In this essay I will be discussing aspects of Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” that make it a horror story, whilst showing an awareness of what was happening in Victorian England at time the novel was first written and published. Victorians were often concerned with the concept of a ‘double self’ or ‘twin’, often referred to as a Doppelganger. This is relevant to the novel with the theme of metamorphosis and the fact that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the same person. The genre of the story is gothic horror.
This nineteenth century genre began with a story about a type of double, when Dr Frankenstein created his monster in 1818. ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was written in 1866. This novel was not the only story which expressed Stevenson’s fascination with dual personality of man. In two other works, the short story ‘Markheim’ and the play Deacon Brodie there are characters who also lead double lives. At the time people, especially authors were concerned with many ideas such as high crime rate, medical and technological breakthroughs and people scared of the unknown.
All of these ideas are relevant to the novel. High crime rate is relevant to the novel because of Mr Hyde committing crimes. Medical breakthroughs are appropriate to the novel because of Dr Jekylls experiment splitting good from evil. ‘People being scared of the unknown’ is relevant because no one knew much about Mr Hyde. Tension is built effectively in chapter 2 of the novel from the section that begins “Six o’clock struck the bells”. This section also shows a lot of gothic horror elements. In this section of text there are many words that build tension.
Building tension is important in a horror novel because it makes people want to read on, creates suspense and makes you think something is about to happen. Words such as ‘gross darkness’ builds a sense of horror and also gives us a picture in our heads of what the night was like. Other words such as Human Juggernaut build a sense of horror and make us think about this weird creature. ‘Crush’ and ‘plucked apart’, gives a sense that everything is happening quickly. ‘Haunted’ builds a sense of horror and gloominess. ‘Screaming’ builds a picture of the pain the child was in.
Sentence length builds tension. The sentence length starts long and descriptive and then gets shorter and snappy. When the sentences are longer they are very descriptive. When the sentence is shorter it makes you think that everything is happening quicker and makes you read faster. Stevenson adopted many techniques. One technique is that he structured his novel using multiple narrators. In the novel, we are told the tale through the eyes of Enfield, Utterson, Lanyon and finally Jekyll himself. This allows us to see more clearly into their characters and relationships.
Using this technique of multiple perspectives, Stevenson also heightens the mystery and suspense of the story. One other technique adopted by Stevenson is that of authentication. Authentication is a particular narrative style which makes readers feel that what they are reading is more fact than fiction. By revealing the plot through letters, diaries and a casebook, the author makes us feel that we are involved in an intimate revelation of true feelings and events rather than simply being told a story. Animalistic imagery is introduced into the story when Hyde is described using it.
Certainly, the novel goes out of its way to paint Hyde as animalistic. In 1859 Charles Darwin, in ‘On the Origin of Species’, the theory that mankind was descended from apes. Stevenson would have been well aware of the controversy which to launch his ideas about ‘the beast in the man’ and because of religion and conventional morality, men were forced to hide their secret desires in their public lives and indulge them at night in the darker, seedier parts of the city. This is very relevant to the novel with Mr Hyde always appearing at night and that’s when he commits crimes.
Also the effect of, the fact that he is being described as animal-like makes us picture someone who conducts himself according to instinct rather than reason and who is hairy and ugly. It is also interesting to note that the notorious ‘Jack the Ripper’ crimes, in which five prostitutes were brutally murdered and mutilated in Whitechapel in London, took place within two years of the publication of Stevenson’s novel and at the same time as a dramatized version was running in the West End. In the section of the ‘Carew Murder Case’ Hyde is described with animalistic imagery.
Although the elderly man seemed to address Hyde with perfect politeness, Hyde, without replying, suddenly flew into a wild rage and began to batter the helpless man. Animalistic imagery is clearly represented by Hyde here. His fury is described as ‘ape-like’. He is also described as ‘trampling his victim under foot’, the word trampling makes the sentence as if an animal was doing it. Yet if Hyde were just an animal, and we would not expect him to take such delight in crime. Indeed, he seems to commit violent acts against innocent people for no reason except the joy of it, something that no animal would do.
