you make of the fact that Hyde’s first and second appearance is outside in the night, the only illumination harsh street lamps. By contrast Dr. Jekyll’s first appearance is inside by a fire in the hearth, outside it is twilight. (twi = two) (there are many associations there, aren’t there?) but I don’t want to rob you of your chance. Make something more out of it and the other uses Stevenson makes of the weather.

Another bit of symbolism that needs attention is the use of mirrors. I won’t say anymore on this one. I’ve got to leave some fun for you.
'The door' -- is the door to another life? Or another dimension of the mind?

The weather does bear a connection with the fluctuations in Jekyll's mind (and life) if you choose to look at it that way. The other symbolism I did not notice. Anyhow, what do you think they express?

What can you make of the fact that Hyde’s first and second appearance is outside in the night, the only illumination harsh street lamps. By contrast Dr. Jekyll’s first appearance is inside by a fire in the hearth, outside it is twilight
Very evocative and would lend itself superbly to the medium of cinema. I think Hyde's introduction on the streets of London in the night is the writer's way of depicting straightaway the nature of the beast. Hyde's nocturnal jaunts and the hideousness of his features and actions paint him as some kind of mysterious creature, not quite human but not quite the devil either, and night has traditionally been the refuge of godforsaken creatures since dark blends best with dark.

I don't know what to make of Jekyll's first appearance by the fireside or whether I should pay particular attention to it. It looks to me, once again, very evocative and cinematic, quite in the manner of a respectable man relaxing after a long day of work. However, if he had been introduced in the morning, getting ready or leaving for work, it would have symbolised the contrast between the light and the dark, the good and the bad, Jekyll and Hyde. But I guess twilight is more fitting because Jekyll wasn't all "good". And night is apt for Hyde since he definitely was all "bad".
 
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avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#6
Pedro, another excellent introduction. You’ve given us too much to talk about. Kudos. :)

When reading Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde it is helpful to keep in mind the philosophical and religious beliefs that hung in the air about Stevenson’s beloved Edinburgh. He was raised in a fine, if strict, “Scottish Calvinist” tradition. I put that in quotes to denote it is a cliché and hopefully to avoid our discussion from being sidetracked.
I’ll leave the topic as a talking point for one of our readers to expand on.
I find the context of this novel absolutely fascinating. This possibly has something to do with the Edinburgh connection. No matter, putting Stevenson in his historical context is a worthy exercise.

We cannot give Jekyll & Hyde any thorough treatment without placing it within ‘Victorian times’; this book cannot be taken in isolation from the Victorian’s clear interest in crime and criminology, and their many attempts to understand the phenomenon within its social and political context. In the latter half of the nineteenth century Britain appeared to be a society of order and balance, which threatened to disguise the many underlying tensions of industrial and social change. It has often been noted that industrialisation and urbanisation lead to higher crime rates, but in the latter half of the nineteenth century this was untrue as crime figures demonstrated a fall in criminality. Crime in Britain, particularly acts of theft and declined absolutely as well as relatively. The Criminal Registrar noted in 1901 that, since the 1840s, ‘we have witnessed a great change in manners: the substitution of words without blows for blows with or without words; an approximation in the manners of different classes; a decline in the spirit of lawlessness’. Given that the population of England had almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901, this is really quite amazing. This was the Britain that spawned The Fellowship of the New Life in 1883 and then The Fabian Society and played around with the ideas of Sir Francis Galton and, by extension, Charles Darwin as a means of improving living conditions and targeting poverty and all the social ills that were associated. In short, there were some in Victorian Britain whose intent focus on crime betrayed an even deeper anxiety about human nature. The conventional view has been that Victorian society was confident of its own superiority and viewed ‘progress’ (both material and moral) as one of the main measures of this superiority. Victorians were proud of this ‘progress’, and could provide much evidence in support of their progress: population growth, wealth growth, enfranchisement growth, and imperial growth. However, towns and cities of Britain, both new and old, that represented the pinnacle of the nation’s achievement were frequently perceived – and portrayed (think: Dickens’ Oliver Twist – as centres of crime, vice, and social depravity and debauchery.

The work of literature that comes closest to articulating this ‘truth’ (or, more accurately, ‘fear’) and the attendant profound fears associated with it is our Historum Book Discussion subject of this week: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is no coincidence that this work and the first Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books were published virtually at the same moment. Strange Case is told first from the conservative (or establishment) perspective in the form of Lanyon and Utterson, who assume that a low criminal is blackmailing their respected friend, the ‘respectful’ Dr. Jekyll. Hyde’s description is couched in the language of the Victorian criminologists as the archetypal primitive troglodytic criminal type. Even his mere presence causes a strong reaction of revulsion. Thus the eugenic link of physical appearance with criminality and social status is quietly slipped through aspersion and implication. It does not take long of Mr. Hyde to become linked to other, more horrible crimes including murder. But this is Jekyll & Hyde and the double must have its say. Thus, in a stunning reversal that only serves to heighten the double body experience, when Jekyll’s posthumous ‘confession’ reveals that he is Hyde, that conservative world of social and racial superiority comes crashing together. That, with time, Hyde clearly came to dominate the pair – without the control afforded by the drug – and that the only means by which Jekyll could defeat Hyde (that ‘superior’ defeat the ‘inferior’) was through suicide, effectively carrying Hyde to the grave, suggests that the Victorian’s preoccupation with crime and social ill was an ultimately permanent feature. Stevenson clearly portrays society as having a primitive, violent and an amorality all of its own, only waiting for the correct circumstances to escape.

