The Historical Background
Queen Victoria, daughter of the Duke of Kent (1767-1820) came to the throne of England at the age of eighteen (1837). She succeeded in restoring the image of the monarchy with her wisdom and gained the respect of the people with her private life: an adored husband, Prince Albert, and nine children.
Her pattern of life was ruled by sobriety and hard work, in a word, by “respectability". As a consequence the Victorian Period was based more on exteriority than on spiritual values, on conformism and, often, on hypocrisy.
As to political and social life, England lived a period full of changes and extensions in every field.
Home Policy - Social Achievements
The Parliament had to face the problems of the workers with a series of Acts (The Factory Act, the Ten Hours' Act; The Mines Act; The Public Health Act) to improve working conditions, limit the hours of work and the exploitation of children in mines. In 1884 the Third Reform Bill extended the suffrage to all male workers.
• Ireland found its political leader in C. Parnell. In 1880 Parnell demanded Home Rule or independence for Ireland, but the bill was not passed till after the First World War.
• In 1887 Queen Victoria became Empress of India and the Empire enlarged its dominions to Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus and parts of Africa.
• In 1899-1902 the Boer War broke out in Orange and Transvaal
• In 1854-56 the dispute over the borders between Russia and Turkey gave origin to the Crimean War (during which Florence Nightingale founded the Red Cross)
Queen Victoria died in 1902. Her son Edward came to the English throne trying to follow his mother's steps.
Under the reign of Queen Victoria, literature improved thanks to developed ways of communication and a new printing system. It became a means to confute ideas and reveal thoughts.
This period can be divided into three stages:
Fiction - The writers identified themselves with their own age; they wrote long books published in serial instalments and structured every episode as a plot. They tried to attract the masses with suspense and the sensational. Their motto was to make the readers wait, cry and laugh.
Main authors: C. Dickens; W. Thackeray; The Bronte Sisters
Poetry – Victorian poets at first followed the Romantic way of writing, but soon they captured the uneasiness of their society and reflected it in their poetry. They developed the Dramatic Monologue in which a persona reveals his thoughts and feeling unconsciously to a silent listener. Main authors: Lord A. Tennyson and Browning.
Mid Victorians (or Anti Victorian Reaction)
Fiction - A sense of dissatisfaction and rebellion pervades this period due to new scientific and philosophic theories (Darwin's Origin of Species)
The realism of the works mirrors the clash between man and environment, illusion and reality, leading to Naturalism: man is no longer responsible for his actions since they are determined by forces beyond his control. The writer's task is to record events objectively, without comments.
Main Authors: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and Thomas Hardy.
Poetry - The writers followed J. Ruskin's theories (1819-1900) against the standardization and the materialism of society; The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood proclaimed a return to simplicity, and nature as an escape from this world, idealizing and beautifying reality.
Main authors: D. G. Rossetti and his sister Cristina.
Fiction - The writers searched for an escape "travelling" in their selves and putting in evidence the contrasts between classes and races and the contradictions of colonialism.
Aestheticism brought to the extreme every attempt to escape from the real world supplying a way of avoiding frustrations and uncertainties, reacting against Utilitarianism and moral restrictions, breaking social conventions by means of free imagination.
Main authors: R. L. Stevenson (wrote about the duality of man); R. Kipling (dealt with the problem of colonialism) and O. Wilde (was the mouthpiece of Aestheticism)
Poetry - The followers of the Rossettis were still heavily influenced by Aestheticism, but the most original voice was G. M. Hopkins, the isolated poet who combined lyric passion with his deep religious faith and used a musical and sensuous language, identifying matter and form.
Main authors: O. Wilde and G. B. Shaw.
1894 - He died in December and was buried at the top of Mount Vaea with the honours of the greatest Samoan chiefs.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) - life and works
1850 - R. Louis Stevenson was born of a middle class family in Edinburgh. He had a strict religious upbringing. At an early age he started suffering from tuberculosis.
1867 - Stevenson was admitted to the University of Edinburgh. There, he studied natural sciences, but quite soon he left university because of his health and devoted himself to literature.
1873 - He met Sidney Colvin, Professor of Fine Arts at Cambridge. Colvin became his editor. Stevenson began his career in the South of France writing stories and essays published in Virginibus Puerisque. He remained in France till 1878.
