LIFE and WORKS: STEVENSON
1850: R. Louis Stevenson was born of a middle class family in Edinburgh. He had a strict religious upbringing.
At an early age he started suffering from tuberculosis.
1867: Stevenson was admitted to the University of Edinburgh. There, he studied natural sciences, but quite soon he left university because of his health and devoted himself to literature.
1873: He met Sidney Colvin, Professor of Fine Arts at Cambridge. Colvin became his editor.
Stevenson began his career in the South of France writing stories and essays published in Virginibus Puerisque. He remained in France till 1878.
1878: An Ireland Voyage was published.
1879: He published Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.
He went to San Francisco where he married a divorced woman he had met in France.
1879-1887: The couple began travelling first in France then in Southern England.
In these years Stevenson wrote: Treasure Island, Prince Otto, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped and The Black Arrow.
He became a close friend to Henry James.
1887: He left Europe forever and settled in the U.S.A. He started the composition of The Master of Ballantrae.
1888: Stevenson went on a cruise of the South Sea.
1889 on: The writer and his family settled in Samoa, an island in the Pacific Ocean.
These were the most serene years for Stevenson. He wrote Ebb Tide, Catriona and The Weir of Hermiston.
1894: He died in December and was buried at the top of Mount Vaea with the honours of the greatest Samoan chiefs.
One evening, Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield, while walking through the city of London, stop in front of a door. Mr. Enfield says that he saw a strange accident in that place: a man knocked a little girl down and kicked her. The girl’s family and neighbours, attracted by her screams, obliged that small, ugly man to pay for his crime. He entered the door and returned with a cheque signed by a well-known gentleman, Dr. Jekyll.
Mr. Utterson is surprised: Dr. Jekyll, an old friend of his, had given him his will in which he bequeathed all his possessions to a Mr. Hyde.
Utterson decides to look for this man, but when he succeeds in meeting him, Hyde becomes very suspicious and enters the famous door. Utterson goes to the other side of the house and discovers that it is Dr. Jekyll’s house and that Hyde has complete access to it.
About a year later a maid is the witness of a terrible crime: a Member of Parliament, the prominent Sir Danvers Carew is murdered. The girl identifies the murderer in Mr. Hyde. Mr. Utterson goes with a policeman to the man’s apartment, but he has already left.
The lawyer meets Dr.Jekyll, who shows him a letter, which says that Mr. Hyde has disappeared forever.
One night, while Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Utterson and Dr. Lanyon dine together, Utterson understands something is wrong with Dr. Jeckyll. About three weeks later, Dr. Lanyon dies and leaves a letter addressed to Utterson to be opened only after Jekyll’s death.
During the usual Sunday walk, Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield arrive again in front of the famous door. They step around the corner to the courtyard and see Dr.Jekyll at one of the windows. While Mr. Utterson is inviting the doctor to join them in the walk, Jekyll covers his face. Enfield and Utterson become the witnesses of something terrible, but they do not understand what is happening.
Some time later, Jekyll’s butler, Poole goes to Mr. Utterson and says that the doctor has been shut up for a week in his laboratory and has sent him to various chemists’ to look for a mysterious drug.
Mr. Utterson follows Poole to the laboratory; they pull the door down and discover the corpse of Mr. Hyde. He has committed suicide drinking a fatal portion. But looking for Dr. Jekyll, they find no sign of him except for a letter addressed to Utterson.
He goes home and reads first Dr. Lanyon’s letter and then Dr. Jekyll’s one.
Dr. Lanyon ‘s letter says that one night Dr.Jekyll asked him, in the name of their old friendship, to go to his laboratory, take some items and then return to his house. A man would go there to collect these things. At midnight a horrible person arrives, prepared a potion and drank it. To Lanyon’s horror, the hideous man turned into Dr. Henry Jekyll.
The note written by Dr. Jekyll himself explained the mystery and gave a complete narration of the double life the doctor had led. He came from a wealthy and honourable family and received a good education, but secretly he committed some acts of which he was ashamed. He evaluated the difference between his private and social life and this reflection, together with his scientific knowledge, led him to think about the possibly of isolating these separate halves of his personality.
He compounded a mixture, drank it and so became Mr.Hyde; but he could turn into Dr. Jeckyll any time he wanted. Under this identity he led a lascivious life in an apartment in Soho. After the horrible murder of Sir Carew, he decided to get rid of Mr. Hyde, and he succeeded for a brief period. But one sunny day in Regent’s Park, Dr. Jekyll turned suddenly into Mr. Hyde without drinking any potion. He hid in a hotel and wrote a letter to Dr. Lanyon asking for help. So Lanyon became aware of his secret.
Afterwards Jekyll’s nature was totally occupied by Hyde’s one. He sent Poole to look for the originals compound everywhere: that drug must have possessed some element that could not be reproduced. In despair, Dr. Jekyll committed suicide.
The story begins with Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield in a crowded street of London in front of a door. The door assumes the meaning of a threshold that permits the characters to change and, at the same time, to protect their privacy. The door hides the personality of the main character to the reader.
