The Victorian Dual Nature of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Victorian Dual Nature of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Victorian London is known for its great concerns with appearances and class structures. Fashion was an overtly essential concern of people at the time as what you wore said everything about you. The idea was to appear as more than you were, to look affluent, to display your social standing, even if that meant not portraying your own personality, or your true self. Victorian London was a very socially aware place and time. Much of society during the time was governed by rules on etiquette, on manner of dressing, on how to speak and even how to behave in various different social settings. Because of these forced societal regulations and guidelines, it is argued that people living during the Victorian London times lived double lives. They portrayed themselves based on their class or rank publicly and acted accordingly, yet more often than not, they lived veiled lives. In saying veiled lives, it is understood that Victorians lived under an evident pretense, often juggling their appearances over the reality of the society they resided in. No story better depicts these ideas of duality in human nature, or the contrast between appearances and reality in Victorian London than Robert Louis “Balfour” Stevenson’s, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” By analyzing critical articles on the subject matter of this inherent duality, we can attempt to understand the dichotomy of Jekyll and Hyde, of good versus evil.

Essentially, we have been taught to think that appearances are everything. A rule of thumb thrown around over the years in regards to employment is that to play the part, you must look the part. But, the counter for this way of thinking is in the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ While appearances may indicate a lot about a person, appearances will not tell us everything. As Stevenson’s gothic story informs us all, appearances only serve to veil what lies within. During Stevenson’s time period, correlation between the inner and outer became more scientific based. For example, “scientists measured foreheads and eye sizes; they examined physical characteristics they thought were indicators of criminality” (Clarke 1373). Victorian London progressed toward new law enforcement procedures such as fingerprinting and body measurements to attempt to distinguish criminals from the righteous. Stevenson’s story serves to discredit the scientific method, in a sense, because he demonstrates that an outstanding citizen with respectful appearances and the most unlikely of all suspects, Jekyll, could become an immoral and vile criminal as evidenced in Mr. Hyde. The most noteworthy aspect of this story is that while Victorian society revered and respected Dr. Jekyll, yet loathed Mr. Hyde, no one made the connection that the two men and the good and evil that each man represented, were conjoined and very much intermingled. “This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil” (Stevenson 1406). Jekyll points out what we all ignore: the cohabitation of both benevolence and malignance within all of us.

In the “Critical Essay on ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’”, Wendy Perkins looks at the two ideologies that governed Victorian London at the time, and that influenced Stevenson’s work. According to Perkins, Victorian London was not only utilitarian, but Evangelical in customs and morals. To elaborate this point Perkin defines utilitarian as having, “believed that self-interest should be one’s primary concern and that happiness could be attained by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure” (Perkins 1). It would seem that this utilitarian viewpoint is evidenced in Jekyll’s original intent, but more so in the entirety of Hyde’s character. “Hyde, like the id, is all impulse—impulse that recognizes only its own desires” (Clarke 1374). Hyde is a representation of all of Jekyll’s innate darker desires that by Jekyll’s morals and standing in society, Jekyll is unable to otherwise freely portray. Perkins notes that, “the pressure Jekyll feels to conform to the dictates of society and thus to suppress his desires becomes overwhelming and inspires his decision to tamper with nature” (Perkins 3). Overwhelmed on one side by a teasing temptation to explore his evil side, Jekyll attempts to counter his more evil sensibilities by keeping his head held high and by essentially by keeping up middle-class appearances. In this sense, it would seem that Jekyll is just an appearance for his inward reality, Mr. Hyde.

Essentially, “Hyde acts out those unspeakable desires we all have but will never tell. In this way he is, as much as Oedipus or Hamlet, representative of us all” (Clarke 1374). While it is undeniable that we all have or have had less than admirable desires at some point in time, not all of us can bring ourselves to freely act on behalf of these dark desires and commit a evil deed. Hyde is very impulsive and exhibits nothing higher than his own selfish desires. Hyde represents this freedom of expression of one’s true self with no inhibitions. “Ironically, while Jekyll suffers from having to live a double life before the transformations, he enjoys his duplicity after them. When he can give free expression to each side of his nature, he is content, even though as Hyde, his urges are becoming more and more depraved” (Perkins 3). Before his scientific remedy Jekyll feels restrained and overwhelmed by his duplicitous feelings. Afterwards, Jekyll causes this separation, or division and describes the consequent feeling “liberty”