1878 - An Ireland Voyage was published.
1879 - He published Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. He went to San Francisco where he married a divorced woman he had met in France.
1879-1887 - The couple began travelling first in France then in Southern England. In these years Stevenson wrote: Treasure Island, Prince Otto, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped and the Black Arrow. He became a close friend to Henry James.
1887 - He left Europe forever and settled in the U.S.A. He started the composition of The Master of Ballantrae.
1888 - Stevenson went on a cruise of the South Sea.
1889 on - The writer and his family settled in Samoa, an island in the Pacific Ocean. These were the most serene years for Stevenson. He wrote Ebb Tide, Catriona and the Weir of Hermiston.
Some time later, Jekyll’s butler, Poole, goes to Mr. Utterson and says that the doctor has been shut up for a week in his laboratory and has sent him to various chemists’ to look for a mysterious drug.
The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
One evening, Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield, while walking through the city of London, stop in front of a door. Mr. Enfield says that he saw a strange accident in that place: a man knocked a little girl down and kicked her. The girl’s family and neighbours, attracted by her screams, obliged that small, ugly man to pay for his crime. He entered the door and returned with a cheque signed by a well-known gentleman, Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Utterson is surprised: Dr. Jekyll, an old friend of his, has just given him his will in which he leaves all his possessions to a Mr. Hyde. Utterson decides to look for Mr Hyde, but when he succeeds in meeting him, Hyde becomes very suspicious and enters the famous door. Utterson goes to the other side of the house and discovers that it is Dr. Jekyll’s house and that Hyde has complete access to it.
About a year later a maid is the witness of a terrible crime: a Member of Parliament, the prominent Sir Danvers Carew is murdered. The girl identifies the murderer in Mr. Hyde. Mr. Utterson goes with a policeman to the man’s apartment, but he has already left.
The lawyer meets Dr.Jekyll, who shows him a letter, which says that Mr. Hyde has disappeared forever.
One night, while Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Utterson and Dr. Lanyon are dining together, Utterson understands something is wrong with Dr. Jeckyll. About three weeks later, Dr. Lanyon dies and leaves a letter addressed to Utterson to be opened only after Jekyll’s death.
During the usual Sunday walk, Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield arrive again in front of the famous door. They step around the corner to the courtyard and see Dr Jekyll at one of the windows. While Mr. Utterson is inviting the doctor to join them in the walk, Jekyll covers his face. Enfield and Utterson become the witnesses of something terrible, but they do not understand what is happening.
Mr. Utterson follows Poole to the laboratory; they pull the door down and discover the corpse of Mr. Hyde. He has committed suicide drinking a fatal portion. But looking for Dr. Jekyll, they find no sign of him except for a letter addressed to Utterson.
He goes home and reads first Dr. Lanyon’s letter and then Dr. Jekyll’s one.
Dr. Lanyon ‘s letter says that one night Dr.Jekyll asked him, in the name of their old friendship, to go to his laboratory, take some items and then return to his house. A man would go there to collect these things. At midnight a horrible person arrived, prepared a potion and drank it. To Lanyon’s horror, the hideous man turned into Dr. Henry Jekyll.
The note written by Dr. Jekyll himself explains the mystery and gives a complete narration of the double life the doctor led. He came from a wealthy and honorable family and received a good education, but secretly he committed some acts which he was ashamed of. He evaluated the difference between his private and his social life, and this reflection, together with his scientific knowledge, led him to think about the possibly of isolating these separate halves of his personality. He compounded a mixture, drank it and so became Mr.Hyde; but he could turn into Dr. Jeckyll any time he wanted. Under this identity he led a lascivious life in an apartment in Soho. After the horrible murder of Sir Carew, he decided to get rid of Mr. Hyde, and he succeeded for a brief period. But one sunny day in Regent’s Park, Dr. Jekyll turned suddenly into Mr. Hyde without drinking any potion. He hid in a hotel and wrote a letter to Dr. Lanyon asking for help. So Lanyon became aware of his secret.
Afterwards Jekyll’s nature was totally occupied by Hyde’s one. He sent Poole to look for the original compounds everywhere: that drug must have possessed some element that could not be reproduced. In despair, Dr. Jekyll committed suicide.