Then the action moves on in a London covered by the fog (Stevenson seems to ignore the anti-smog law that had cleaned the city’s sky) where Hyde moves as in a magic lantern through half-deserted streets enlightened by lamps and suffocated by noises. Only in this atmosphere he can commit his crimes, in the evening, when strange creatures go out to perform their hideous acts.
But the respectable people only meet in elegant houses where there are few, unimportant women, and where they are protected by the outside world.
Only in the last chapter Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield go back to that door, and they see their friend Jekyll at the window of the same house, a house with two entrances, a respectable and an obscure one. It is meaningful the fact that the front of Jekyll’s house has its great facade with an elegant interior and evidently contrasts with Mr. Hyde’s back entrance that has a dilapidated structure.
The setting seems to get narrower till the end of the story when, in an atmosphere full of fear, the door of the laboratory is pulled down to discover a corpse, the dead body of Mr. Hyde, alias Dr. Jekyll.
Dr. Henry (Harry) Jekyll.
The name Jekyll means I Kill (je is the French word for I) and it represents the effort the doctor makes to isolate his evil personality that cannot reject.
He is introduced only in the third chapter: Dr. Jeckyll is very handsome, tall and well proportioned, in open contrast with the loathsome and dwarfish Hyde. The doctor is even younger than his alter ego: the evil portion has existed for a brief period and it is not his exact half.
The Doctor was born of a wealthy family and had a very good education, nevertheless, or just for this reason, he felt fascinated by the evil that he perceived in his soul.
He is the member of that master race that in the Victorian period tried to submit the other less civilised peoples.
Dr.Jekyll is Mr.Hyde’s father in a world without women: like Frankenstein and Dr. Faustus he has tried to reproduce a human life in a laboratory, but the drug (a drug that can multiply the self like in Coleridge and Baudelaire) loses its power and he is defeated.
The last irony is in his end: the man that commits suicide is Dr. Jekyll, Hyde would never do that, but during the act of dying, Hyde regains his ascendancy so that Utterson and Poole do not find Jekyll’s body, but Hyde’s one.
Mr. Edward Hyde
Mr. Hyde represents the smaller part of Dr. Jekyll: the doctor’s clothes are too big for him. This means that Man is not divided into equal parts of good and evil, but here the evil portion expresses itself more powerfully than the other aspects because Man looses the control of his personality.
Hyde is not physically described, but the various people that are present at the episode of the girl make the reader aware of his disgusting aspect. Just when he knocks the girl down, it seems there is no deliberate guilt. His actions are dictated more by an instinctual force than by cruelty.
His capacity for evil increases. When Hyde murders Sir Danwers, he does it apparently without any reason; but this gentleman is handsome and honest, so his nature contrasts with Hyde’s one, that represents pure evil. In fact his physical features remind more the aspect of an ape than of a human being (reference to Darwin).
The feeling that Hyde arouses in the people he meets points out another aspect of his character: his evil is contagious.
Hyde never really speaks: he cannot express his feelings, but we can understand how much he suffers in the relationships with the other people, in particular with the doctor’s respectable friends. There is no place for him in the Victorian society that tries to control and dominate instinct.
Mr.Gabriel John Utterson
The honest, respectable, serious gentleman appears at first with Mr. Richard Enfield.
He is the reliable narrator, incline more to sympathise with people than to judge or condemn them. He deserves everybody’s confidence because he is discreet and able to keep secrets.
In fact he already knows about Mr. Hyde because one of his best friends, Dr. Jekyll, has given him his will in which he bequeathed all his possessions to Mr. Hyde.
Mr. Utterson begins to seek for Hyde suspecting this one of all sorts of bad actions. He becomes a detective and even the words he uses reveal a duality (many adjectives and verbs are linked to underline the double).
He is a single, as many Victorian narrators of novels, and his friends are only men.
Utterson does not die because he is the storyteller. He watches without passing a judgement on the actions that happen beyond the door. This gives more possibilities to the readers’ imagination.
Mr Richard Enfield
Curious, lively, he involves the reader in the plot introducing for the first time Mr. Hyde in the episode of the girl and the door. He is well known in town as a lover of beautiful things, so he probably exaggerates his disgusting feeling when looking at Hyde.
Enfield cannot specify what is wrong with this man, he only senses that there is something unnatural about him.
Dr. Hastie Lanyon
Close friend of Dr. Jekyll. He broke with him because of divergences in the scientific field.
The conflict between Jekyll and Lanyon represents the fight between the ancient beliefs and the new vision of a split- man, introduced by Darwin’s theories.
He dies because he cannot accept that Dr. Jekyll co-exists with Mr. Hyde and that science has made a great step forward in the revolutionary concept of man.
Under this point of view, the book itself no longer belongs to the classical novel, but to science fiction.
He is the outsider who examines the two different letters given by Jekyll to Mr. Utterson and finds similarities in the two handwritings.
Jekyll’s butler follows the great tradition of the servants in detective-stories. He knows everything about his master and can even recognise the doctor’s step. So he is able to report that the man in the laboratory is not the doctor.
