Born in Edinburgh on November 13, 1850, Robert Louis Stevenson was known as a late 19th century writer. Unfortunately for his family, Stevenson did not follow the family tradition of lighthouse engineers and instead wrote travel tales and essays. Since early childhood, Stevenson suffered from a respiratory illness and traveled to France in search for better climate. There he met Fanny Osbourne who, already married, did not stop Robert. He followed her back to the US where he married her in San Francisco following her divorce. While married to Osbourne, Stevenson wrote prolifically including most of his famous works; Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde and A Child’s Garden of Verses. Fanny Osbourne would be one of the main reasons that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde became so popular. While writing this novella, Fanny critiqued his writing and the story was not published until she concluded that it was perfect. Stevenson’s late 19th century audience responded well to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as it worked hand in hand with the growing interest of Sigmund Freud’s ideology and the exploration into the human mind.
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Likewise, his writings also included critiquing of imperialism. Additionally, “his writing developed an aggressive rejection of the values of the Victorian Imperial project” (Massie n.pag). Fortunately, these works were exactly what the Victorian people responded to. While working on another story, Weir of Hermiston, Robert Louis Stevenson died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Vailima on December 3, 1894.
Robert Louis Stevenson: A Victorian Author The Victorian era was a period of time that focused on peace and prosperity within Britain, but was also the start of scientific changes. There was an increasing interest in sciences and the exploration of human personality and identity. Likewise there was also an obsession during the 19th century of regression and the idea that traits could reappear after having been gone for generations. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novella that was written by Robert Louis Stevenson and was the embodiment of the era. During the 19th century, the social class gave people structure on how to place themselves within a class based on wealth, education and family.
Stevenson creates characters in the story where society impacts their personality. The Victorian people did their best to avoid being seen as a part of a lower or working class, therefore they hid their true identities. Many of their actions worked alongside the idea of being accepted into a conservative society. The Victorian world was male centered and they were forced to act ideally and pressured into being perfect individuals. This pressure was the same reason that many men began to live “dual” lives indulging in rebellious and unacceptable activities all while portraying a well mannered and appropriate behavior. Saposnik, a literary critic, comments on the novella saying, “With characteristic haste, it plunges immediately into the center of Victorian society to dredge up a creature ever present but submerged; not the evil opponent of a contentious good but the shadow self of a half man” (Saposnik n.pg).
Because of his use of psychology, his illustration of drug use and his portrayal of the ideal Victorian gentleman, Robert Louis Stevenson is an excellent example of a Victorian author as illustrated through his novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. During the late 19th century there was an obsession of Sigmund Freud’s model of the human psyche consisting of the Id, Ego and Superego. Stevenson used this model in his novella and created a story that is viewed as a psychological metaphor rather than just a mystery case. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde tells the story of a psychopath and Freud’s model of the human psyche is important in understanding how the characters Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde work. Dr. Jekyll, a well respected gentleman, is unable to deal with the pressure of social values and creates Hyde in order to avoid those conflicts. Dr.
Jekyll creates the persona of Hyde so that one person would be entirely good as the other would be entirely evil. Mr. Hyde, the id, is aggressive and contains no morals while Dr.
Jekyll, the ego, is rational and is run by the social principles within the setting of the story. The superego, which is known to be socially acceptable, is represented by the morals of Victorian society. Dr. Jekyll has to present himself well to the public and hold back from his desires. Creating Hyde is an outlet for Jekyll to indulge in his pleasures without having to deal with the repercussions. Due to Sigmund Freud’s theory of the human psyche, the novella becomes a symbol of how a mind struggles to find balance and portray proper behavior. Along with Freud’s theory, Stevenson writes about dualism which is an ever present idea throughout The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde. R.L. Stevenson believed that dualism is not only present in an individual but also in a whole society.
Dualism can be understood as the “Existence of two different, often opposite and irreducible principles” (Singh n.pg). Stevenson was intrigued by William Brodie, a respected businessman in Edinburgh but also a thief. Stevenson makes “an assumption that divisions in human consciousness are inevitably moral” (Gish n.pg). Since Jekyll is in fear of social criticism, he creates an outlet for his id to indulge in unspeakable acts. Once Dr. Jekyll realizes the duality of man he states, “With every day and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and intellectual, I thus drew steadily to that truth by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.
” (Stevenson 98). Although Dr. Jekyll is moral and brilliant, the evil that resides in him unleashes through Hyde which ultimately leads to his awareness of the duplicity of his life. Jekyll writes in his confession his reactions and emotions to the fact that “he is drawn irresistibly into a life of duplicity” (Hammond 123). Stevenson’s fascination of the duplicity of man created a novella that is “then a parable both on the dual nature of man and on the double standards man applies to his own behavior” (Hammond 124).
Due to Freud’s theory of the id, ego and superego, the novella becomes a symbol of “the minds struggle to create behavior” (“The Strange Case” n.pg). The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is also a portrayal of the fear and curiosity that comes from the social response to drug addiction.
