JEKYLL and HYDE

17 Jun

Famous Fantastic Mysteries 42-08_Page_006

GOTHIC FANTASY or THOUGHT CRIME?

The duality and multiplicity of the Victorian era is implied in the reflectionism of Stevenson’s text. This includes the rise and fall of empire, the adoption of empirical science, the ascension of the middle class and the advent of the modern era; the list goes on and on. Consequently to try to coerce the figure of Mr. Hyde into any one of these positions would not be difficult. Likewise the idea of Lombroso’s anthropomorphism can be applied to the British attitude towards subjugated nations, gender roles  and class differences; the beerage as oppose to the peerage, as they were laughingly known by the blue bloods. Similarly the new Victorian sciences of phrenology, psychology and evolutionary theory could also help to explain from a contemporary perspective what it is that we think Stevenson’s novel is trying to tell us. I am not persuaded by any of these as I do not believe that this is analogous to the period nor a Gothic tale but that it’s a fantasy instead. Stevenson is renowned for other fantastical and adventurous works including “Treasure Island” and more in line with this particular story “The Bottle Imp,” and consequently “Jekyll and Hyde” is a work of pure escapism. Of course it embodies the tropes of Gothic literature but what modern story of suspense and mystery doesn’t?

Rather than discovering untold wealth in a “Rider-Haggard” novel or the perpetual youth of “Dorian Gray” we’re granted license to live out our wildest fantasies with impunity. Given the darker side of human nature and the masks we choose to wear in public, how many of us haven’t wished to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior and escape the bondage of social conformity. This is also a Romantic notion and something to which Blake alluded to in the “Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” Whether it’s the demise of one whom we despise, or robbing the local bank without fear of retribution what wouldn’t we do? This I believe is the true underlying message of Stevenson’s writing and is supported in the lack of specificity regarding the debauchery enjoyed by Hyde. Yes, we’re told of the trampled child and the murder but everything else is left to our imaginations. When Jekyll freely admits that he has done those things which go beyond the pale and which are inadmissible in a polite society, what goes through the readers mind? What is it that we as individuals desire but would never hope to get caught doing? This creates reader intimacy as – although we live the tale as written – we envision the acts personally and so embellish Hyde with our own true natures.

In the immortal lyrics of Billy Joel:

Well we all have a face that we hide away forever

And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.

Some are satin some are steel, some are silk and some are leather.

They’re the faces of the stranger,

But we love to try them on.

The nature of pseudo-science – just as in “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” – is again explored. Despite what was fast becoming a mechanical society – where everything operated within the bounds of natural constraints – there was still an irresistible urge to scrutinize the inexplicable. The old ways of the alchemists still adhere – hardly surprising as modern science had only existed for about a hundred years- and therefore there is a continuous attraction towards the fantastic. Written in 1886 “Jekyll and Hide” is only ten years younger than “The Time Machine” of H.G. Wells. It would seem that the progression of modernity is simply allowing for the fulfillment of ancient enlightenment if only between the pages of the novel.

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One Response to “JEKYLL and HYDE”

  1. Schnauzevoll June 21, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    reading thoughts on books & stage pieces i like always makes me want to reread / watch it again!

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