The plurality of the story's three narratives—Utterson's, Lanyon's, and Jekyll's—mirrors an inherent not-knowing what exactly is occurring. The two-in-one or one-in-two subject at the centre—Jekyll/Hyde, Hyde/Jekyll, Hyde within Jekyll, decomposing and recomposing— undermines the idea of a stable self, the very "fortress of identity". In fact, various models of identity, conduct, and order are exposed in the novel to their own antinomies. Haggerty (2006) refers to the importance of "social-sexual transgressions" in Gothic fiction and suggests that these implicate disordered identity as much as disordered desire. What in particular is the model of masculine propriety that is suggested yet simultaneously threatened in Stevenson's novel?
Jekyll and Hyde is about men: reputable men, undemonstrative men, sober men, as well as everyday or background men, in fact, "all sorts and conditions of men" (Stevenson, 1886, p. 40). Henry Jekyll's self-statement is clear about this male identification, in which he claims to be "fond of the respect of the wise and good among my fellow men" (p. 81). There are a number of indexes of the masculine ideal, such as a fondness for the healthy outdoors, as contrasted with the threat of idleness or solitary, indoor life and an ability to pull oneself together when the need arises, as contrasted with a womanly falling apart. And yet it is a faltering ideal, associated with its opposites—the morbid, the solitary, indulgence in that which is undignified, and, because of this, secretive. Jekyll summarises his proclivity thus: "Many a man would have blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of: but from the high views that I had set before me I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame" (p. 81).
Numerous critics (Davidson, 1995; Greensdale, 1994; Hurley, 1996) have contrasted this productive play between the upright—masculinity as moral toughness, pluck, and physical grace—and the unwholesome and perverse. If perversion, shame, and nausea are linked, then what if it is another deviation, not named but lurking, between the lines, that is at stake? The question to be raised is, when does bachelor homo-sociality veer into the region of the homo-erotic or homo-sexual? Sedgwick (1985) believes that it is in this very veering off, those "looseends" and "cross-ends" of identity, that the Gothic novel works its biggest punch. In her penetrating analysis of Gothic horror, she refers to the allure of the "other sides" to men and the trope of the unspeakable. In Jekyll and Hyde, this is contained in the motif of blackmail, as threat or motivation, which is Utterson's first, indeed, major theory. For Sedgwick, drugs, double-lives, and blackmail serve as camouflage for homosexuality (the Labouchere Amendment of 1886 was known as the 'blackmailer's charter').
Elaine Showalter (1990) makes the strongest case for an interpretation that links the double lives of homosexual men, the Gothic novel with its literary doubles, and end-of-the-century anxiety about sexual anarchy. This coincides with the growth of Clubland or bachelor identity and the reinforcement of social and spatial boundaries between the sexes; Jekyll and Hyde, she contends, "can be most persuasively read as a fable of fin-desiecle homosexual panic, the discovery and resistance of the homosexual self" (p. 197). Is it that the supposedly celibate Henry Jekyll is protecting a forbidden mate, presented as his malignant double, Edward Hyde? Showlater highlights the continual ambiguities of the text, as it refers to doubles and "strange preferences"; other images, such as the odd, left-slanting signature of Hyde or his hairy-knuckle hand may signify this possibility (left-handedness representing homosexuality, the hand representing man's indiscriminate, animal desires).
Consider, also, the mysterious backdoor, "equipped", says Stevenson, "with neither bell nor knocker" (p. 30), which could, in this analysis, be read as a denigrated, non-female body. Davidson (1995) offers a similar analysis of this ambiguity, suggesting that "Hyde might be read as an interpolation at the narrative level of the traditional rhetorical strategies by which homosexuality was designated, strategies that are of inexplicit and oblique representation" (p. 25). The repugnance surrounding Hyde marks him off from respectable bourgeois bachelors, so that "homosexuality may be distanced from the notionally heterosexual fraternity" (p. 36).
Showalter (1990) also suggests that the suicide that ends Jekyll's life is consistent with a form of gay Gothic: "To learn Jekyll-Hyde secret leads to death ... While Jekyll tries to convince himself that his own desire is merely an addiction, a bad habit that he can overcome whenever he wants, he gradually comes to understand that Hyde is indeed part of him" (p. 113). Thus, Jekyll's suicide, or self-destruction, is resonant with other tragic outcomes, such as murder, madness, and disease, associated with the nineteenth-century homosexual person/literary character.
Showalter's persuasive arguments aside, there is a tension between regarding the lose- and cross-ends of identity as the areas within which understanding lies, and the wish to diagnose a solution. If it is true that a strategy of "camouflage" is in operation, why stop at this one foundation point? (Haggerty, 2006). Hurley (1996) helpfully reminds us that, as far as a theme of sexual identity is concerned, Hyde can represent several things: (a) a terror of femininity within men (see the discussion of hysteria below); (b) forbidden homosexual desire; and (c) a dangerous male, heterosexual lust (also discussed below). Robb (2003) suggests that Stevenson used homosexual references simply in order to create "an atmosphere of unspeakable and mysterious depravity" (p. 224), without intending any character to be homosexual. The sexual/nonsexual issue is itself interesting. Stevenson himself balked at a sexual interpretation, not wanting Hyde to be seen, as he soon was, on the stage, as "mere voluptuary" (Callow, 2001). But this is the story of the story, and brings in Stevenson's professed anxiety about the popularisation of his work and the commercialisation of the "professional" author. Once the novella was out, much like the ineluctable process it depicts, it took on a life of its own.