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Sunday, 5 April 2015

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Who gave me the idea, before I read Robert Louis Stevenson's book, that Jekyll represented good and Hyde represented evil? 
I've just read Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Here are paragraphs, sentences, phrases describing Hyde:
- Tramples over a little girl, ignores her screams, and walks away.
- "It wasn't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut. I gave a view-halloa, took to my heels, collared my gentleman, and brought him back to where there was already quite a group about the screaming child. He was perfectly cool and made no resistance, but gave me one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me like running." 
- "He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point. He's an extraordinary-looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way." 
- "Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing, and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him."
- "the bless seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say? or can it be the old story of Dr Fell? or is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent? [...] I read Satan's signature upon a face, it is on that of your new friend." 
- Beats a man (Danvers Carew) to death.
- Liked by nobody.
- "the body of a self-destroyer". 
- Fills a pious work with "startling blasphemies". 
- "He was small, as I have said; I was struck besides with the shocking expression of his face, with his remarkable combination of great muscular activity and great apparent debility of constitution, and—last but not least— with the odd, subjective disturbance caused by his neighbourhood. This bore some resemblance to incipient rigour, and was accompanied by a marked sinking of the pulse. At the time, I set it down to some idiosyncratic, personal distaste, and merely wondered at the acuteness of the symptoms; but I have since had reason to believe the cause to lie much deeper in the nature of man, and to turn on some nobler hinge than the principle of hatred.
This person (who had thus, from the first moment of his entrance, struck in me what I can only describe as a disgustful curiosity) was dressed in a fashion that would have made an ordinary person laughable [...] Rather, as there was something abnormal and misbegotten in the very essence of the creature that now faced me— something seizing, surprising, and revolting—this fresh disparity seemed but to fit in with and to reinforce it; so that to my interest in the man's nature and character, there was added a curiosity as to his origin, his life, his fortune and status in the world." 
- "a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill-race in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation". 
- "more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil". 
- "Even as good shone upon the countenance of the one, evil was written broadly and plainly on the face of the other. Evil besides (which I must still believe to be the lethal side of man) had left on that body an imprint of deformity and decay." 
- "pure evil". 
- "The pleasures" are "undignified" and "turn towards the monstrous". 
- "vicarious depravity". 
- "This familiar that I called out of my own soul, and sent forth alone to do his good pleasure, was a being inherently malign and villainous; his every act and thought centred on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture to another; relentless like a man of stone." 
- "brutish, physical insensibility". 
- "My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring. I was conscious, even when I took the draught, of a more unbridled, a more furious propensity to ill." 
- "the scene of these excesses". 
- "lust of evil". 
- "the crowd of hideous images and sounds". 
- "a greater boldness, a contempt of danger, a solution of the bonds of obligation". 
- "the common quarry of mankind, hunted, houseless, a known murderer, thrall to the gallows". 
- Has nothing human; has nothing in him but fear and hatred. 
- Smites a woman who offers him a box of lights. 
- "something not only hellish but inorganic". 
- Burns letters and destroys the father's portrait. 

Evil, evil, evil. I get the idea. Brutish, depraved, inhuman, wicked, etc. But it's general. Vague. There are a few actions and incidents that are more specific, but still vague. E.g Hyde tramples over a girl. What does that mean? The word "trample" seems odd. Then he attacks a man to death. Why? What have they been doing before that? What did Carew say to him? And why does he strike the woman? It's not even clear that she's holding a box of lights ("Once a woman spoke to him, offering, I think, a box of lights"). Let's just say that there need no reasons, because after all Hyde's pure evil, without a conscience, why does he need a reason to assault someone. More important is what Hyde does when he is Hyde, what the pleasures are. Violence, drinking, sexual excesses. I'm pondering over the suggestion that they refer to homosexuality.
Of course, Stevenson doesn't have to be very specific. The ambiguity makes the text richer, more fascinating, open to interpretation. 

OK, forget about Hyde for a moment. Look at Jekyll: 
- "He was wild when he was young; a long while ago to be sure; but in the law of God, there is no statute of limitations. Ay, it must be that; the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace: punishment coming, pede claudo, years after memory has forgotten and self-love condoned the fault."
- "Now that that evil influence had been withdrawn, a new life began for Dr. Jekyll. He came out of his seclusion, renewed relations with his friends, became once more their familiar guest and entertainer; and whilst he had always been known for charities, he was now no less distinguished for religion. He was busy, he was much in the open air, he did good; his face seemed to open and brighten, as if with an inward consciousness of service..."
- "the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as 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. Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life. Many a man would have even 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. " 
- "a double-dealer" but not "a hypocrite", according to himself. 
- "a life of effort, virtue and control". 
- "Jekyll (who was composite) now with the most sensitive apprehensions, now with a greedy gusto, projected and shared in the pleasures and adventures of Hyde; but Hyde was indifferent to Jekyll [...] To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper." 
- Addicted to being Hyde. 
- "It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered." 
- "As the acuteness of this remorse began to die away, it was succeeded by a sense of joy", because Hyde doesn't really exist. 
- "restrictions of natural life", "renunciation". 
- "I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past; and I can say with honesty that my resolve was fruitful of some good. You know yourself how earnestly in the last months of last year, I laboured to relieve suffering; you know that much was done for others, and that the days passed quietly, almost happily for myself. Nor can I truly say that I wearied of this beneficent and innocent life; I think instead that I daily enjoyed it more completely; but I was still cursed with my duality of purpose; and as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for licence."
- "wealthy, beloved". 

Here, again, the details are left out. What are the pleasures, for instance? What does Utterson mean by saying that Jekyll was wild? More importantly, the goodness of Jekyll is also vague. There is nothing about his goodness, his positive traits, virtues, qualities... Well we know that he's friendly, respected, beloved, but that means nothing. We know that he does charities, but that doesn't mean he's good; actually the quotes above show that he needs to care about his progress and position in the world, and does charities also to ease his conscience, which in his youth enables him to commit to his duplicity of life and which later helps him accept the actions of Hyde, which he does his best to separate from his Jekyll self, even though Jekyll shares in the pleasures and excitement. Read all of the passages above- it appears that Jekyll isn't truly good, he just conforms to the conventions and expectations of society, wears a mask, presents his respectable side to others, hides his pleasures and dark activities from others. He lives a double life. To himself, being Jekyll and rejecting Hyde is a restriction, a renunciation- when Hyde goes too far, Jekyll has a bad conscience, but feels a sense of joy because for the time being, Hyde can hide and doesn't have to be held accountable for his crime, and doing charities afterwards is just a way of making up for his bad deeds and feeling better about himself. 
Jekyll therefore isn't good. This side only symbolises conformity, renunciation, repression, the social man, the civilised man, or, it is hard to resist, the consciousness. 

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting. Read Nabokov's lecture on the tale. It is a superb analysis. So is yours.

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    1. Oh yes I will. I intended to read Nabokov's lecture, but had to write down my thoughts 1st, otherwise it would be difficult later. Hahahaha.

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