Monstrosity: "to think of this creature ..."

Monsters do more than scare, and monstrosity is more than an arbitrary occurrence. Monsters incorporate "fear, desire, anxiety and fantasy, giving them a life an uncanny independence" (Cohen, 1996, p. 4). Further, although the monster occupies a site of disturbed and deformed meaning, it is meaning nevertheless; in etymology, the monster "shows", "reveals", and "warns" (from the Latin monstrare, to demonstrate and monere, to warn; Cohen, 1996, and Punter and Byron, 2006). Appearing unbidden, the monster evokes the fear of something close by, yet not quite there or identifiable.

Monstrosity, then, signifies distortion, horror, and aversion, constituents of what Punter (1996a) calls the "dialectic of persecution" in Gothic literature. Enter vampires, ghosts, and werewolves. But what of the monstrosity within/of man, his "animal" side or "non-human/ supra-human" dimension? Drawing on Kristeva's (1982) work, Hurley (1996) offers the term "abhuman" to describe it: "The abhuman is not-quite-human, a subject characterized by its morphic variability, continually in danger of becoming not-itself, becoming other" (p. 4). Similarly, Davidson (1995) draws on Butler's (1993, p. xi) image of bodies "unthinkable, abject, unlivable". In this respect, argues Davidson, an abject body is the fitting vehicle onto and into which contemporary concerns about degeneration or perversion travel. The moral and the physiological coincide. Enter Mr Hyde.

Commentators have pointed out the difficulties that the novel's principle narrators have in describing Hyde. Enfield is the first to try, referring to "a little man who was stumping along" and who callously tramples over the child, in Hyde's fist instance of violence (Stevenson, 1886, p. 31). Hyde gives Enfield a look "so ugly that it brought out the sweat in me like running" (ibid.). Utterson presses Enfield for further visual testimony, but Enfield struggles: "He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable" (p. 24). This ambiguity, the not-quite-describable quality (the "presentment of a fiend", p. 36) never resolves. In Utterson's first encounter, the lawyer asks to see his face: "Mr Hyde was pale and dwarfish; he gave the impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile ..." (p. 40), and it is his very elusiveness to visual representation that allows suspense and fear to mount.

Stevenson draws upon contemporary models of degeneration, amongst which were representations of "criminal man", suggesting the influence of, if not Lombroso, then other English writers on physiognomy and the poor. Atavism, criminality, and lowly social origin are frequently merged in such discourses (Arata, 1996). The primitive ancestor lurks beneath the skin of John Bull (Smith, 2004). Significantly, people are repulsed by Hyde, "the man seems hardly human. Something troglodytic, shall we say?" (Stevenson, 1886, p. 40) Consistent with these discourses, Hyde stands for an earlier human stage and, indeed, is referred to like an "ape" or "creature". Jekyll's butler expresses repulsion, whilst defending the order of the household as it should be—"That thing was not my master" (p. 66).

More terrifying then than the monster "out there", is the one who inhabits, secretly or insidiously, a cherished order and system of values. So, in spite of the externalisation of Hyde the creature, in reality he springs forth from Jekyll. Jekyll is an upstanding gentleman, or so he seems, but as the story unfolds, Hyde is not simply his monster double, for part of the novelty and complexity of the story, is the play upon the strange liaison between the two, with the suggestion of an almost father-son, or tutelage-like relationship. Thus, Hyde does not live in a hovel, but in refined lodgings and Jekyll express keen interest in his fate. Utterson is keenly aware of an enigmatic bond and comes to regard Hyde as Jekyll's "protégé". Might there be something else that is monstrously unthinkable about the nature of this bond/age?

 
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