Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2005
Revised in 2010.©
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novel of horror focusing on events resulting from scientific experimentation. The novel contains elements of science fiction, a literary genre focusing on a fictional story of how scientific experiments, discoveries, and technologies affect human beings for better or
worse. Science fiction differs from pure fantasy in that it presents events that appear to be scientifically plausible. The book also contains elements of Gothic fiction.
The New York firm of Charles Scribner's Sons published Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on January 5, 1886. The London firm of Longmans, Green, and Company published the book on January 9 of the same year.
Robert Louis Stevenson's source of inspiration for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a dream he had while recovering from an illness at Bournemouth, England. When he awoke from it, the details of the plot crystallized and he wrote them down.
On one of their excursions in London’s Soho district, Enfield tells Utterson about an incident he had witnessed there involving an ugly little man. At about 3 o’clock one winter morning, the man was walking eastward when he collided with a little girl, about eight, coming out of a side street. She fell, and he tramped right over her, leaving her screaming. When Enfield confronted the man, the fellow gave Enfield a look that made him break out into a sweat. Hearing her screams, the girl’s family came to her aid. She had earlier been sent to fetch a physician to attend a sick family member. When the doctor arrived, he pronounced the girl not much the worse for her experience except for being terribly frightened.
Everyone on the scene regarded the offender with utter hatred. When the women attacked him, the men did their best to hold them back. However, they threatened “to make his name stink from one end of London to the other,” Enfield said. Realizing that the little girl’s defenders meant business, the man agreed to make a settlement of a hundred pounds. He entered the door of a two-story building and returned moments later with ten pounds and a draft for the rest of the money signed by another man—“with a name that I can’t mention,” Enfield said. Enfield does mention, however, that the signer was a man of excellent reputation, a fact which has led Enfield to speculate that the ugly little man had been blackmailing the signer. The address on the draft indicated that the signer lived elsewhere, in a square.
Since the incident, Enfield says, he has made a study of the two-story building, a run-down structure with a door but no windows. No one enters or leaves it except the ugly man. When Utterson asks his name, Enfield readily supplies it: Hyde. Enfield describes him this way: "There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right 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".
Utterson then says he will not ask the name of the signer of the draft because he already knows it.
After dinner that evening at his bachelor house, Utterson opens his office safe, removes the will of his friend and client, Henry Jekyll, M.D., and peruses it. It provides that in the event of Jekyll’s death all his possessions should pass to his “friend and benefactor Edward Hyde.” It further provides that if Jekyll disappears without explanation for more than three months, Hyde is to take control of Jekyll’s affairs and property. It is madness, a disgrace, Utterson thinks. Utterson then visits Dr. Hattie Lanyon, another friend of Jekyll, in Cavendish Square. When Utterson questions Lanyon, the latter says he has seen little of Jekyll in the past ten years because they had a falling out over what Lanyon terms “unscientific balderdash.” When asked about Hyde, Lanyon says he never heard of him.
Thereafter, in his spare time, Utterson frequently observes the two-story building that Hyde had entered. One evening, after 10 p.m., Hyde appears. While he poises a key to open the door, Utterson steps forth and says, “Mr. Hyde, I think?” He asks to be admitted to see Dr. Jekyll, whom he describes as an old friend. Hyde says Jekyll is not at home, then asks how Utterson knew Hyde’s name. “By description,” Utterson replies, mentioning that they have common friends, one of whom is Jekyll. Without saying more, Hyde opens the door and disappears inside. Utterson loathes him more than ever before. His ugliness, his manner, seem to make him inhuman— “something troglodytic,” Utterson thinks.
Two weeks later, Jekyll holds a dinner for five or six old friends. After all the guests leave except Utterson, the latter brings up the subject of the will, saying he never approved of the document. Now, he is even more wary of it, he says, after investigating Hyde, whom he says is abominable. But Jekyll refuses to discuss the will, saying his mind is made up on the matter. However, to pacify Utterson, he says that he can get rid of Hyde anytime he wishes.
“I give you my hand upon that,” he says.
Almost a year later, in October, a murder late in the evening in a street near the river becomes the talk of London. A maidservant who witnessed it from an upstairs window gave this account: An elderly gentleman was talking with a small man when suddenly the latter erupted with anger, beat the gentleman mercilessly with a cane, and trampled him under foot. After hearing the victim’s bones breaking, the maidservant fainted. Later, when she came to, she called the police and told them she recognized the murderer as Mr. Hyde, whom she saw when he visited her master
In the murder victim's pockets, police find a gold watch, a purse, and an envelope addressed to Mr. Utterson. In a nearby gutter is part of Hyde’s cane, which had split while he was beating the man. There are no identifying papers or cards in the man’s pockets, but the next morning Utterson identifies him as Sir Danvers Carew, a member of Parliament. He escorts Inspector Newcomen of Scotland Yard to the Soho section of London and the two-story house where Hyde apparently lived—the man who stood to inherit a quarter million in sterling from Jekyll.