This inescapable conclusion, when placed within the realm of individuality is that within each of us is a primitive, violent and amoral side to each of us that is simply awaiting the correct circumstances to escape.

For super extra points:
Is this all a reflection on the general Victorian crisis of identity – where good and bad cannot be separated easily, where moral ambiguity and masks of social behavior cover up shocking secrets (a Wilde thought). Is that the reason Victorian readers felt uncomfortable with this novella.
I’m gonna go for those ‘super extra points’.

The single most important theme in this book is the double, divided nature of the human experience – things are not necessarily as they appear. Neither Stevenson, nor Jekyll suggest that man has two sides or two personalities but rather that man has many sides, many personalities. Morality is ambiguous; ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are relative notions. The Edinburgh establishment (represented here by Jekyll, Utterson and Lanyon) are neither good nor bad but both. Utterson’s character, right from the very start, has his own ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ characteristics and contradictions. It is interesting that Utterson doesn’t seem to be able to self-analyse but perhaps (by the end of the parable) learns something of himself through the ‘strange car of Dr Jekyll’ and his exposure to Mr Hyde. Similarly, Utterson has a strange attraction to Enfield with whom he has nothing but nothing in common – it’s a ‘strange case’. But, when Utterson thinks back to his own past, he is ‘humbled to the dust by the many ill things he has done.’ Being outwardly representative of the establishment, we are reminded that he has a duality all of his own.

Like in Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has little to do with science. In his home-based laboratory, Jekyll has mixed together a number of ‘powders’ that, when he swallows them, transform him into Hyde. The bestial, violent Mr. Hyde, representative of all that is wrong in society, overcame the rational, upper-class Dr. Jekyll, not by means of science, but through realisation of one’s own personality. There is a relation to HG Wells’s novels in so far as creatures that closely resemble human belong to worlds safely distant from the late Victorian Britain of the novels’ author and readers. In The Time Machine, Wells’ sheepish Eloi and predatory Morlocks inhabit a barely recognizable London of the distant future, while in The Island of Dr. Moreau terrible results of vivisection struggle against degeneration into animalism on the isolated island. The first remarkable feature of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that Hyde’s brutal crimes are carried out in the midst of the well-populated streets of London, bright even at night. In this Hyde may remind us of Fagin in Oliver Twist; but the telling difference is that for Dickens’s novel fully to resemble Stevenson’s the former would need to reveal, in some harrowing final moment, that Oliver and Fagin are in fact one and the same – a conceptual impossibility that suggests just how far the Gothic, and with it the understanding of human beings and their vicissitudes, has travelled in the intervening half-century. For the really troubling feature of Stevenson’s tale is, of course, not simply the mere existence of someone like Hyde but rather the implication that we are all Hydes, that like Jekyll’s professional success or philanthropy our own public selves are nothing but masks for an inner beastliness.

We really must envy the first readers of this amazing tale. It is unfortunate that we all now know that ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ means double or changed personality. Most people know this without ever having read the book. But those first readers had no idea that Jekyll was Hyde (and vice versa) and we really must remember that this book is primarily a piece of horror fiction – a work of suspense that is sadly missed today. It’s easy for us to hear that Hyde is the ‘beast’ within. So, whilst I slightly resent the popularity of this book, I find it difficult to understand how it would’ve been received by a Victorian reader.
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#7
The multiple narrative technique is reminiscent of Dracula (somewhat), and I find it very clever as it allows different points of view to come forth.
And didn't you find that those different narrators simply highlight the multiple dimensions of the Jekyll/Hyde dichotomy? For me, they muddied the waters of good and evil, of truth and lie, of Jekyll and Hyde. It was a clever touch.

'The door' -- is the door to another life? Or another dimension of the mind?
The door represents, IMO, Hyde himself. If one walks around to the other side of the house, they will find a completely different door – the one used by, and representative of, Dr. Jekyll. At the same time, the door means mystery, we don’t know where it leads, nor do we know who will emerge from it.


Your first post in this thread was an excellent post. Thank you :)
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#8
You guys are so hot today! Bonus points awarded to all!
I'll try to absorb what you all have posted so far and hopefully have something to add tomorrow. More likely the day after.
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#9
To add to avon's door. Stevenson uses buildings the same way he uses the weather, to mirror the characters condition. Again the day and night contrasts. The good Doctor lives in a house that projects a “great air of wealth and comfort.” His laboratory is located in “a certain sinister block of building… (which) bore in every feature the marks of profound and sorid negligence.” Note also that the buildings are joined but are entered from different directions, the doors are opposite. From Stevenson’s discription we know that the casual passerby would not know there is a relationship between the two. A very fine metaphore.

................................................*..................* .................... *

Mr. Hyde for a name seems a bit obvious. Almost cornball but when I consider that Stevenson spoke great French and that ‘Je’ means ‘I’ we have ‘Dr. I Kill’. Perhaps just too good a pun to leave alone?
 

Cicero

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,829
Tennessee
#10
I enjoyed Jekyll and Hyde and am glad to have finially read it.

As to Calvinism, one of the tenants is Total Depravity which states that man, tainted with original sin is inherently evil and can only serve their own selfish pleasures. Jekyll, recognizing his own inherent evil side, tried to distill out all of this wickedness into a separate entity, Mr. Hyde, hopefully leaving the good qualities to himself. He was doomed to failure as Jekyll and Hyde are but two parts of the same complex individual. It is interesting that the evil side was shorter, malevolent in appearance and younger that the good doctor, and the stonger willed of the two, as Hyde emerges more and more toward the end.
 

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