Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894): Victorian hypocrisy and the double in literature
Stevenson was Scottish and he spent his childhood in his bed, terrified of the dark. In his adolescence he lived in England, in Germany, in France and in Italy. He was in conflict with his social environment, the Victorian world, and he became one of the first examples of a ‘bohemian’. Plus he rejected his family’s Calvinism. His most famous novels are Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). He died of a brain haemorrhage.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Jekyll is a respectable doctor living in London during the 19th century. He creates a potion to separate his bad and good sides, but when he drinks it he transforms into Mr Hyde. He is an ugly, evil genius that kills people, gets more and more powerful and nobody can recognize him. After a little while, the bad side prevails on the good one, so Dr Jekyll commits suicide to destroy it, the only possible way to annihilate the irrational part of human nature, which could damage the civilised societies.
Stevenson wanted to criticise the hypocrisy of the noble society, which said that if someone belonged to the higher social classes, he would be surely good and respectable.
The theme of the double is present in the whole story
• Doctor Jekyll has a double personality, which reflects the double face of Victorian age. His alter ego represents a strong critic to Victorian age, because underlines the difference between appearance and reality. The positive side is shown during the day, while the bad one at night.
• Mr Hyde is ugly and shorter than Jekyll and this is symbolic because good men are blond, tall and nice looking in the Victorian conception of society. Mr Hyde’s bad actions reflect the atmosphere of Victorian age: London was full of crimes and very dangerous.
• Doctor Jekyll lives in a typical Victorian house with a front and back garden. Jekyll always uses the front door, while Hyde the back one. The double doors show the double personality. The front door reflects the ideal of perfection of Victorian age: it has on its face a well-finished garden with white flowers. The back one, which is dark and dirty, reminds to the colour of coal typical of the Industrial Revolution.
The story of the door
In the first chapter two important characters of the story are introduced: Mr Utterson and Mr Hyde. In the first part there is a 3rd person narrator with a neutral point of view. Mr Utterson is a very respectable lawyer typical of Victorian age. He doesn’t express his emotions, is straight, tall, embarrassed in discourse and he spends his time with people of his same social status. He always makes a walk with his distant relative Mr Enfield on the Sunday mornings, because they share the same respectable habits and not because of a true friendship. Mr Enfield starts telling the story of a door they saw walking down the crowded street. One night Mr Enfield saw a very small, ugly man going out of that door, running “into one another” a little girl (expression which preludes to the theme of the double nature consciousness) and stepping on her body. Then the members of the family of the girl and a doctor surrounded him with anger and horror, but he didn’t react, neither under threat of making scandal of the event. He looked cool and evil like Satan or a monster.