Chemical uses

Elsewhere (Weegmann, 2005b), I considered Jekyll and Hyde in terms of what it might tell us about the fraught state of the drug addict, as he attempts to manage his mind and/or change the way he feels. The movement from Jekyll to Hyde is an induced one, involving the ingestion of a chemical. We have a glimpse of Jekyll's general motive for using the chemical when he considers the power attached to it, to be "relieved of all that was unbearable" (Stevenson, 1886, p. 70), but it is a dizzying power that leads to unpredicted effects. The weird potion that he creates, thrills and frightens him and after various drug-induced transformations into the sinister Mr Hyde and back again, Jekyll admits a gradual loss of hold over his "original and better self"; with increasing dependence on the potion, and physical tolerance, he realises that he risks suicide or death. There is intense moral agony as Jekyll "sees" what is happening, without having the power or inclination to pull back.

Stevenson used substances, including laudanum (a combination of opium and alcohol), cocaine-wine, and, for reason of health, strong cough linctus, likely opium-based. Later in life he used cocaine, but did not become an addict (Callow, 2001; Rankin, 1987). What is of interest, beyond his personal use, is the changing context within which widespread Victorian drug use became problematised, particularly for the working class. What if the novel's drug use is to be read for what it is, as opposed to a camouflage about something else? Can one then read Jekyll and Hyde in terms of a warning about decadence, of which unbridled drug use was a sign or a cause? Related to this, is it readable in terms of temperance, restraint and its breakdowns, with a mysterious drug as the "transforming draught" that signifies such danger? (Butler, 2006).

The 1860s saw considerable campaigning by the medical and pharmacist professions, concerned with their own turf struggles and the unrestricted availability of opium (Berridge & Edwards, 1981). The invention of the hypodermic needle, a new kind of self-administration, was trumpeted by its advocates as a technological miracle, potentially as important as gaslight or the railway. However, as the iatrogenic problems of syringes became apparent, new questions arose about their risks and about the role of doctors in generating their own business; "Doctors needed to exchange this image of charlatanism for one of professional competence and expertise; the needle had seemed like a perfect way to modernize their knowledge and enhance their cultural authority. Now, however, it was threatening both" (Zieger, 2005). Not only this, but doctors, too, were susceptible to developing morphine habits. The use and availability of poisons, nostrums, preparations, and chemicals of many kinds created increasing concern, culminating in the 1868 Pharmacy Act. The Act included products such as opium and laudanum but excluded patent medicines, leaving a gap. In the 1880s a new campaign sought to control patent medicines as well, such as the morphine-based J. Collis Browne's Mixture.

Dr Jekyll, M.D., is a man of repute, in a world where status and profession matter. He is not the only M.D.; so too is his estranged friend, Dr Lanyon. Reinforcing Dr Lanyon's eminence, Utterson informs us that he lives in Cavendish Square, "that citadel of medicine". We learn that the cause of their estrangement lies in medical differences, Lanyon believing that Jekyll's pursuit of a "transcendental medicine" amounts to "scientific balderdash", whilst Jekyll regards Lanyon as a "hide-bound pedant". Does Jekyll in this respect, become a merged figure of physician/scientist, opening the doors to forbidden and ruinous knowledge? The projections flow. All the same, Jekyll reassures Utterson that his adversary remains "an excellent fellow". It seems possible that in this world of gentlemanly professionalism and difference, a "good doctor", even if an uptight and non-experimental one, contrasts with a "bad doctor", who frees himself from constraint and meddles in a game of chemical chance. We are informed that Jekyll bought his house from a "celebrated surgeon", but that his own tastes are more "chemical than anatomical" (Stevenson, 1886, p. 51). The doctor takes his chemical experiments into dangerous territory, with the "lab" as his operating site. Jekyll rationalises his "transcendental medicine", in a way that harks back to the Romantic image of drug use as offering inspirations and altered mental states. What is denied is the

"Gothic" reality of a drug use that threatens integrity and fragments the self. As experimenter, even without the horrific transformations that ensue, Jekyll risks the charge of straying from his profession base into charlatanism or worse.