Inspector Newcomen of Scotland Yard
The inspector is one of the first examples of the police-detective that English literature will supply to the detective stories. He accompanies Mr. Utterson in his search for Mr. Hyde in Soho and follows the lawyer’s advice and logical thoughts.
Stevenson wrote the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days, but the first version was thrown into the fire because his wife Fanny criticised it: the story lacked the depth it deserved.
The following three days Stevenson was at work again and completed the novel.
In that period the author suffered a lot because of his disease. His dreams were haunted by brownies and he often cried while sleeping.
As to literature, the Gothic novel and the detective stories surely influenced the writer. In particular the text written by James Hogg in 1824 The Private Confessions of a Justified Sinner about double self supplied Stevenson with the material he used in this novel.
Other examples of narrative about the double self can be found in E. A. Poe, O. Wilde and H. G. Wells.
Stevenson tried to remain detached from the American writer, but there is an evident parallelism in the use of letters, the love for mysterious atmosphere and the vision of dualism in man.
The duality in Stevenson is present in the dimension of the dream. His bed becomes a sort of boat on which he can travel and when he wakes up, his shadow does not want to follow him and tries to live independently; then he looks for an invisible friend with whom to share his fantasies.
Since his early age Stevenson had been affected by the stories the adults told him, in particular by the tale of Deacon Brodie, deacon and owner of a factory of furniture during the day and chief of a band of robbers at night.
As to the scientific references, the writer was probably influenced by the theories of his time: the division of the brain into two halves, Charles Darwin’s studies and S. Freud’s psychoanalysis.
Recent studies state that Stevenson was influenced by the stories about doctors in Edimburgh, his birthplace. It was said that doctors at the university needed corpses to study anatomy and that there were killers who murdered homeless people: then their corpses were brought to the studios of the scientists. Corpses were well paid and the city had a very large and practicable undergrown were these serial killers could easily escape.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jerkily and Mr. Hyde is one of the most familiar tales in literature and these names have been used in manuals to identify a person with a split personality. The evil natures of men have been one of the main themes of literature in the 19th century from Frankenstein on. The Doppelganger, a German word for double self, was studied by Freud and even seen as a metaphor for the contradictions of the society and the gap existing between the upper and working class.
Besides, Stevenson used different narrators and points of view to present various opinions about Hyde.
At first the novel appears to be a mystery story: the reader is not told whose house Hyde enters.
The critics have stressed the oscillation between the two personalities: when Jekyll speaks, he shifts from the first person, I, to the third, he or Hyde.
The double has been also seen as a political matter: Hyde is for the Hannoverians and J stands for the Jacobites.
The doors that protect the privacy of these hidden personalities, separate the private life of the respectable Victorian man from the double self that they try to conceal.
The novel is a warning about the dangers of science and its abuses or the price that might be paid.
The critic David Punter stresses that Hyde’s behaviour is an urban version of going native in a country that tries to repress any deviation. But this society, based on morality, is declining, and the savage overcomes the respectable member of the professional upper middle class.
Stevenson explores the unknown human psyche where he can find the sources of madness, pain and fear with the risk of never returning.
During his last years, Stevenson had an enormous success and was famous. But at the beginning of the 20th century and for many years his books were abandoned and considered worthless novels for children. For Leonard Woolf, Stevenson was an author who had nothing to say.
This criticism lasted till the 60s, when the American critics revalued the Scottish writer.
Before them only some Italian writers had understood his value and his oniric dimension. These critics were Cesare Pavese, Emilio Cecchi and Italo Calvino.
-Brownies: They are friendly little fairies that persecuted R. L. Stevenson in his dreams.
-Charles Darwin (1809-82): He was a naturalist who demonstrated that every animal species descends from a former species including man, who descends from the ape. He gathered evidences of his theory in The Origin of the Species. This book was followed by The Descent of Man that intensified the conflict between science and the writings of the Bible.
-Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): He was the founder of modern psychoanalysis. He used hypnosis to cure hysteria trying to recollect the early memories of patients. Then he used the method of free association to isolate and study the resistance and the transference of man.
Most European novelists of the 20th century applied his theories in literature with the new narrative technique of the stream of consciousness that reproduces the movement of thoughts in writing.
-Doppelgänger: German word from dope = double and ginger = gore.
In German folklore it was the apparition of a living person distinguished from a ghost. It points out the existence of a spirit double, an exact, but usually invisible replica of every person. In ancient belief, to meet a doppelgänger meant to meet one’s death very soon.
The Doppelgänger became a popular symbol in the horror literature of the 18th and 19th centuries and then this theme took on considerable complexity.
Other themes related to the doppelgänger theme in folklore and in literature include the mirror image, the shadow image, and the multiple personality.
-Leonard Woolf (1880-1969): He was a British Man of letters, a publisher and a political worker who influenced literary and political life in London. His best work was probably his autobiography. Together with his wife, novelist Virginia Woolf, he founded a publishing house, the Hogarth Press and encouraged such writers as T. S. Eliot and E. M. Foster.
-David Punter: He is English literary critic who wrote The Literature of Terror, A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the present day, published in 1980.
Besides he is the author of Gothic Revival and English Fiction – History and Criticism.