The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In the interest of expanding my knowledge of 19th century literature, I recently read Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I admit I’ve been a fan of Treasure Island since childhood, but I had never read this book before.

I couldn’t get over the fact that in order for Jekyll to commit acts of brutality and savagery, he had to physically transform into an object of loathing. Everyone who ran into Hyde claimed that not only was he misshapen, but he also had an aura that made people extremely uncomfortable around him.

Now in the book, Jekyll states his reasons for experimenting on himself as being that once he “learThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/0393974650?ie=UTF8&tag=blogferret-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0393974650)ned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man,” and thinking that because “the nature of [his] life had advanced infallibly in one direction . . . on the moral side,” Jekyll decided that if he could separate the part of him that was infallibly amoral, it would relieve him of that part once and for all. His reasoning was that if his life was infallibly moral, it must follow that there was a part of his subconscious that was infallibly evil, because of the “primitive duality of man.”

This idea got me thinking. What’s the closest thing that comes to mind when one thinks of a man who is fairly upstanding and and all around “good citizen” who changes form on certain occasions and commits atrocities upon his fellows? A Werewolf! Right? Well, that’s what I thought about.

Incidentally, I have to mention that although I intend to (soon) read some actual criticism on the book, I did not immediately head for any of the following essays:

  • Karl Miller, “The Modern Double”
  • Judith Halberstam, “An Introduction to Gothic Monstrosity”
  • Frederic W. H. Myers, “Multiple Personality”
  • Norman Kerr, “Abject Slaves to the Narcotic”
  • John Addington Symonds, “This Aberrant Inclination in Myself”
  • Katherine Linehan, “Sex, Secrecy and Self-Alienation in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

The Book of Werewolves (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/1605065676?ie=UTF8&tag=blogferret-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1605065676)Or any other essays that could actually give me a good critical bent on the story. Nope. I read a book about werewolves. Somewhat to my credit, it’s a 19th century case study about werewolves and witch hunts, and it has medical case studies in it as well as rural legends.

Mostly the Book of Werewolves is concerned with people transforming into animals and then committing murder or cannibalism. Again, it is interesting that pretty much up until Jack the Ripper, you don’t see regular, everyday, “nice” looking people chopping up their fellows and/or eating them. It’s always some monstrosity that is somehow outside of society physically who is doing the chopping.

I’ve been chewing on this idea for a couple of weeks but I can’t really get an angle on it. I seem to remember from my Epics class that Autolykos, or “man-wolf,” (Odysseus’s grandfather) was not really “well in” to society – he made a few wrong moves according to Greek societal rules. I would have to dig out my notes.

I may come back to this idea after reading some criticism on Dr. Jekyll and turning it over. I’m sure there’s a lycanthropy connection, but I can’t decide what it means. I’m not just reasserting the “duality,” “hypocrisy,” and “alienation” ideas, although those are all implied in lycanthropy, but I am very interested in the monstrous form and the grotesque and their implications in the 19th century novel.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed the educational section of our programming today. If I have time tomorrow, I’m going to post some more about Austin. I may not get to it, though, because we’re leaving tomorrow night to go to Monroe and will be there for the weekend.

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2 comments to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

  • Brien (http://www NULL.2dons NULL.com)

    There actually is a prevailing thought in society that those who are misshaped are evil – that the physical manifestation is an indicator of the personalty (evil witches in forests comes to mind). Even in cases where the villain appears to be beautiful at first, there is usually a transformation to reveal that this person is bad. It’s like people are afraid of the concept of not being able to determine whether someone is evil just by looking at them – it frightens people that they cannot immediately recognize danger. Even in relatively friendly tales (Beauty and the Beast), the reversion from hideous to beautiful accompanies a shift in personality from negative to positive.

  • I Scoff At Your Piddly Five Year Plan | involuntary fury (http://blog NULL.involuntaryfury NULL.com/2008/09/i-scoff-at-your-piddly-five-year-plan/)

    […] del Toro and Universal have no less than four movies lined up. There are remakes of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Slaughterhouse-Five and an adaptation of an unpublished Dan (http://www NULL.dantheman NULL.com) Simmons novel, […]

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