An old woman answers the door. After she tells them Hyde is out, they search his rooms. They are tastefully furnished with thick carpeting, fine table linen, and silver plates but presently in great disarray: Drawers are open and clothes lie about with pockets turned inside out. In the fireplace is a heap of ashes in which the inspector finds part of a checkbook. Behind a door is the other part of the cane. After the inspector traces the checkbook to a bank, he is confident he will nab his man. All he has to do is wait at the bank for Hyde to appear.
Utterson then visits Jekyll again. This time, Jekyll’s servant, Poole, escorts him to the laboratory, sometimes referred to as the “dissecting rooms.” Jekyll seems ill. When Utterson questions him about Hyde, Jekyll swears he is through with the man. He gives a Utterson a letter signed “Edward Hyde” that says Hyde will not bother Jekyll. It also says Hyde plans to disappear. But the letter does not disclose Hyde’s whereabouts; Jekyll burned the envelope in which it arrived but says it had no return address anyway. However, on his way out, Utterson asks Poole about the man who delivered the letter. Poole says no letters were hand-delivered. The only mail that came arrived by post.
When he returns to his office, Utterson shows the letter to his trusted clerk, Mr. Guest, who recognizes the handwriting as Jekyll’s when he compares it to the handwriting on a note Jekyll sent to Utterson to invite him to dinner.
After instructing Guest not to speak a word of the note, Jekyll locks it in his safe. He believes Jekyll forged it on behalf of Hyde.
Meanwhile, the police are unable to locate Hyde even though friends of Sir Danvers Carew post rewards in the thousands of pounds for the capture of the murderer. Tales spread about what a violent, cruel man Hyde is.
On January 8, Jekyll holds his party, and all goes well—as in the old days. However, when Utterson makes return visits on the 12th, 14th, and 15th, Poole tells him Jekyll will not see anyone. Two nights later, Utterson visits Lanyon, who had been at the party. Utterson is shocked at the man’s appearance: pale, gaunt, seemingly older, with a look of terror distorting his face. Lanyon explains that he had undergone a great shock from which he will not recover. When Utterson mentions Hyde, Lanyon refuses to discuss him. Two weeks later, Lanyon dies. Then a letter from him arrives at Utterson’s. Inside is a sealed envelope on which is written “not to be opened till the death or disappearance of Dr. Henry Jekyll." Utterson locks it in his safe and immediately goes to see Jekyll but is denied admittance.
On one of the their Sunday walks, Utterson and Enfield pass into the courtyard outside Jekyll’s residence and see him sitting at an open window of his laboratory. Utterson asks Jekyll to join him and Enfield for a walk, but he politely declines. A moment later, a look of terror suddenly crosses Jekyll’s face, and he closes the window.
Some days later, Poole arrives at Utterson’s to tell him Jekyll had shut himself up for a week. When Utterson goes to Jekyll’s with Poole, the lawyer finds that all the maids are terrified—of something. The two men knock on Jekyll’s door and hear him reply in a strange voice: “I cannot see anyone.” Poole then leads Utterson to the kitchen and tells him that “whatever” lives in the laboratory has been crying out for certain drugs, writing orders for them and throwing them out the door. After Jekyll’s servants leave meals outside the door, the laboratory occupant takes them when no one is around.
Eventually, Utterson and Poole break into the laboratory and find Mr. Hyde dead on the floor in the clothes of Dr. Jekyll. It appears that he had committed suicide. Utterson also finds a letter written by Jekyll to Utterson.
Later, in his home, Utterson first removes Lanyon’s letter from the safe and reads it. It says that Hyde visited Lanyon at midnight one evening to obtain certain chemicals—a white crystalline salt and a phial of red liquid that Lanyon guessed contained phosphorus and a volatile ether—that Jekyll had left in Lanyon’s care. They were to be given to Hyde should he come calling for them. After Lanyon gave Hyde chemicals, Hyde mixed them and drank the concoction, the color of which had changed to dark purple. In a moment, he staggered and went into a frenzy. When the episode had concluded, Hyde had become Jekyll. Lanyon was so shaken by the incident, he wrote, that "sleep has left me; the deadliest terror sits by me at all hours of the day and night; and I feel that my days are numbered, and that I must die."
In the Jekyll letter, Jekyll says he discovered a way to separate his good side from his sinister side. The latter became Mr. Hyde. For a time, Jekyll looked forward to becoming Hyde to enjoy the freedom of acting without a conscience. One night, he invoked Hyde through his chemical concoction and ended up murdering Sir Danvers Carew. When he became Jekyll again, he was horrified at his deed. Then he resolved to redeem himself.