Dr. Jekyll ingests a homemade potion to alter his ego and eventually becomes dependant on the drugs. Throughout the novella, Jekyll starts meeting the criteria for a diagnosis of substance dependence. Not only does his addiction provoke a negative social response, but it also begins to ruin his social life. Dr. Jekyll begins to abandon old friends and becomes extremely private, living in seclusion and rarely going out.
Additionally he avoids the things he was interested in and only while not under the influence does he begin to enjoy them again. When Mr. Hyde, Jekyll’s alter ego, goes to meet with an old friend, Dr. Lanyon had “loaded an old revolver, that he might be found in some posture of self defense” (Stevenson #).
Lanyons reaction towards Mr. Hyde shows how people struggling from addiction were seen as a danger in society rather than a person in need. Dr.
Jekyll’s physical appearance also begins to change which is caused by long-term drug abuse, although more specifically opiate use, which was common in London around the same time that the story is set. The physical description of him states that “the rosy Jekyll had grown pale; his flesh had fallen away and that he was visibly balder and older” (Stevenson 55-56). Even after all of the physical and mental changes, Dr. Jekyll is in denial of his addiction of the drug and believes he can regulate the use of it and says, “I will tell you one thing: the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde” (Stevenson 36).
Regardless of what he says, Henry Jekyll enjoys being in the disguise of Edward Hyde. Even when Jekyll stops transforming into Hyde, he never truly disposes of Hyde’s clothes or the house. Likewise he never takes responsibility for Hyde even prior to his suicide. Daniel L. Wright, who comments on the “gothic parable” states that, “Jekyll’s inability fully to renounce and take responsibility for Hyde, even on the brink of death, is indicative of the magnitude of his dependance” (Wright n.
pg). Dr. Jekyll is described, not as a monster, but as a man suffering from drug addiction. The novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, humanizes and provides an understanding towards drug addiction without negatively creating an image towards the gentleman who suffers from such. Stevenson’s novella is based off the idea that the Victorian person was haunted of division and contained their temptations in order to appeal to society.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not only an allegory of good vs. evil but also a study of hypocrisy within the Victorian era. Dr. Jekyll has an urge for violence and evil yet will not tolerate those forms of behavior. Dr. Jekyll is an embodiment of the hypocrisy that Stevenson wanted to expose.
Throughout the Victorian era, men were forced to act ideally and were pressured into being perfect individuals. This exact pressure resulted in many men living two seperate lives, their public ideal lives and their private rebellious lives. Jekyll has his desires but keeps them in check in order to maintain his status as a respected doctor. Dr.
Jekyll admits in his statement, “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” (Stevenson 98). Hyde is his outlet and indulges in all sorts of explicit activity which is seen as a rebellion against the Victorian social codes. Although many men conformed to Victorian ideals, they gave into rebellious activity in private. Additionally, since the Victorian era was male centered, it explains the lack of any women in the novella. Although Dr. Jekyll is seen as an ideal middle class man, his hidden id Hyde is the complete opposite.
Likewise, Mr. Utterson, a respected lawyer, does not meet the ideal Victorian gentleman either. Although he is widely respected by the public, many do not know that he is an alcoholic.
Alcoholism was seen as a repulsive act in Victorian middle class society. Mr. Utterson “drank gin when he was alone” (Stevenson 9), which was seen as an unforgiving act by society. Even though Utterson has his flaws, there was no retaliation from the public towards him since he was drinking in private.
Dr. Jekyll on the other hand, performed heinous acts in public under the persona of Mr. Hyde. Both of these middle class Victorian men wanted to be viewed positively by the public while also giving into their desires. The class system during the Victorian era impacts the characters throughout the story because their actions work alongside the idea of being accepted into a conservative society. The society in which Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Utterson live in make them both act in a way that is solely educated, well mannered, responsible and put together. Although, unfortunately for Dr. Jekyll, “He discovers that a person’s identity cannot be halved, that an individual is a composite of all those fears, weaknesses, desires and flaws that make him/her human” (Cornes n.pg).
Victorian society promoted conformity but the unrealistic requirements to be the Victorian gentleman are what led to Dr. Jekyll’s downfall. Robert Louis Stevenson is a perfect example of a Victorian author as he uses psychology, illustration of drug use and portrays the ideal Victorian gentleman in his novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Sigmund Freud’s theory of the human psyche is important in understanding the novella.
The ego, Dr. Jekyll is a well respected gentleman yet he unleashes his id, Mr. Hyde, in order to participate in his desires.
Another main idea throughout the novella is the idea of dualism and split personalities. Stevenson was fascinated by the good and evil differences which divides and brings together the dual nature of man. In the novella, Stevenson creates a character that splits himself into two so that he can be entirely good and entirely evil. Additionally, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is filled with drug use and substance dependence.
Written during a time where many, including Stevenson, experimented with opiates, the story is a clear example of how society viewed those who were struggling of a drug addiction. Finally the story also revolves around the ideal Victorian gentleman. Throughout the era, men would try and be as perfect as possible but the unrealistic requirements resulted in their private acts of rebellion. Although The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written during the Victorian era, many of the ideas throughout the story are still relevant in today’s ever changing society.