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"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson was interested in what made up a person’s character: why they could be bad as well as good. He came from a good family but he was fascinated by the "dregs of humanity", something that the upper class pretended never existed. After a nightmare, Stevenson wrote the story of Dr. Jekyll in just three days.
Trivia Tidbit Stevenson intended Jekyll to be pronounced “Jeekyll,” as a Scot would, because “Hyde and Jeekyl” sounds like “hide and seek.” Key Question: What’s being hidden, what’s being sought in this tale?
Victorian London: Social Classes The rich people of London were those of high social status (e.g. doctors, lawyers, members of parliament) who lived like kings and queens with the finest of everything. They attended high-class balls, parties, and the theatre. Men normally worked and socialized with other men only. They employed lowly paid servants who cooked for them, cleaned, answered the door, and who would even help them dress in the formal attire of the rich. The butler was the head servant who had the most contact with the master.
Victorian London: Social Roles A wealthy woman, although there are none in the book, stayed at home and oversaw her children and the many servants and goings-on at her household. Women were not allowed to vote, and wealthy women did not work outside of the home. Members of the upper class in Victorian times were especially expected to behave virtuously. They, along with their homes, were expected to be proper and elegant at all times. The wealthy were looked up to and were expected to serve as caretakers of the less fortunate in society.
Social Roles and Rules, cont. Wealthy men often went to school together and established networks and friendships that lasted their lifetimes. We see this in the novella between all of the upper class male characters. Men were expected to behave as “Gentlemen” but had a looser leash than women. Transgressions, however, were not discussed in polite society.
Victorian Social Classes Victorian society was highly stratified. Social classes did not mix, and behavior, especially among members of the upper class, was expected to be exemplary at all times. The unrealistically rigid morality of upper class Londoners led many to live double lives. (compare to Freud’s comments on repression).
Breakdown of Victorian Society At the end of the 1800s, Britain was experiencing a period of intense social, economic, and spiritual change, after many decades of confident growth and national self-fulfillment. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde perfectly captured some readers’ fears that their carefully built society was hypocritical.
London as Setting In the 1880’s British society was sharply divided into distinct social classes and their corresponding communities. In Forlorn Sunset (1947), Michael Sadleir described the city as “three parts jungle” noting that very few districts were truly public in the sense that people could move in and out of them with ease. Generally, people were uncomfortable and often unwelcome in parts of town that were not inhabited by their own social group. To avoid wandering into an unknown area, most Londoners stayed in their own neighborhoods. This geographical and social fragmentation is an essential part of the setting of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which also relates to the psychological fragmentation of many of the characters.
London as Setting Cavendish Square, the area in which Jekyll, Utterson and Lanyon live, was the wealthiest part of London. Only a few blocks away one would find ghettos such as Soho where Hyde kept his residence. People tended to keep to the main thoroughfares because a “wrong” turn could land you in the ghetto and exposed you to theft or worse.
London as Setting London was dreary at this time – foggy, dark, and poorly lit with gas lamps that were used to light the streets. The fog was also worse than it is today due to the coal fires used for heat. Crime was rife in London at the time of the book’s publication. Note how Stevenson uses the historical setting of London symbolically in the novella
Hyde as a Sign of Political and Social Upheaval To many readers, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was a symbolic representation of these threats to traditional British society. Political reforms had given many more men the right to vote, and the working classes were beginning to flex their political muscles. Karl Marx’s ideas about the struggle for power among the different social classes were becoming more influential. To some of Britain’s upper-class readers, the character of Edward Hyde represented the increasing political power of the working class.
Influence of Darwinism Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution came out in 1857, and some readers saw in the novella echoes of the theory. Earlier in the century Darwin had challenged the long-held religious belief in God’s creation of the universe. Darwin had claimed that life- forms developed as a result of evolution, the extremely slow and gradual changes species underwent in response to their environments. Gone was the certainty of the religious model of life. It was replaced by social Darwinism, a radical new conception of life as a struggle in which only the fittest survived. Interestingly, Hyde is described as “apelike” and as moving “like a monkey” in the novel. Hyde is sometimes viewed as a “Natural Man,” free of the civilizing influences of society and religion. Some readers considered Hyde to be a model of the strong yet evil individual who would survive while Jekyll fell.
Freudian Influence Sigmund Freud, the father of psychotherapy, lived at the same time Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published. Freud believed that human beings are powerfully influenced by impulses of which they are not aware and which are often expressed in dreams. Freud named the conscious part of oneself the ego. He named the unconscious part of oneself the id. He also labeled the superego as society, ethics, and morals. Stevenson was on the cutting edge of science to be writing about division in the human mind. To many readers, Hyde represented Dr. Jekyll’s subconscious desire to be freed from society’s restrictions. Role of repression in functioning civilization.
Author’s Background Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) was born in 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland and died in 1894 in Samoa where he is buried and lovingly referred to as Tusitala (the teller of tales). In addition, he lived in Europe, America and in other parts of the South Pacific. RLS was the only child from a wealthy family, his father being a famous engineer (!). RLS was ill as a child and spent a lot of time reading.
Author’s Background, cont. RLS was fascinated by the story of the true character, Deacon Brodie. Brodie was a cabinetmaker by day and a thief at night. Even today Brodie’s death is an unsolved mystery. Some speculate that he avoided his death at his own hanging by placing a metal ring in his throat. When his grave was exhumed it was found empty. Later, RLS wrote a play about Brodie. This “doubleness” of human nature is, of course, a theme of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well.
Childhood – Good vs. Evil RLS had a strict Christian and moral upbringing. The theme of good vs. evil (strict repression of “evil” actions and even thoughts) was one that he was quite aware of. RLS was brought up in the wealthy part of Edinburgh. However, as a student he liked visiting the ghettos of Edinburgh and would even put on a false identity for his ventures into the ghettos. This dichotomy is much like differences between Jekyll and Hyde’s worlds. RLS studied engineering and law in college but became an author – a wild path compared to his father’s. In the book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll says that he is like the father and Hyde is like the son.
Composing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde The idea for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to RLS as a dream (Freud?). He wrote the first version of the book in three days and then burned it due to criticism from his wife (hmm!). He wrote the second version in three days as well. It became an overnight success and was published in The book was written when Stevenson lived in England.
Stevenson was very interested in the contrast between good and evil and he showed this in how he described the setting before Mr Enfield and Mr Utterson start talking about Mr. Hyde.
It chanced on one of these rambles that their way led them down a by-street in a busy quarter of London. The street was small and what is called quiet, but it drove a thriving trade on the weekdays. The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed and all hoping to do better still - the shop fronts stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen. Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more florid charms and lay comparatively empty of visitors, the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood, like a fire in a forest; and with its freshly painted shutters, well- polished brasses, and general cleanliness and cheerfulness of note, instantly caught and pleased the eye of the passenger.
After the positive description of the street, comes the negative.
Two doors from one corner, on the left hand going east the line was broken by the entry of a court; and just at that point a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two storeys high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower storey and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence. The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained. Tramps slouched into the recess and struck matches on the panels; children kept shop upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the mouldings; and for close on a generation, no one had appeared to drive away these random visitors or to repair their ravages
Note down the positive and negative descriptions. POSITIVENEGATIVE
Sources Stevenson, Robert Louis, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adapted by Michael Lawrence. Great Britain: DK Publishing, , pages Stevenson, Robert Louis, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adapted by Michael Lawrence. Great Britain: DK Publishing, Teixido, Oscar Sabata and Joan Pere Rosello Garcia, How is Mr. Hyde characterized and what does he stand for? Available URL: Date of access: 4/24/2002. Glencoe Literary Library, Study Guide for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.