Where utilitarianism focused on self-interest primarily, “Evangelicalism demanded a rigid code of conduct from its practitioners in exchange for the forgiveness of sin” (Perkins 1). While utilitarian Victorian London concerned itself with keeping up appearances and maintaining one’s happiness by dodging pain, Evangelical Victorian London concerned itself with following all of society’s moral obligations. This is evidenced in Stevenson’s character of Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer and Dr. Lanyon. “It is the mark of a modest man to accept his friendly circle ready made from the hands of opportunity ; and that was the lawyer’s way” (Stevenson 1375). To be a lawyer at the time, was to have certain privileges as well as a certain group of acquaintances and Utterson settled into the lawyer obligations without question. He followed his duties through with his investigation of Jekyll’s questionable activities, therefore fulfilling his contractual obligations. Yet, he remained aloof from placing judgment on his friend’s actions. Dr. Lanyon was also a man of moral, Evangelical character, and Hyde points this out to the reader when he shows Lanyon what the transformation and his existence really signified. “Lanyon, you remember your vows: what follows is under the seal of our profession. And now, you who have so long been bound to the most narrow and material views, you who have denied the virtue of transcendental medicine, you who have derided your superiors—behold!” (Stevenson 1403). Hyde acknowledges that Lanyon adhered to the restrictions placed on his character by Victorian society. Both Utterson and Lanyon were compliant men, unwilling and uninterested in going beyond the bounds placed on them by a rigid society.

Utterson’s daily and weekly routines remained the same, including his quiet walk’s with Lanyon. Both Utterson and Lanyon adhered to a rigid code of conduct which all throughout the story, they never strayed from. Perkins shares this outlook of Utterson agreeing that, “Utterson’s repressed personality and his friends’ appreciation of it provide a good example of the rigid patterns of conduct followed by many middle-class Victorians who were influenced by the tenets of utilitarianism” (Perkins 2) Utterson’s quiet demeanor and the fact that his friends’ accepted his manner approvingly demonstrates the confines of conduct pertinent to Victorian society at the time. This is evidenced also in the text of the actual gothic literature where Utterson was liked, he was liked well. Hosts loved to detain the dry lawyer, when the light-hearted and loose-tongued had already there foot on the threshold; they liked to sit awhile in his unobtrusive company, practicing for solitude, sobering their minds in the man’s rich silence, after the expense and strain of gaiety. (Stevenson 1383)

Utterson’s austere nature served to balance out the countenance of his more utilitarian friends. The strain that came with entertaining guests to improve or project social standing was lessened whenever Utterson was also a guest. In that sense, this duality of utilitarians coupled with Evangelicals served to be what Victorian London was comprised of Utterson and those in positions like him, adhered strictly to codes of conduct governing Victorians lives during the time period. Perkins looks at the works of Irvin Saposnik to analyze this aspect of Victorian livelihood in Utterson because by person and profession he represents the best and worst of Victoria’s social beings. Pledged to a code harsh in its application, he has not allowed it pressures to mar his sense of human need…As a lawyer, he represents that legality which identifies social behavior as established law, unwritten but binding; as a judge, however, he is a combination of justice and mercy (as his name Gabriel John suggest), tempering rigidity with kindness, self-denial with compassion. (Perkins, Saposnik 2)

As a lawyer, Utterson has no choice, but to strictly adhere to the laws his position requires him to uphold. As a person, Utterson is a loyal, and merciful friend, kind in nature and not nonjudgmental of other’s characters’. The Evangelicalism in him has not altered his more human sensibilities. Another article that looks at the duality represented in Stevenson’s Victorian era is “Jekyll/Hyde” written by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates looks at Jekyll’s character he presents himself to the reader as a congenital ‘double dealer’ who has nonetheless ‘an almost morbid sense of shame’ and who, in typically Victorian middle-class fashion, must act to disassociate ‘himself’…from his baser instincts. He can no longer bear to suppress them and it is impossible to eradicate them. His discovery that ‘Man is not truly one, but two’ is seen to be a scientific fact, not a cause for despair. (Oates 1)

