The Victorian Era was a period characterized by strict standards on how people were supposed to behave and this was heavily evident in the aristocracy of London. Throughout the gothic novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written by Robert Louis Stevenson, the protagonist Dr. Jekyll struggles to contain his alternative personality, Mr. Hyde, the antagonist. The complicated dynamics of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde highlight the fear of the Victorians as the perception of oneself by others determined what one’s reputation was and Dr. Jekyll did not want the public to be aware of the evil lying within him in fear of his reputation being harmed. Stevenson’s utilization of a character that represents both the “good” and “bad” of society all in one seemingly “normal” character leads way to the psychological explanation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Throughout the Victorian-Era, theories of the brain surfaced claiming that the brain was a double organ which could have possibly influenced Stevenson in creating a single character who contains the separate spheres of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde yet in the same body. Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, showcases the Victorian fear of the unknown and losing one’s reputation, and this is evident in Dr. Jekyll, whom is the ideal representation of Victorian morals, which is why he is so afraid to lose himself to his other personality- the monstrous Hyde. If Dr. Jekyll is recognized as being one with Hyde, then the Victorians will get rid of the monster- Mr. Hyde- whom is attached to Dr. Jekyll, in order to sustain their Victorian morals.
The Victorian Era, spanning from 1837 to 1901, was a time of great change in all spheres of living, specifically morality. The period was characterized as a time where society, mainly the aristocracy, was pressured to behave according to a set of social standards that refrained from crime and sex so that they were not bumped to the lower classes. This is apparent in Dr. Jekyll whom is characterized as a gentleman and the ideal representation of an upstanding Victorian man. For this reason, it is noticeable why Hyde is the monster. In the beginning of the novella when each character is being described, Utterson “[giving] an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation.” (Stevenson 12).
This characterization of Mr. Hyde brings a comparison of him to his counterpart Dr. Jekyll. Although Mr. Hyde does not appear to have any noticeable malformations, he deviates from the ideal Victorian man, Dr. Jekyll in the sense of personality and behavior. Mr. Hyde strays from the normal standards of society and leaves the boundaries that other Victorians, Dr. Jekyll, are too afraid to escape from in fear of a reputation loss. This is supported by Thesis 1 of Cohen’s Monster Theses: the monster’s body equals the cultural body. In the novella, Mr. Hyde’s home is placed in Soho, London. This area is described as being dirty, much like himself, and not a place where the gentlemen of the story- Utterson, Enfield, and Jekyll- live.
Hyde’s dwelling location goes along to match his dirty and ape-like appearance which ultimately supports thesis one because Mr. Hyde represents Victorian fears of loss of social standing. If one of the upstanding men of the story, such as the ones previously mentioned, were to partake in the crime and violence that Mr. Hyde does and let it be known to the public, then their reputation would be ruined because that behavior does not align with the pure morals that the Victorians strived to live by.
As mentioned earlier, the Victorians are afraid of a loss of reputation so they have to maintain a clean and pristine appearance. While Mr. Hyde’s physical description is depicted as ape-like, something that does not follow along Victorian standards, he reflects the fears of Victorian society because he embodies filth and commits acts of violence that puts his standing in society next to those of criminals instead of gentlemen.
Due to Mr. Hyde being an alien compared to the gentlemen of the story, his label as “monster” is also supported by Cohen’s monster thesis four. Monster thesis four states that monsters dwell at the gate of difference, meaning that what Mr. Hyde embodies is not apart of the normal, and therefore, scares society. Spoken of earlier, Mr. Hyde is not a standard Victorian man, and this causes alienation from the rest of society as he commits more acts of violence. Take for example his trampling of the little girl and then the beating of Sir Danvers Carew to death. Both of these acts of violence were done without remorse, causing even more alienation from society as those were neither normal behaviors nor feelings that men acted with at the time.
This is why Mr. Hyde is different from the other men of the story, resulting in society being afraid of Mr. Hyde. Because Mr. Hyde is not normal he is presented as the “unknown” throughout the novella as seen by his violent acts that a “normal” Victorian would not dare commit. A lot of characters are not aware of Mr. Hyde’s true identity and his connection to Dr. Jekyll so this lack of knowledge produces fear in the Victorians because Mr. Hyde dwells at the gate of difference. Mr. Hyde is not apart of the aristocracy that the other main characters are in and as supported by Cohen’s thesis four, that is why the Victorian society seen throughout the novella is afraid of Mr. Hyde.
Considering that Mr. Hyde assumes the role of Victorian fears, his part in playing the “unknown” brings to light the emergence of psychology in that time period and how it contributed to the fears of the Victorians. In the novella, Mr. Hyde is the alter-ego of Dr. Jekyll, and this persona has is nearly the opposite of Dr. Jekyll, ranging from different physical characteristics to behavior. Back in the Victorian period there was ongoing debate on whether or not there was such a thing as dual and multiple personality. Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder, is defined as, “in which two or more distinct identities are said to alternately control the person’s behavior.” (Myers 695).
This disorder is characterized by each personality having a whole new persona- ranging from voice to mannerism. This is evident in the novella as the switch that occurs in Dr. Jekyll leaves him as new person in behaviorism, and even physical attributes. Due to the development of science and the emergence of psychology, there were no solid answers such as dissociative identity disorder in the reasoning or possibility as to how one can have multiple personalities. Because of the lack of knowledge, Late-Victorian ideas developed into one explanation of multiple personalities, known as the dual-brain theory.