The textual shifts and narrative uncertainties in the story mimic the loss of control that occurs as a result of Jekyll's "addiction". He not only rationalises his experiments, but attempts to reassure himself and others, reasserting control. This is partly prompted by the concerns of his interlocutor, Utterson, who sees and does not see, knows and does not know what is happening to his esteemed friend. If "Hyde" symbolises the drug and not only the alter-person, the dialogue takes on a new meaning. Utterson offers his assistance, to which Jekyll states, "the moment I chose I can be rid of Mr Hyde" (p. 44). Utterson appears convinced, responding, "I have no doubt you are perfectly right" (p. 44). Although holding back, Jekyll says, using the "we" of an implicit agreement, "we have touched upon this business, and for the last time, I hope" (p. 44). The "I hope" betrays a wish and an uncertainty. After a worsening situation, Utterson once more tries to gain access into what is happening between Jeykll and Hyde/drugs, only to face an even greater rebuttal of anxiety—"I am quite done with him" (p. 52).

One could read the next sequence of the story in terms of a relapse with a vengeance, in so far as Jekyll retreats from contact ("isolates", to use a psychological term), even from Utterson. Disquieted by Jekyll's withdrawal, Utterson refers to his residence as being "that house of voluntary bondage" and to his erstwhile friend as an "inscrutable recluse" (p. 59). Jekyll is fixated at his cabinet in the laboratory. There is worse still. Manservant Poole reports to Utterson that his master's demands are ever more desperate: "Well sir, everyday, ay, and twice and thrice in the same day, there have been orders and complaints, and I have been sent flying to all the wholesale chemists in town" (p. 65). When Poole brings the "stuff" back, it is often rejected as not being pure enough.

The seduction/fear cycle of addiction is powerfully expressed in Jekyll's concluding narrative, where he notes the changing sensations and giddying feeling that ingesting the chemical produces. Initially, there is a description of novelty, something "incredibly sweet" (p. 83), but shortly "disordered sensual images" and a "heady recklessness" that proves compelling (p. 83). There is a compulsion to repeat. Although he faces certain cross-road decision points, Jekyll does not, or cannot, pull back, and all containment breaks down. The sense of a psychic/physical take-over by the drug is dramatic, and, capturing his dire situation, Jekyll complains and resigns in the same breath. The take-over is complete.

Order, space, place Consider the following passages;

A fortnight later, by excellent good fortune, the doctor gave one of his pleasant dinners ... all intelligent, reputable men, and all judges of good wine; and Mr Utterson contrived that the remained behind after the others had departed. Hosts loved to detain the dry lawyer ... sobering their minds in the man's rich silence, after the expense and strains of gaiety. (Stevenson, 1886, p. 43)

The hall, when they entered it, was brightly lighted up; the fire was built high; and about the hearth the whole of the servants, men and women, stood huddled together like a flock of sheep. At the sight of Mr Utterson, the housemaid broke into hysterical whimpering: and the cook crying out, "Bless God! It's Mr Utterson", ran forward as if to take him in her arms.

"What, what? Are you all here?" said the lawyer, peevishly.

"Very irregular, very unseemly: your master would be far from pleased." (Stevenson, 1886, pp. 63-64)

In a story replete with unspeakable vices, nameless desires, and inexplicable character shifts, where are, or are there, any secure foundations on which social order can be anchored? One possible foundation is represented by the domestic setting, replete with ritual, convention, and servants, and another, related to it, lies in geography. In both passages, peace and order are both present and disturbed: in the first due to Utterson's doubts about his friend's state of being (and the reason why he lingers on); and in the second, more seriously, in the aftermath of a succession of serious incidents and which culminates in Utterson's instruction to Poole to break down the door. The world of male, bourgeois domesticity needs defending, against anonymous blackmailers or predatory criminals and against any sign of weakening (hysterical servants cannot support the structure) or violent intrusion (as in the second scene, when decisive action is called for).

Here, as in other areas we have considered, the novel's strength consists of its ability to play with the contradictory, to exploit the very "withinness" that creates the suspense; for example, "It is precisely Jeykll's "high views" which produce morbidity in his relations with his own desires" (Punter, 1996b, p. 3). In other words, order can be dismantled from within and, not only this, but turned upside down. Inversion of order is a real possibility, with the normative becoming the problematic and the civilised world invaded by the lower forms that it had supposedly superseded (Greensdale, 1994). As we have argued, there is considerable scope as to what might constitute the master trope of disorder in the novel (e.g., criminality, madness, addiction, homosexuality, etc.), if one such there be, but let us examine further the social dimension of spaces in the novel.