Autobiographical sources - Stevenson wrote the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days, but the first version was thrown into the fire because his wife Fanny criticised it: the story lacked the depth it deserved. The following three days Stevenson was at work again and completed the novel. In that period the author suffered a lot because of his disease. His dreams were haunted by brownies and he often cried while sleeping.
Literary sources - As to literature, the Gothic novel and detective stories surely influenced the writer. In particular James Hogg’s The Private Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) about the double self supplied Stevenson with the material for his novel. Other examples of fiction about the “double” can be found in E. A. Poe and O. Wilde. Though Stevenson tried not to imitate the American writer, in his novel too he uses letters, creates a mysterious atmosphere and deals with dualism in man. The double personality in Stevenson is present in the dimension of the dream. His bed becomes a sort of boat on which he can travel and when he wakes up, his shadow does not want to follow him and tries to live independently; then he looks for an invisible friend with whom to share his fantasies. Since his early age Stevenson had been influenced by the stories the adults told him, in particular by the tale of Deacon Brodie, deacon and owner of a furniture factory during the day and leader of a band of robbers at night.
Scientific sources - As to scientific references, Stevenson was probably influenced by the theories of his time: the division of the brain into two halves, Charles Darwin’s studies and S. Freud’s psychoanalysis. Recent studies state that Stevenson was influenced by the stories about doctors in Edinburgh, his birthplace. It was said that university doctors needed corpses to study anatomy and that there were killers who murdered homeless people and prostitutes, and sold their bodies to the scientists. Corpses were well paid and these serial killers could easily hide in the city underworld. Stevenson had already written The Body Snatcher (1884) about the episode of Doctor Knox from Edinburgh University and the killers. This short novel was made into a film first in 1945 by Robert Wise – starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi- ; then in 2010, John Landis shot Burke and Hare taken from the same story.
The story begins with Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield in a crowded street of London in front of a door. The door is like a curtain that hides the main character’s double personality and protects his privacy. Then the action shifts to a London enveloped in fog (Stevenson seems to ignore the anti-smog law that had cleaned the city sky) where Hyde moves as in a magic lantern, through half-deserted streets lit by lamps and full of noises. Only in this atmosphere he can commit his crimes, in the evening, when strange creatures go out to perform their hideous acts.
In the last chapter Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield go back to that door, and they see their friend Jekyll at the window of the same house, a house with two entrances, one respectable and the other obscure. Meaningfully enough, the front of Mr. Jekyll’s house is elegant and imposing, while Mr. Hyde’s back entrance is in ruin.
The setting seems to get narrower till, in an atmosphere full of fear, the door of the laboratory is pulled down and a corpse, the dead body of Mr. Hyde, alias Dr. Jekyll, is discovered.
Dr. Henry (Harry) Jekyll -The name Jekyll means I Kill (je is the French word for I) and it represents the effort the doctor makes to isolate his evil personality.
He is introduced only in the third chapter: Dr. Jeckyll is a handsome, tall and well proportioned man, in open contrast with the disgusting and dwarfish Hyde: the evil portion has existed for a short period and it is younger.
The Doctor was born of a wealthy family and had a very good education, nevertheless, or just for this reason, he felt fascinated by the evil that he perceived in his soul. He is a member of that master race that tried to submit other “less civilized” peoples in the Victorian period.
Dr.Jekyll is Mr.Hyde’s father in a world without women. Like Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Faustus he has tried to reproduce human life in a laboratory, but the drug (a drug that can multiply the self as it happens in Coleridge and Baudelaire) loses its power and he is defeated.
The last irony is in his end: the man that commits suicide is Dr. Jekyll ( Hyde would never do that); but while he is dying Hyde regains his ascendancy so that Utterson and Poole do not find Jekyll’s body, but Hyde’s one.
Mr. Edward Hyde - Mr. Hyde represents the smaller part of Dr. Jekyll: the doctor’s clothes are too big for him. This means that Man is not divided into equal parts of good and evil, but here the evil portion expresses itself more powerfully because Man looses the control of his personality. Hyde is not physically described, but the comments of the various people that watched the episode of the girl reveal that his aspect is revolting. Hyde doesn’t act deliberately, he is pushed by instinct rather than by cruelty, but with the passing of time, his capacity for evil increases. When Hyde murders Sir Danwers, he does it apparently without any reason; this gentleman is handsome and honest, unlike Hyde that represents pure evil and looks more like an ape than like a human being (reference to Darwin).