This theory posited the brain was a double organ with the left hemisphere associated with masculinity and civilization, while the right hemisphere was noted as femininity and madness. In regards to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, hemisphere imbalance is to blame for the takeover of Dr. Jekyll by Mr. Hyde. For example, in her critical essay Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde and the Double Brain, Anne Stiles writes about the late-Victorian psychological theories and how they pertain to Stevenson’s novella:
‘The persona embodying Jekyll’s “evil side” is smaller and less robust because it is underused; Hyde represents the atrophied, stunted right hemisphere struggling to break free of the restraints imposed by the dominant left brain. Predictably, Mr. Hyde increasingly predominates once he is unleashed with greater frequency… Dr. Jekyll initially relies too heavily on his left hemisphere, and then shifts the balance too sharply toward the right. In each instance, he inadvertently creates the brain asymmetry that leads to his mental illness and criminality.’
Towards the beginning of the novella, Dr. Jekyll has control over his persona switches, but as the novella continues, Mr. Hyde gains more power resulting in Dr. Jekyll not being able to control Mr. Hyde. Going off of the Victorian dual personality theory, the continuous use of the right hemisphere, Mr. Hyde, strengthens that side resulting in the once-imbalanced brain becoming balanced. Since Dr. Jekyll does not stop his delving into his desires and his switch to Mr. Hyde, the brain soons becomes once again imbalanced, but now with the right hemisphere having the upperhand and therefore, Mr. Hyde having control over Dr. Jekyll.
Going back to the notion that the late nineteenth-century was an beginning period for psychology, this contributes to the Victorian fear of the unknown. Due to psychology not being widely known and studied, this left a gap of understanding among the Victorian people to fill in with any ideas they might have come up with. Considering this, comes the addition of Cohen’s third thesis. Thesis three states that monsters are the harbinger of category crisis, meaning that the monster defies logic and one’s current knowledge along with not being known in one’s world which is what makes them dangerous and scary.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde together are a clear illustration of this thesis because no other characters in the novella can relate to having multiple personalities, let alone being able to switch into one-another. This is not to be confused with Dr. Jekyll also being included as a monster, Mr. Hyde is still the sole monster of the story because he is unnatural and does not fit into the world of the aristocracy that takes place in the novella. From his physical form to where he dwells, to how he acts puts him apart from the rest of the characters. Ultimately, the Victorians fear him because he embodies the unknown. Mr. Hyde’s behaviorism goes against their standards and this causes a lack of understanding that generates fear.
Despite duality of the brain being one possible explanation of the emergence of the Mr. Hyde, there is another possible explanation as to what aid in the development of this monster. As supported by Cohen’s monster theses, culture does create the monster. One other explanation that rose from the Victorians’ fear of the reputation loss was the inescapable sense of division. Due to the people of the Victorian Era having to follow the strict sense of morals and appropriate behavior to keep whatever standing, they were confined by these standards and as Irving S. Saposnik wrote, “[the Victorian man was a] rational and sensual being, as public and private man, as civilized and bestial creature, he found himself necessarily an actor…”.
What Saposnik is trying to convey is that because Victorian men, specifically Dr. Jekyll, were restricted to specific behavior and so each individual would have to play the part of himself that was most appropriate for what situation they were in at the time. Since Dr. Jekyll was of such high standing and seen as the ideal Victorian man, he was expected to act accordingly to Victorian behavior whenever he was out and in public so this influx of filtered thoughts had him playing the role of a good community man.
This caused the more abnormal and unfiltered thoughts to build up and develop into the monster Mr. Hyde. Society’s restrictions on the individual man, Dr. Jekyll, caused a production of the alter-ego that is seen as Mr. Hyde, and eventually the once occasional role play of the monster progressed to that of a way of life as seen towards the end of the novella when Dr. Jekyll can no longer control the switches between himself and Mr. Hyde. This relates to Cohen’s sixth monster thesis: fear of monster is really a kind of desire. Because the forbidden elicits an allure to man, man wants to partake in the forbidden to satisfy the attraction.
In the novella, the forbidden is represented by the crime and violence that Mr. Hyde commits while the allure comes from the idea that man cannot partake in this behavior because it goes against what society has deemed as appropriate behavior. Ultimately the risk of loss of reputation prevents men from commiting the crimes seen by Mr. Hyde, but for Dr. Jekyll it develops into the monstrous alter-ego Mr. Hyde because Dr. Jekyll wants to partake in the forbidden, but knows he cannot if he wants to keep his high placement in his community.
The Victorians fear of the unknown and loss of social standing is seen throughout the novella as Dr. Jekyll tries to keep control over his alter-ego Mr. Hyde. This cultural fear aids in building the monster Mr. Hyde as he is characterized by being a mysterious figure who partakes in violence. If the Victorians were to follow suit of Mr. Hyde, then they would risk their reputation being ruined which was not an option for them as status was of great importance during that period of time.
Going of the Victorian fear of the unknown, as mentioned earlier, psychology was just emerging so there were no explanations as to how a person could have multiple personalities. This lack of explanation produced fear among the Victorians because they could not grasp the idea and had to fill in the gaps with whatever idea they deemed fitting. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has these two fears woven throughout the storyline to produce a clear representation of what the Victorians were afraid of.