SEVEN. A modern monster? The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Gothic fiction emerged as a popular genre in British fiction in the period 1760-1820. It had revivals and a late life, although the stage at which Gothic veers off into detective fiction, horror, or science fiction is a blurred one. Contrasting with its ordered, Classical alternative and predecessor, Gothic is associated with new forms and content, including mythical or semi-mythical settings, social transgression, hyperbolic sensualism, sensationalism, and disturbing disjuncture of narrative where no one is sure of what they are seeing or feeling; even the narrators are victim. The readership is participant to the effects, kept in suspense, rendered unsure, fearful (Hurley, 2002; Punter, 1996a).

Traditionally, "Gothic" concerned questions of history and geography, deriving from the Goths who plagued the Roman Empire. The term revived old, and acquired new, derogatory meanings, linking the Germanic tribes to the medieval world. Although the Goths had disappeared, the presence of unenlightened groups had not; nor had the potential for new "dark ages". New binaries replaced those of old, such as Northern/Southern, medieval/modern, light/dark, Protestant/ Catholic, and the like (Mighall, 1999). The past could carry into the present and, moreover, could return it violently from whence it had come. Man himself was subject to reversals and horrific transformation, undermining the assumption of inevitable progress or constancy; images of metamorphosis, transcendence, and fragmentation enticed and threatened humanity at one and the same time (Hurley, 1996). As industrialisation spread, the early symbols of Gothic space, the castles, ruins, and abbeys, were replaced by the city, with its subregions of the slum, centres of vice and the opium den. Brennan (1997) captures many of the abiding principles of Gothic, when he states that it entails a "reevaluation of the subjective and the sublime", the presence of terror and confusion, boundary-crossing and play upon liminal states as well as an emphasis on the "aesthetics of the dream and nightmare". Partly coming to his mind during a dream,[1] Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is a one of the best known examples of late Gothic fiction, containing many of these elements in an explicit, if highly condensed form.

Stevenson spent years searching for a literary vehicle that might embody his "strong sense of man's double being" (Stevenson, 1888). As for his background, several aspects might help to explain this, including a strict Calvinist upbringing with its emphasis on sin, the chosen and the condemned, his long physical confinements due to ill-health, his awareness of Edinburgh as a class-divided city, his rebellions against middle-class respectability and feelings of guilt. His first attempt to write on the theme of duplicity and the "double" resulted in a play with W. E. Henley, Deacon Brodia or The Double Life: A Melodrama, about a publicly respected figure, a pillar of the establishment and (by night) a compulsive thief. In the confines of his hated, Bournemouth existence, where he had moved for reasons of health and, "trapped like a weevil in a biscuit", he drafted the novel in a matter of days. He had found the perfect vehicle. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was born (Callow, 2001).

This chapter develops a thread started in the previous one, but uses a literary text as its object. It is hoped that from the analysis presented, more can be learned about the constitution of a nineteenth-century exclusionary matrix and how the literary/aesthetic domain reflects and adds to social unconsciousness, in its figures, preoccupations, and articulations.

  • [1] Allegedly Stevenson's wife woke him, in the middle of what she thought was one of his common nightmares. "Why did you wake me", he complained, "I was dreaming a fine bogey tale" (quoted in Callow, 2001, p. 201). Stevenson sets great store by the creativity of dreams, the "inner theatre", because of their congruence with his idea of man's double nature.
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