In essence, Jekyll realizes the constrictions placed on his true character by Victorian society morals and customs. Jekyll believed a person’s ethical and moral nature could be separated from their more basic impulsive and carnal instincts. He noticed in himself the struggle between good and evil, acknowledging with disdain that there did arise some form of pleasure when engaging in his more basic desires. This acknowledgement is apparent in the letter Jekyll writes confessing his activities. Jekyll was inclined by nature to industry, fond of the respect of the wise and good among my fellow-men, and thus, as might have been supposed, with every guarantee of an honorable and distinguished future. And indeed the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as made the happiness of many, but such I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public. (Stevenson 1403-1404)
Jekyll speaks on the duality in his own nature in the letter. Required to commit to the rigid rules of Victorian society, Jekyll felt repressed by the constant need to uphold his respectable position. He acknowledges the errors in his ways with his “impatient gaiety,” but also acknowledges the struggle to maintain his air of honorable gentleman as it conflicted with his carnal impulses. Jekyll struggled miserably to balance out the good and evil within him, the utilitarian and the Evangelical, only to have to hide behind a “commonly grave countenance” daily.

Just as Perkins explained the utilitarian ideology as it related to Victorian society, Oates seems to find the text directly correlated to the utilitarianism Perkins speaks about. “The creature summoned out of his soul and sent forth to do his pleasure is a being ‘inherently malign and villainous; his every act and thought centered on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture to another; relentless like a man of stone’” (Oates 2, Stevenson 1407). Utilitarians focus primarily on self-interest, and Hyde is the very epitome of self and self indulgence. He is a beast of sorts; an example of what a solely utilitarian Victorian society would be like. Hyde becomes the vanquishing of all morals, all things upright but also the acceptance of Jekyll’s more natural impulses.

Jekyll is a respected man plagued by conflicts within his own personality. By disassociating himself from Hyde, Jekyll manages to rip his personality, his psyche into two. This inherent “good and evil” trait resides in all of us as human beings even in today’s society. Oates points this communal life out in the text of the actual story and briefly expands on it in her article. “And, in time, it may be revealed that man is ‘a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens’—which is to say that the ego contains multitudes: multiple personalities inhabit us all” (Oates 1). Jekyll ultimately and tragically comes to the realization that by separating his alter ego he has actually liberated the tremendously evil monster within him. Jekyll’s successive divisions and lapses into Hyde and his carnal pleasures, cause Hyde to become stronger than Jekyll, and in fact, very independent of his decrepit body’s true nature. While I agree with Oates that as individuals we all are inhabited by more than one personality or at least personality traits, I am not sure I can fathom that all of our many personalities are independent entities. Jekyll caused Hyde to become an independent denizen by freeing Hyde from his moral confinements. While there is no potion for any of us to take to do the same, our own personalities suffer no outrageous split. Our own personalities cohabitate: with the weaker personalities remaining dormant.

Oates correctly discovers one of the themes of Stevenson’s gothic tale. “For Stevenson’s penetrating examination into his characters constitutes one of the novel’s major themes: the formative and often distorting effects of language and society on man’s perception of himself and his world” (Oates 1). Victorian language and society at the time not only dictated middle-class life, but governed it as well. Stevenson’s tale shows us the lives of three men in the middle-class in Victorian London. The story also shows us three different personalities as they relate to Victorian society. Utterson, so aptly named, is clearly Evangelical and dedicated to living the Victorian lifestyle. Utterson was a man who was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years. But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove. (Stevenson 1375)

Utterson is portrayed as boring; a lawyer dedicated to his duties within a society riddled with civil, middle-class gentry and the mischievous. While he remains rigid to Victorian codes of conduct, his more humanistic side finds appreciation in the “misdeeds” others commit that he is incapable of.
Lanyon, while also Evangelical in nature, differs from Utterson. In, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Anatomy of Misperception,” Daniel Fraustino explains Lanyon’s character as being in the dark himself concerning knowledge of the darkness that Hyde represented. Lanyon’s clear intention is to block out the bimorphous reality of Hyde—the dual nature of man—so as to preserve his own social sense of man as inherently perfectible. For Lanyon man’s social character is synonymous with man’s essential self, hence he views Dr. Jekyll’s excursion into Faustian metaphysics as a sign of moral perversion. Significantly, Lanyon is the only character in the novel that has no knowledge of Hyde’s existence prior to his one fatal encounter. In a sense, Lanyon has completely alienated himself from the Hyde within him… (Fraustino 1-2)