People’s reactions when they meet Hyde reveal that his wickedness is contagious. Hyde never really speaks: he cannot express his feelings, but he is nervous when meeting other people, in particular the doctor’s respectable friends. There is no place for him in the Victorian society that tries to control and dominate instinct.
Mr.Gabriel John Utterson - The honest, respectable, serious gentleman appears at first with Mr. Richard Enfield. He is the reliable narrator, inclined more to sympathize with people than to judge or condemn them. He deserves everybody’s confidence because he is discreet and able to keep secrets. In fact he already knows about Mr. Hyde because one of his best friends, Dr. Jekyll, has given him his will, in which he gives all his possessions to Mr. Hyde.
Mr. Utterson begins to search for Hyde suspecting him of all sorts of bad actions. He becomes a detective and even many of the adjectives and verbs he uses underline the double. He is unmarried, like many Victorian novelists, and his friends are only men. Utterson does not die because he is the narrator. He watches without judging what happens beyond the door, and in this way he lets the readers’ imagination free.
Mr Richard Enfield - Curious, lively, he involves the reader in the plot when he first introduces Mr. Hyde in the episode of the girl and the door. He is well known in town as a lover of beautiful things, so he probably exaggerates his repulsion when looking at Hyde.
Enfield cannot specify what is wrong with this man, he only senses that there is something unnatural about him.
Dr. Hastie Lanyon – Once close friend to Dr. Jekyll, he broke with him because they had different scientific opinions. The conflict between Jekyll and Lanyon represents the fight between the ancient beliefs and the new vision of a split - man, introduced by Darwin’s theories.
He dies because he refuses to accept that Dr. Jekyll may co-exists with Mr. Hyde and condemns the new revolutionary concept of man.
Under this point of view, the book itself no longer belongs to the classical novel, but to science fiction.
Mr. Guest - He is the outsider who examines the two different letters given by Jekyll to Mr. Utterson, and finds similarities in the two handwritings.
Poole - Jekyll’s butler is the typical servant we find in detective-stories. He knows everything about his master and can even recognise the doctor’s steps. So he is able to report that the man in the laboratory is not the doctor.
Inspector Newcomen of Scotland Yard - The inspector is one of the first examples of the police-detective that English literature will supply to detective stories. He joins Mr. Utterson in his search for Mr. Hyde in Soho, and follows the lawyer’s advice and logical thoughts.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the most familiar short stories in literature and the two names Jeckyll and Hyde have become synonyms of “split personality”.
The evil nature of man has been one of the main themes of literature in the 19th century, from Frankenstein on. The Doppelgänger, a German word for the double self, was studied by Freud and even seen as a metaphor for social contradictions and the gap existing between the upper and working classes. Besides, Stevenson used different narrators and points of view to present various opinions about Hyde. At first the novel appears to be a mystery story: the reader is not told whose house Hyde enters. The critics have stressed the oscillation between the two personalities: when Jekyll speaks, the first person “I” is used, for Hyde the third, “he”.
The “double” has also been given a political connotation: H(yde) stands for Hannoverian and J(eckyll) for Jacobite, the opponents during the Scottish rebellions of 1715 and 1745.
The doors that protect the privacy of these hidden personalities, separate the private life of the respectable Victorian man from the” double” that he tries to conceal.
The novel is a warning about the dangers of science and its abuses or the price that might be paid. The truth is revealed when the doors of the laboratory and the envelopes are opened.
The critic David Punter stresses that Hyde’s behaviour is an urban version of going native in a country that tries to repress any deviation. But this society, based on morality, is declining, and the savage overcomes the respectable member of the professional upper middle class.
Stevenson explores the unknown human psyche where he can find the sources of madness, pain and fear with the risk of never returning.
During his last years, Stevenson was very successful and famous.
But at the beginning of the 20th century and for many years his books were abandoned and considered worthless novels for children.
Leonard Woolf, for example, thought that Stevenson had nothing to say. This general negative attitude lasted till the 60s, when the American critics revalued the Scottish writer. Before them, only some Italian writers, Cesare Pavese, Emilio Cecchi and Italo Calvino, had understood Stevenson’s importance and oniric dimension.
