Preamble to the ramble:
This is a (slightly tidied) transcript from a video about Jekyll and Hyde, essentially a five-minute off-the-cuff breakdown of some context and chapters 1 and 2.
As a companion piece to the magpie stories classics playlist, I am going to attempt to go back to my teaching roots and deliver a five-minute talk, speech, educational notes on the text. So, it’s going to be me, a microphone, a five-minute timer and discussion of the texts. So, without further ado let’s try.
Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (note from MPS full title The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde) is a classic 19th century text written by Robert Louis Stevenson; primarily exploring the potential evils of science and a move away from a more devout kind of religious ethical aspect to science. Around this time, we have publications of things like the origin of species by Charles Darwin and there’s a general unease in the population about the implications that unlimited scientific progress might have on the corruption of mankind, the divorcing of the ethical and the religious from the scientific. That was a huge concern for society.
Jekyll and Hyde is not necessarily what you would expect from a classic kind of gothic horror tale. Infact it’s more related to a detective story with our key character Utterson. This incorruptible kind of brilliant morally sound lawyer who goes through London trying to work out exactly what has happened to his good friend Doctor Henry Jekyll (who confusingly he calls Harry in various points in the novel but that’s by the by). The novel is presented in such a way that London itself becomes a character. We see continually throughout the book, and you’ll see this as we go through into further chapters, that this foggy mysterious dark aspect of London almost inhabits the background as this malevolent force that always senses danger. You can never quite see what’s going to happen, the colours are muted, people appear: out of shadows out of darkness out of fog and that element of pathetic fallacy is something that Stephenson taps into incredibly well.
We also see this divergence between rich and poor and the entirety novel is set up to have this series of binary opposites, this kind of dichotomy behind it and this duality of man. We see this explored and we’ll see that further explored throughout the novel as we read through it.
Starting with chapter one: Story of The Door, we have again this sense of duality we have these two very, very diametrically opposed characters. We have on the one hand the l very reserved and the very austere Mr Utterson who “mortifies his taste for vintages by drinking gin” so he won’t allow himself these simple pleasures. He tries to live a very simplistic puritan life, we even learn that he loves the “theatre” but hasn’t set foot in one for over “twenty years”, reflecting this idea that he is a cultured man, but he will not allow these vices these frivolities to get in the way of his life. This kind of very Victorian dour gentleman and we have that nicely juxtaposed with the with Mr Enfield, who is his cousin, who is outgoing. He retells this horrific story and it’s about three four o’clock in the morning and what we really see here is is the development of Hyde. We’ll see him grow. He will (I say merely merely) trample an innocent girl and we’ll see how his moral outrages increase as time goes on. Even from the very first appearance of Hyde we know something is wrong, there’s something odd. It’s indefinable but this idea of evil being incarnate on a face. This “Satan’s signature” upon a face which links to this idea of phrenology the idea that you could measure somebody’s facial features to detect if they would be morally abnormal or not.
We see the detective part of this really growing chapter two when Utterson searches for Hyde and finally finds him. He starts to gather clues and information and, as we find later on in the book, this will eventually be of course wrong. Utterson is absolutely determined to do right by his friend Jekyll and it’s interesting that in the opening we find that he is the last the “very last moral good in the lives of downgoing men” and that is a very very heavy foreshadowing of what will go on in the novel.