Slums exist adjacent to fine squares, even citadels; "sinister blocks" disturb the eye and vibrant trading streets stand in contrast to their "dingy neighbourhoods", "like a fire in a forest" (Stevenson, 1886, p. 30). The city that contains the spaces that contain the professional men, regular traders, and obedient servants is also inhabited by the women of "different nationalities", "wild harpies", "ragged children", and other "lower elements" (p. 48). The grand whole, the Imperial City, contains the parts enveloped by fog, vapours, and "chocolate coloured pall". Take, for example, the significance of Hyde's Soho residence, which Utterson describes as "like a district of some city in a nightmare" (p. 48). A poor district at the time, Soho's "muddy ways" abuts the grandeur of the West End, signifying clear social/geographical division. Davidson (1995) analyses the echoing in which the slum and body are described, suggesting he argues, "the novella's mobilization of the body/society chiasmus, widely deployed in nineteen-century discourses, in which body and society are legible in terms of the attributes of the other" (p. 39). Undesirable spaces are inhabited by groups who threaten disorder of the respectable spaces nearby, constituting a major problem for the established hierarchies. One could argue that a tension is established between an "upstairs/downstairs" world and an "alongside" world, in which reversal or undesirable mixing can occur. Social actors can get out of place. Is, then, social class the master trope of disorder or is class merely part of the background scenery?

Generally, Gothic fiction amplifies fear in connection to social class, whether it be that of a decaying aristocracy, a striving, conformist middle class, or a potentially resentful, if not violent, working class. "Low life", associated with lowly social position, is gothicised (Mighall, 1999; Punter, 1996a, 1996b). Arata (1996) draws attention to those powerful resonances between descriptions of criminal deviance and a variety of discourses of social class, particularly associated to the urban poor. One complication, as far as Hyde is concerned, is that he is both potentially working-class thug, working his way into quarters that are not intended for his like, and moneyed gentleman, protégé, and class riser. As for middle-class self-anxiety, Arata (1996) notes the ambivalence surrounding the image of the hearth in the novella, as representing domestic bliss as well as the isolation of the solitary gentleman/bachelor.[1] The "pleasant dinner" party quoted at the start of this section is another instance of comfort being undermined by disquiet.

The presence of "dark", foreign elements is a final contender in the location of disturbance, whether or not it is merged to a discourse around social class. Davidson (1995) talks about the possibility of Stevenson referring indirectly to Irish agitators as source of social threat (Hyde is an Irish surname). We know that Stevenson was concerned about the growing Fenian attacks sweeping England during the 1880s (Callow, 2001; Rankin, 1987) and in this regard, Hyde's frenzied murder of MP, Sir Danvers Carew, may have additional salience.[2] The witness to the murder describes Carew as "an aged and beautiful gentleman with white hair drawing near along the lane" (Stevenson, 1886, p. 46), whom the "madman" Hyde clubs to death. Read in terms of representing the Irish, what better way could there be to counterpoise English civility versus Irish barbarism?


It could be argued that whatever was "in" Stevenson's mind is of less interest than the notions within cultural circulation upon which he drew, contemporary notions of criminal depravity, evolution, perverse processes, discourses of social class, or speculations on the nature of human mind; of course, Stevenson, had the genius to smelt the elements and, in so doing, captured the public imagination. Gothic, like other novelistic forms, is not merely reflective of reality, but is generative and productive. Macherey (1978), in his theory of literary production, argues that "the work never arrives unaccompanied; it is always determined by the existence of other works ... novelty and originality, in literature as in other fields, are always defined by relationships" (1978).

Is it a pessimistic work? Certainly in bringing Jekyll's tortured life to an end, Stevenson dispensed with the pretence of a good ending. Worse still, with the expiry of the host subject, the parasite triumphs, "usurping the offices of life" (Stevenson, 1886, p. 95): "Half an hour from now, when I shall again and forever reindue that hated personality ..." (p. 97). Gone is the idea of struggle, of polar twins, as the denigrated part of the bifurcated body is released.

Is the outcome inevitable or cautionary? If order does fragment, then the social world certainty can enter the domains of revolution, usurpation, anarchy.

That there are no guarantors to order is clear, neither from law nor medicine. The persecutory logic is powerful and challenges the reader, or the witness, not to take what is "normal" for granted. Further, in the Victorian sciences of divided minds, abject bodies, and anti-evolutionary prospects, even the idea of man's double nature may be limited. Stevenson believes that even worse may come: "Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines: and I hazard the guess that man will ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens" (p. 82).

  • [1] Arata (1996, p. 45) explores how biographical contexts shed light on the motivations behind Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson was highly critical of the professionalisation of writing and compares the process to one of prostitution; caught by his own fame, writing the novella "was in part an expression of self-loathing for what Stevenson perceived as the betrayal of his former ideals".
  • [2] Rankin (1987) informs us that the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police was set up in the 1880s to counter "Fenian outrages".
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