According to Fraustino, Lanyon represents the effects of Victorian morals and customs on individuals in the society. Brainwashed by the rigidity of Victorian rules of conduct, Lanyon is unable to accept Jekyll’s self-exploration into the dichotomy of his own character. The fatal encounter Lanyon has with Hyde/Jekyll breaks his own countenance. Witnessing the dual nature of man firsthand upset Lanyon as he never perceived that two separate entities could make up the composition of any one person’s character. Lanyon throughout the novel remains determinedly ignorant to the truth of man’s dual nature. It is not until he is faced with the truth, that Lanyon realizes Jekyll has uncovered an unspeakable truth about society. This truth is that within us lies both good and evil. Instead of attributing each side their own independence, we should acknowledge rather than ignore each trait’s existence within us. Jekyll himself points out what Lanyon’s character lacks. “O, I know he’s a good fellow—you needn’t frown—an excellent fellow; and I always mean to see more of him; but a hide-bound pedant for all that; an ignorant, blatant pedant” (Stevenson 1383). Lanyon managed to hide his own inner Hyde from himself, and in the end led to his own destruction. For as much knowledge as Lanyon had, he did not know of man’s dual nature. His knowledge of medicines was superseded by his ignorance of his own duplicitous nature.

Just as Oates discussed the distorting effects of language and society on man’s self-perception, so does Fraustino in Utterson’s character. Utterson was “unable to understand the enigma with which he is confronted, Utterson attempts to arbitrate reality by means of language, an act as perennial as art and as primitive as magic formula” (Fraustino 2). Essentially, Utterson tries to satisfy his curiosity of the peculiar happenings of his friend Jekyll, and the mysterious Mr. Hyde. Possibly peaked by his interest in the latter, more basic and carnal being, Utterson attempts to understand the reality of evil that has newly planted itself within the usual monotonous customs of Victorian society. He utilizes language to try to determine a plausible explanation for the apparent correlation between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “For Utterson, the purely social man, words are surrogates for reality, manipulation of the former representing control of the latter. While the use of language in this way is common enough, Utterson chronically fails to discriminate between the symbol and the reality” (Fraustino 3). To Utterson, the ability to manipulate words meant he had some control over the reality around him. In other words, Utterson with his clever tongue attempted to get a grasp on the reality of Hyde during the entire story, but was unable to fully grasp the meaning until Jekyll’s confession letter.

Stevenson objectifies Victorian London and its norms throughout the novel. Using this as a foundation, Stevenson engages the reader in an analysis of the dichotomy, or rather union of good and evil. According to Stevenson, we are all dual in nature, but it is how we deal with this duality that will consequently liberate, repress, or alienate us. Perhaps Stevenson suggests that, unlike his early ancestors, modern man suffers from an ever-widening split in his consciousness, and we are all Lanyons, Uttersons, and Jekylls who have repressed, alienated, or otherwise estranged the Hyde within us—acts which doom us to inhabit the outskirts of reality as well as those of our own personalities. (Fraustino 4)

Fraustino carefully categorizes us all as being able to relate to at least one, if not all, of the three characters most prominent in Stevenson’s story. While the Lanyons of our society are ignorant to new knowledge of our inner demons, the Uttersons’ take notice and try to make sense of the reality of our hidden agendas. Lastly, the Jekylls’ of our society are the people caught up in self-indulgence and greed .The Jekylls’ are smart, yet do not know enough, honorable yet disgusting, good yet evil, dual in every aspect of life. Many critics assume that Stevenson’s novel is primarily about this innate double-sidedness and the dichotomy of good and evil within all of us. Oates, Fraustino and Perkins all agree that the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sets the stage for Victorian London with its strict covenants. Victorian London represented upholding Evangelical versus utilitarian morals to Perkins. To Oates, Victorian London meant a dissociation of one’s true self, and to Fraustino Victorian London meant the effects of a structured society on unbalanced, curious individuals. Essentially, the combination of the three arguments attempts to inform us that we might need to reevaluate our own psyche and find a middle ground between the good and evil within us all. Where our normal sensibilities are evident, we should try to understand, rather than to completely liberate, the duality within each of us.

Works Cited
Perkins, Wendy. “Critical Essay on ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’.” Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “ Retellings.M.B. Clarke and A.G. Clarke. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2004. 1374-1413. Print.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Jekyll/Hyde.” Hudson Review 40.4 (Winter 1988): 603-608. Rpt. In Novels for Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.
Fraustino, Daniel V. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Anatomy of Misperception.”Arizona Quarterly 38.3 (Autumn 1982): 235-240. Rpt. In Novels for Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.