In 1990 Valerie Martin (1948 - ) had the terrific idea of retelling the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the point of view of someone who might well have been a witness to the events, but who was invisible to the original teller - doubly invisible, for Mary Reilly is not only a woman but a servant. The idea is so natural that the reader is immediately captured by the story and able to imagine its further developments.
The novel supplied material for many adaptations in films, TV series, radio dramas, theatrical versions, songs, comics and cartoons. Among the most famous are:
1887: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a stage play by Thomas Russell Sullivan; the plot is centered around a domestic love triangle.
1920 - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde silent film version, directed by John S. Robertson starring John Barrymore
1920 - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde directed by J. Charles Haydon.
1931 - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde directed by Rouben Mamoulina (it follows the Sullivan plot).
1941- Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde directed by Victor Fleming starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner.
1953 - Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Charles Lamonta, a parody starring Abbott and Costello with Boris Karloff as Jekyll/Hyde.
1954 - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde radio drama, starring Laurence Olivier.
1963 - The Nutty Professor, parody directed by Jerry Lewis.
1968 - Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, TV film directed by Charles Jarrott, starring Jack Palance
1973 - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, musical for television with music by Lionel Bart, starring Kirk Douglas
1980 - Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype, by Charles B. Griffith, starring Oliver Reed
1981 - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde directed by Alastair Reid. In the end Jekyll's body turns into Mr. Hyde.
1990 - Jekyll & Hyde, TV film by David Wickes, starring Michael Caine
1996 - Mary Reilly, directed by Stephen Frears, starring Julia Roberts John Malkovich and Glenn Close; based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Valerie Martin.
1997 - U.S. musical Jekyll & Hyde, music by Frank Wildhorn, book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.
2006 - Jekyll + Hyde by Nick Stillwell
2009 - Theatrical adaptation by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher,
2003 - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Stephen Norrington, adapted from Alan Moore's eponymous comic book series: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are employed by The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to combat The Fantom.
2004 - Van Helsing by Stephen Sommers– the vampire hunter kills Mr Hyde who, dying, transforms back into Dr. Jekyll.
The Who wrote the song Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the Magic Bus album.
• Brownies: They are friendly little fairies that persecuted R. L. Stevenson in his dreams.
• Charles Darwin (1809-82): He was a naturalist who demonstrated that every animal species descends from a former species including man, who descends from the ape. He gathered evidence of his theory in The Origin of Species. This book was followed by The Descent of Man that intensified the conflict between science and the writings of the Bible.
• Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): He was the founder of modern psychoanalysis. He used hypnosis to cure hysteria trying to recollect the early memories of patients. Then he used the method of free association to isolate and study the resistance and the transference of man.
Most European novelists of the 20th century applied his theories in literature with the new narrative technique of the “stream of consciousness” that reproduces the movement of thoughts in writing.
• Doppelgänger: German word from doppel = double and gänger = goer.
In German folklore it was the apparition of a living person distinguished from a ghost. It points out the existence of a double spirit, an exact, but usually invisible replica of every person. In ancient belief, meeting a doppelgänger meant dying very soon. The Doppelgänger became a popular symbol in the horror literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, and as a consequence this theme became quite complex.
Other themes related to the doppelgänger theme in folklore and literature include the mirror image, the shadow image, and the multiple personality.
• Leonard Woolf (1880-1969): He was a British Man of letters, a publisher and a social reformer who influenced literary and political life in London. His best work was probably his autobiography. Together with his wife, novelist Virginia Woolf, he founded a publishing house, the Hogarth Press and encouraged such writers as T. S. Eliot and E. M. Foster.
• David Punter: English literary critic who wrote The Literature of Terror, A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the present day, published in 1980. Besides he is the author of Gothic Revival and English Fiction - History and Criticism.
• Mary Reilley (1990): It has been noted that Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is as empty of female presences as a London club. The lawyer Utterson and the young businessman Enfield who tell the story, Dr. Jekyll himself, even the butler Poole, are all bachelors. Hyde's sins may involve women, but unlike Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Stevenson did not name them or describe them except in horrid generalities. In 1990 Valerie Martin (1948 - ), an American university professor, wrote Mary Reilly, a retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the point of view of a servant in the doctor's house - It was made into a film directed by Stephen Frears in 1996.