Video appunto: Stevenson, Robert Louis - Works and Questions

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Context: Second half of Victorian Age
Place of birth: Edinburgh
Childhood: health problems
Reading about adventure and travel
Religious upbringing: Calvinist
Education: engineering
- Degree in law
- Writer
Journeys: south of England, France, Italy, California
- Australia, Tahiti (searching a healthy climate)
Marriage: married a divorced woman with two children
Main works: New Arabian Nights (1882) a collection of short stories
- Treasure Island (1883)
- The Strange Case of Dr.
Jekyll and Mr Hyde(1886)
- Kidnapped (1886)
- The Black Arrow (1888)
- The Master of Ballantrae (1889)

Key themes

- The double/the duality of human beings: the constant conflict in every human being between good and evil and the impossibility of separating them.
- the contrast between appearence and reality (criticism of Victorian false morality: Dr Jekyll is a respectable and rational man; Mr Hyde is Jekyll’s other self/alter ego dominated by instincts, irrational, depraved and evil which leads him to commits ferocious crimes till his suicide).
- The dangers of scientific and technological progress
Symbols of the double

- Setting place: London
- DR, Jekyll’s House
- Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Physical Aspect
- Setting time: Night
Multi-narrative structure and four narrators:
- Utterson: the story is told in the 3rd from his point of view. He plays the role of a detective. Person
- Enfield: a distant relative of Utterson’s. He tells Utterson a terrible story about a man trampling a child.
- Dr Lanyon  a friend and colleague of Jekyll’s. He tells of his experiencing Jekyll’s transformation.
- Dr Jekyll  his narrative and final confession takes up the last chapter
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Robert Louis Stevenson is generally remembered for two famous novels: Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.
He is a Scottish writer born in Edinburgh, who lived during the Victorian age* and as a writer he belongs to the late Victorian novelists. He spent most of his childhood in bed because of his health problems reading a great deal about travel and adventure. He received a strict Calvinist upbringing whose principles he later rejected as well as his family’s love for respectability and more generally the kind of life that was expected of him. He took up engineering at University but gave up graduating in law and finally to de voting himself to writing
He travelled a lot to find a healthier climate (England, Germany, France, and Italy). After marrying a divorced American woman with two children they moved to Australia and Tahiti settling in Samoa, in the Pacific Ocean, where he died in 1894 of brain hemorrhage.
*[which] The Victorian Age, as we know, was an age of great contrasts.
Because on one hand it was a period of progress and social reforms, on the other hand it was a period of social injustices, poverty and hypocrisy. The hypocrisy, which characterized the Victorian society, can be easily explained with the strict code of values promoted by the Victorians, which reflected the world as they wanted to be and not as it really was. These values were hard work, duty, charity and respectability. Respectability was a mixture of morality and hypocrisy since it was a question of appearances (a nice house, regular attendance at church and charitable activity) when the reality was quite different (problems related to orphans, single mothers, prostitution). In other words a large section of the Victorian society especially the middle-class, were great moralizers and optimistic because they saw the industrial development only as a source of prosperity and progress, while they tended to avoid seeing the negative aspects of progress and of the social reality.

The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
As we know, most of the literature of the second half of the 19th century/of the Victorian period is based on the contrast between appearance and reality and R.L. Stevenson expressed this dichotomy in his psychological novel “ The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in which hypocrisy is embodied/represented by the theme of the double: the double nature of the Victorian society but also and mainly of man with his good and evil sides.
Plot: the story is told by Mr Utterson, who is a lawyer and a friend of Dr Jekyll, a respectable scientist who lives in an elegant house. The story starts with the aggression of a child by an unknown man. Later Mr Utterson discovers that this man is a close friend of Dr Jekyll, called Mr Hyde, a short ugly man who terrifies everyone. In the course of the novel Mr Utterson discovers that Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll are the same person: Mr Hyde is the result of a scientific experiment in laboratory: the scientist Dr Jekyll created a potion able to bring out/release his evil side, Mr Hyde who becomes more and more predominant till Dr Jekyll (whose simbolic meaning is “I Kill”) commits suicide because it was the only way to kill / to get rid of his evil side the two sides being inseparable and in perpetual struggle. The story ends with Jekyll’s suicide and with the discovery of a letter written by Dr. Jekyll to Utterson which reveals the mystery of the double identity.

The theme of the double is everywhere in the novel: the setting, for example, is a mixture of London and Edinburgh: both cities had a double nature and reflected the hypocrisy of the Victorian society: London had the contrast between the respectable West End and the slums of the East End while Edinburgh had New town and Old town. The theme of double is also symbolized by Dr, Jekyll’s house with its two different facades representing the two opposing sides of its owner.
Moreover, most scenes of the novel takes place at night symbolizing the dark and evil side of man.
Stevenson wanted to underline the problem of evil in every man and to criticize Victorian morality and hypocrisy exposing what society tended to hide and repress (=Hyde pronounced in the same way): corruption and vices. What is interesting to underline is that Dr. Jekyll is horrified but, at the same time, fascinated by his dark side" and when he decides to get rid of Mr Hyde who was becoming more and more predominant owing to his moral weakness, he kills Mr Hyde but also himself. This means that the real theme of the novel is not simply the double nature of the human being, but the impossibility of separating good and evil, which are always in constant struggle.

Possible questions

1) Where and when was R. L. Stevenson born?
In Edinburgh in 1850.
2) Why did he spend most of his childhood in bed?
Because of his poor health.
3) What religion characterized his upbringing?
4) What did he take up at University?
He took up engineering at University but he graduated in law.
5) Which countries did he visit?
The South of England, Germany, France, Italy, America Australia, Tahiti.
6) Where and when does the novel take place?
The novel takes place in London and Edinburgh and most scenes take place at night.
7) What was his attitude towards society like?
He rejected his family’s religious principles and their love for respectability.
8) What did he die of?
A brain hemorrhage
9) What were his most popular novels?
Treasure Island and The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
10) Who is Dr Jekyll?
He is a respectable London Doctor.
11) What does he invent?
He invents a potion that can separate the good and evil sides of the human mind.
12) What special power does the potion he invented have?
It can separate the good and evil parts of the human mind.
13) What do Jekyll and Hyde stand for?
They stand for “good and evil”.
14) How is his work linked to the spirit of the time?
It is linked to the spirit of the time because Victorian age was a time of dual morality in which under a façade of superficial respectability they hide their unacceptable instinct’s and desires.
15) How does the novel end?
Dr Jekyll decides to put an end to his experiment by killing Mr Hyde and also himself.
16) What is the most important theme of the novel?
The balance between the good and evil in human nature.