Context

  • Much of the horror of Jekyll and Hyde stems from Victorian fears, particularly the stream of technological inventions in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, and the sense that the wonders of empire, science and progress had seen their heyday, giving way to a cultural cynicism.

  • Indeed, some scientific theory and discovery came to trouble the Victorians immensely - notably Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (1859), for which he was widely derided.  The idea that humans had evolved from apes was seen as heretical, and religion and science seemed to be in direct conflict. Many believed that science was encroaching upon the world of God, and had thus become dangerous.  We may consider that Jekyll in the novel does indeed become a God-like character, creating Hyde and bringing about his own downfall.

  • The Victorian era was, for many, the golden age of empire. ‘Savage’ civilisations - as many at the time thought of them - were ‘civilised’ by invading European nations who sought to plunder their countries for wealth as well as social, political and economic advantage.   Yet many contemporary novels began to explore the idea that all men are, in fact, savages. Famously, this idea is explored in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, yet Jekyll and Hyde also sees that the apparently civilised Jekyll in actuality desires the savage freedoms of Hyde.  The two men are, inextricably, facets of one another. This is also reflected in the settings of the novel - the civilised and refined exterior of dwellings often give way to a dark interior, from which they cannot be divided. 

  • Thus men, and society itself, have their own ‘heart of darkness’, despite the complex etiquette and cult of refinement that we now associate with Victorian Britain.

  • The idea of ‘double lives’ is reflected in the many dualities of the novel, as well as in Stevenson’s own past works (The Body Snatcher, Deacon Brodie, Markheim) and other works of the age (The Picture of Dorian Gray).

 

Story Notes

 

As you are reading these notes, be on the look-out for analyses of the key themes, character and motifs of the novel.  These include: duality; evil; primitivism; human nature; darkness; dreams; reputation; secrets; language; appearances; interiors and exteriors; London; Jekyll; Hyde; Utterson; Lanyon.

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