“You know yourself how earnestly, in the last months of the last year, I laboured to relieve suffering,” Jekyll wrote. “[Y]ou know that much was done for others, and that the days passed quietly, almost happily for myself.”
Alas, however, Jekyll started turning into Hyde without ingesting chemicals. It was the onset of one of these episodes that caused Jekyll to slam shut the window when Utterson and Enfield were in the courtyard below talking with him. Eventually, Jekyll needed increasing amounts of chemicals to rid himself of Hyde. But the effect of the chemicals would last only several hours, and Hyde would return. Fear of becoming Hyde ate at him, ruined his health. When his supply of chemicals was almost depleted, he obtained a new supply. However, it was ineffective, and Jekyll concluded that the original supply contained an impurity that enabled him to achieve the desired effect of turning back into Jekyll. While using up the last of the old supply, he wrote the letter to Jekyll.His letter ends the letter this way:
“Will Hyde die upon the scaffold? or will he find courage to release himself at the last moment? God knows; I am careless; this is my true hour of death, and what is to follow concerns another than myself. Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.”
Stevenson tells the story in third-person point of view from the perspective of Gabriel Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's attorney. However, Jekyll and Lanyon tell small parts of the story in first-person point of view, through letters read by Utterson.
The novels of Stevenson--such as Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and, of course, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde--enjoy enduring popularity partly because of the author's ability to maintain suspense. In the following paragraph, for example, he creates an air of mystery about Mr. Hyde and asks questions that arouse the reader's curiosity.
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. "There must be something else," said the perplexed gentleman. "There is something more, if I could find a name for it. God bless me, the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say? or can it be the old story of Dr. Fell? or is it the mere radience of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent? The last, I think; for, O my poor old Harry Jekyll, if ever I read Satan's signature upon a face, it is on that of your new friend." (Chapter 2)In Chapter 6, Stevenson says of Hyde,
Much of his past was unearthed, indeed, and all disreputable: tales came out of the man's cruelty, at once so callous and violent; of his vile life, of his strange associates, of the hatred that seemed to have surrounded his career; but of his present whereabouts, not a whisper.In a Chapter 8,Stevenson creates a sense of foreboding, then plants a suggestion of impending catastrophe.
It was a wild, cold, seasonable night of March, with a pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her, and flying wrack of the most diaphanous and lawny texture. The wind made talking difficult, and flecked the blood into the face. It seemed to have swept the streets unusually bare of passengers, besides; for Mr. Utterson thought he had never seen that part of London so deserted. He could have wished it otherwise; never in his life had he been conscious of so sharp a wish to see and touch his fellow-creatures; for struggle as he might, there was borne in upon his mind a crushing anticipation of calamity.Conflict
The conflict in the novel centers on (1) the struggle between Jekyll and Hyde for control of the doctor's mind and body and (2) the struggle between Hyde and society after he makes his presence known as a brutal murderer. Nature reflects these struggles symbolically, as in the following passage in which the sun and wind vie with a heavy fog that descends over the Soho district of London.
It was by this time about nine in the morning, and the first fog of the season. A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr. Utterson beheld a marvelous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths. The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful reinvasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer's eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare. (Chapter 4).
Good vs Evil
Each human being is a mixture of good and evil. Unless a person suppresses his evil side, he runs the risk that the latter will dominate his good side and eventually bring him to ruin.
Boundaries of Science
Science has moral boundaries. Jekyll crosses them when he experiments on a mentally sound and physically healthy human being, himself, without regard for the dangers he could pose to himself and others. You may wish to compare this theme with a similar one in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Loyalty and Professional Ethics
Utterson is loyal to everyone he befriends—Jekyll, Enfield, his circle of professional friends. He, Guest, and Lanyon also strictly observe professional ethics, keeping confidences and abiding by agreements.
Isolation and Secrecy
When he conducts his experiments in hiding—without confiding in colleagues before or after the appearance of Hyde—Jekyll isolates himself and keeps his experiments a secret. As Mr. Hyde, he also moves about in secret. The veiled life of Jekyll-Hyde suggests that urban environments such as London have a hidden, mysterious side lurking within the shadows.
When Jekyll becomes Hyde, he becomes violent, like a wild animal. The message here is clear: When any man allows his Hyde to gain sway, he also becomes violent—-as a playground bully, a barroom brawler, a sadistic warmonger, a terrorist.
The climax occurs when Utterson and Poole break down the door to Jekyll's laboratory and find Jekyll's alter ego, Hyde, lying dead on the floor.
There is a mental illness in which a person exhibits more than one personality, or identity. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) calls it dissociative-identity disorder, jargon for multiple-personality disorder. The sufferer has two or more personalities. One personality, or identity, may take control of the mind for a
while, then yield to another personality. The latter personality may in turn yield to still another personality. Often one personality dominates. However, the dominant personality may not be aware of what another personality did while in control.