He appears deliberately and happily immoral rather than amoral, he knows the moral law and basks in his breach of it. The Metamorphosis between Jekyll and Hyde is another key feature of the novel. The metamorphosis is happening in the first place because of Dr Jekyll’s Experiment. Dr Jekyll is trying to get rid of all evil, by splitting good from evil. We are given clues to suggest that they are the same person, such as the fact that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde have never met each other and are never both in the same room but Dr Jekyll still lets Mr Hyde in his house and gave him a key.
In the section of text ‘Remarkable Incident of Dr Lanyon’ when Dr Jekyll was transforming into Hyde, Jekylls appearance was ‘… visibly balder and older’. He is described as having a ‘… death-warrant written legibly upon his face’ and ‘the rosy man had grown pale’, these are all signs that Dr Jekyll is getting older. Also he is being described as having ‘… deep-seated terror of the mind’, which means that Hyde is looking more terrorizing. So overall, Jekyll changed into a terrorizing, pale older man, Hyde.
The most important incident in this chapter is the sudden change in the expression on Jekyll’s smiling face to ‘one of abject terror and despair’. This freezes the blood of Enfield and Utterson when the window is slammed shut. We feel that it is not the expression on Jekyll’s face which causes this shock but something much deeper seated which they recognized. Can it be the same recognition which hastened the death of Dr Lanyon? Symbolism and gothic horror are also two other main features. As I discussed briefly in the introduction the novel and others including Dracula can be traced back to the so-called ‘Gothic Novels’.
Emotional expression was considered to stifle emotional expression and, in particular, deny the darker and more mysterious forces of the personality which were thought of as uncivilized, are therefore medieval and gothic. In the chapter of ‘The Carew Murder’ there are many elements of gothic horror. ‘… a fog rolled over the city in the small hours, the early part of the night was cloudless, and the lane, which the maid’s window overlooked, was brilliantly lit by the full moon. ‘ This is symbolic as it is the setting where Hyde commits his murders.
Words such as ‘a fog rolled the city’ and ‘brilliantly lit by the full moon’ helps set the setting for where Hyde commits his murders. The door is also very symbolic because no one knew what was inside, as no one is allowed except Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This is also linked with gothic horror because at the time people were scared of the unknown. Also symbolic because behind the door Dr Jekyll would be conducting his experiments and is where he transforms in to Hyde, which is linked with the whole story.
The cane is also symbolic because it is used by Mr. Hyde to brutally kill Sir Danvers Carew not destroying all good. Carew Murder Case’ links with Hyde trying to destroy all good. Carew is a well-known and highly respected London gentleman and is a good man and this is symbolic that Hyde murdered him because Hyde is trying to get rid of all good. The two men represent opposing sides of the human personality. Hyde here is in uncontrollable fury and the ‘innocent’ old man with his ‘well-founded self-content’ seems to make him into this state. It also is symbolic that the maid went from happily gazing through the window to terribly fainting, from good to bad. ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was written as a mystery story but is a problem for the modern reader.
That is today, most people already know that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person before beginning to reading the novel. This reduces the enjoyment for the modern reader. The Victorian may or may not have realized that they were the same person but it is not until the penultimate chapter, ‘Dr Lanyon’s Narrative’, that Jekyll’s terrible secret is revealed. Up to that point, we were given fascinating glimpse of Hyde though the eyes of other characters and, as well as drawing us into the mystery of the story, these also tell us important things about the characters themselves.
Until the last two chapters, it could be said that ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is a gripping mystery story. I think the novel is very effective as a horror story as it creates drama and the settings of the story are that of gothic horror. The novel was scarier in the 19th century than it is now. This is because the novel was published that time and the Victorians found it very scary and were concerned with the concept of ‘double self’. Several symbols are used throughout the novel to explore the theme of the ‘double self’. Overall tension, animalistic imagery, metamorphosis, symbolism and the mystery of the novel makes it’s a great Gothic Novel.