“‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ has more to do with Gothic tradition than late 19th Century psychology”. Discuss this statement with reference to Victorian morals and society as well as the writer’s craft. “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” is set in a gothic genre of suspense and mystery. The novel was written by Robert Louis Stevenson set in Victorian England 1886 and at a time when scientific experiments and knowledge was expanding, including the theory of Charles Darwin. The first Gothic novel was ‘The Castle of Otranto’ written by Horace Walpole in 1794.
Other eminent authors include Matthew Lewis famous for his novel ‘The Monk’ and Ann Radcliffe, who was well known for her novel ‘The Italian. ‘ The novel was compiled at a time when most people in the 19th century were concerned with the doppelgi?? nger (double self), death and rebirth, urbanism, decline of the Empire, sexual revolution, and sexual epidemics. “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” was written during the period in history where there was a huge gap between the modern and respectable community in contrast to the other side, which was well known for its brothels and shadiness.
Victorian society was divided into divisions. Such divisions included men against women, rich versus poor, and science versus art. Gothic literature, around from 1790-1820 finishing with Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, was influenced from the late 18th century on late Victorian writing. Such examples include ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ written by Oscar Wilde in 1891 and ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker in 1897. These were of course written after “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.
The major theme of this novel is the dual nature of the human psyche. It was Freud, a psychologist, who developed a revised theory -the structural model- that describes personality in terms of three constructs: the id, the ego, and the superego (this will be explored further in the psychology section). However Stevenson was writing before Freud and before modern psychology. He does not, therefore, use the words of Freudian psychology, yet repression, sublimation and denial all feature.
” The unconscious is the true psychical reality; in its innermost nature it is a much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is as incompletely presented by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the communication of our sense organs. ” –Sigmund Freud (Rieff 32) However, Stevenson’s story of the kindly scientist who drinks a potion that transforms him into a stunted, evil version of himself is a story of horror, which preceded modern psychology. Therefore the novel can be associated with both Gothic tradition and late 19th Century psychology.
As a result, both these themes allow the novella to be analysed from two different points of view. I will first scrutinise Gothic tradition. “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” contains many of the signature characteristics of Gothic fiction. Such examples include most of the settings being dark, gloomy and mysterious, women playing a particularly small role in the text (when women do appear they are in subservient roles or victims) and there is a beast too, Hyde. Also the fact that the novel includes nature, secrecy and the horrific tragedies of murders too provides a Gothic sense of feeling.
In ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’ a beast is also evident. Also “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” is associated with supernatural events taking place. Usually in works of Gothic fiction, the supernatural elements are subtly intermingled with realistic aspects of the story, and this text is no exception. The fantastical idea that a drug could transform a person into the physical form of the pure evil in their soul is juxtaposed with the everyday actions of Mr Utterson, such as his walks and dinner parties. Another way in which supernatural forces are brought into the plot is the constant references by everyone to Mr Hyde as Satanic.