English Coursework

Kevin Lau 10H

What would a Victorian reader find shocking about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson? There are many features in the book; Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that a Victorian reader would find shocking. The theme that Stevenson highlights are often considered taboo in the sixteenth century such as the challenges to moral and religious codes of a Victorian society. Stevenson also shows us that Jekyll explores the limit he can push these social boundaries in the novel through the character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The consequences that unfold would definitely shock the Victorian reader. During the nineteenth century there were many rapid changes such as the Industrial Revolution, the collapse of several European Empires and, specially the theme that Stevenson explores, the advancement of science. The Victorian fascination of science at the time produced many mixed feelings. The unknown quality of science can be represented by the Gothic novel Frankenstein. Stevenson's novel is also an example of that fascination with the dark side of science. A major theme of the book is a duality of life. Perhaps what many Victorians would find disturbing is Stevenson's use of the alter-ego in his novel. Jekyll is presented as the well mannered doctor but underneath he has repressed urges to commit "crimes". Stevenson seems to be hinting that beneath the surface of society there are many different layers of complexity that we do not voice out and repressing these urges leads us to lash out, very much like Mr. Hyde who, as we learn, seeks "evil" and "lustful" nature, which would undermine and question about to what extent were Victorians religious, for lustful conducts would have been frowned upon for unmarried couples in the middle and upper-class. Whilst Jekyll would have been living a dual personality, something a Victorian would consider to be a mental illness and locked away in an asylum. Jekyll lives a dual personality because he presents himself in society as a rich, respectable, courteous doctor. Whilst in his thoughts, he fantasises of having a "lustful and violent" and cruel behaviour. To a Victorian, a proper gentleman should restrain his urges and to be reserved. In the Victorian era, it was disapproved for men and women to seek such pleasures. This would shock Victorians for they were very religious, and pre-martial "sensual" or sex was forbidden, especially being "monstrous" (homosexual). In Victorian times religion was central to every aspect of life, attending service and obeying the rules of God was essential to be a good citizen. Not only does Dr. Jekyll challenge the belief of God and society by creating having a dual personality. Furthermore, Jekyll's ambition of separating his antagonistic personalities to satisfy his bad urges by making a potion from the uses of science. Just the thought of using science to change what was given to him by God, would frighten a Victorian. Stevenson could have been influenced to write about such idea could be described similar to how Satan fell from Grace, refusing to accept that he was created being. A Victorian may question on whether or not Jekyll was a Christian, as Stevenson shows no religious behaviour. When Hyde tramples over a little young girl, he does not show any remorse or acknowledgement. Utterson's description about how Hyde had "trampled calmly" will shock a Victorian for Hyde was not provoked, and acted violently without reason, presenting to the Victorians how barbaric and foreign for Hyde's behaviour is unsettling for his lack of decency of not being a proper Victorian gentleman. In Victorian society, it was important to maintain a well respectable outlook, be reserved, well respectable

and following religious moral principles. Furthermore, Victorians would be shocked to find that the crowd of women were acting similar to "harpies", filled with rage and anger, ignoring their role in society, oppressed and pretend to be helpless and silent. In the final chapter, Jekyll's final statement about his life would shock Victorians for it explains about features of what a Victorian would disregard as being uncivilised. He described how he was able to "inherit" a large sum of "money", a "healthy life", and well "respected" reputation would be considered a proper Victorian gentleman. However despite his wealth, he has a frivolous and corrupt nature, and lives with an alter-ego. This would frighten a Victorian for having a dual personality would mean having an mental illness, which Victorians were for curing these strange madness. His hope of separating both his personalities and satisfying his dark and evil side, and live in an attempt to be completely good, resulting in the creation of Hyde a terrible immoral character. A Victorian may applaud the idea of separating his dark "nature" to be more reserved and live up to his status as an upper-class, however they may argue that holding off the urges represents how masculine he is. There are many religious references in the the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A Victorian would be shocked to find that "salt" is one of the "main [key] ingredients" for Jekyll to transform into Hyde. Salt is considered holy for it is the necessity of life which is described in the Bible to be used as purification. Victorians would question on why would such a holy thing to ward off demons creates such a terrible creation. Victorians would further find religious references, when Jekyll expresses his knowledge that he is taking a "risk" that could result in his "death". This can be interpreted as Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit despite God's warning that eating it will kill them., "Feeling pain and nausea" could be described similar as to being banished from paradise. The idea of two antagonist "natures" of "good" and "evil", affects everyone. He shows how hideous Hyde is, can be convey to be how repulsive Hyde's behaviour is to the Victorian public. Because of this, Stevenson reveals a new perception, which suggest a sinister dark side of human nature and society. Jekyll's transforms into a "formlessly shrunken" and "deformed" being, which causes Hyde to be instantly "forever, despised and friendless" possibly because how in the Victorian society would never accept Hyde into society for his behaviour or his appearance. Being "formlessly shrunken" would suggest degeneration, the opposite to evolution in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Victorians would despise Darwin's theory of evolution due to the devout society. Furthermore, the "shrunken" size of Hyde suggest new life, and further suggest the idea that Jekyll's dark side is smaller and can be easily suppressed, however it changes when Hyde become more bigger, bring a change in Jekyll's dominance. Jekyll shows how "Hyde [is] struggling for freedom" creates an idea to Victorians that too much freedom can cause a breakdown in society. Victorians would see that Jekyll, the well respected doctor who has fallen from his "moral weakness" and seeks to unleash Hyde again. However, soon failing to suppress his dark side Victorians would be shocked to find that Jekyll is not able to take control over himself, which portrays evils triumphing good which the complete contrast to the book of Revelation. To end his "suffering", he commits "suicide", which is strongly against religion for the Victorians believe that only God has the right to take a life away, and suffering shows manliness in Victorian times. It cannot be decided on what a Victorian would find most shocking about the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There has already been books that would have shocked Victorians. Such as The

Picture of Dorian Gray for Dorian Gray had sold his soul for eternal beauty, or Frankenstein for a scientist had used science to bring back life. However most likely, Victorians would find most shocking is that Stevenson was able to write such Gothic book and shows evil triumphing over good, and humanities last way out was through suicide. Total word count: 1,292

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