‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is a gothic horror story written by R.L. Stevenson, first published in 1886. It was one of many horror stories of its time, but was the first to use science as an explanation for the perpetration of evil. The book was published twenty-seven years after Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ and they both made a link between man and ape. ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ does this by portraying Hyde as being a hairy, ape-like human.
‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ expresses the belief that evil lives inside all of us, and that sometimes the evil can escape from the control of those who are good. Stevenson uses setting as a feature to portray the ideas that run through the book.
When Mr. Utterson goes to Hyde’s flat in Soho, the theme of duality is brought up in many places. The first of these instances is when we meet Hyde’s landlady. She is described as having an “evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy; but her manners were excellent.” This shows duality because although she looks evil, her manners suggest that she is not.
When we get to Hyde’s flat, we also see duality. The flat is first described as “furnished with luxury and good taste.” But it is then described as bearing “every mark of a room that has been recently ransacked.” This shows duality because it is refined and stylish as in the manner of Jekyll, but is also in a state of chaos like the character of Hyde.
The other theme running through this novel is that of mystery and obscurity. We see this with fog that has fallen over London. This creates an atmosphere of suspense and actually physically hides the setting. It is described as “a great chocolate coloured pall lowered over heaven.” This phrase is a simile and the chocolate coloured description gives a dark, sinister feeling and the “pall” is a funeral cloth, and is, therefore, linked with gloomy, sad things. The expression “strange conflagration” is also a simile and is used to make the area seems hellish as a conflagration is a fire. The phrase “haggard shaft of daylight” is also used. This makes you envisage the light as being very weak and thin, failing against the power of the darkness. This reflects the recent murder of Mr. Carew in the book, using him as the light and Hyde as the dark side.
The idiom “mournful reinvasion of darkness” again portrays dark themes. It uses “mournful” to bring out feelings of melancholy and gloom. “Darkness” also gives a bleak and obscure feeling to the area.
The description of Soho is also one of bleakness and squalor. Words like “dismal” and phrases such as “like a district in some city in a nightmare” give the area a sinister and hellish quality. It is also described as having “muddy ways.” This evokes an image of dirt and grime and unpleasantness. It’s also said to have “slatternly passengers,” i.e. seedy inhabitants. It tells us that the place is inhabited by very squalid low lives and that Soho is not a desirable place to live. This description is contrasted against the other areas depicted in the novel, which are at the other end of the spectrum such as the street where we first encounter Hyde’s House. It is portrayed as “florid” and “(it) shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood,” and this shows to us that London has it’s own duality, paralleling the main idea in the book.
One of the most extreme places where we clearly witness the theme of duality in this novel is in the depiction of Jekyll’s house. The first time we encounter the house it is from the side in which Hyde lives. Stevenson describes the street this side occupies as “shining out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood.” Yet Hyde’s house is described as “a certain sinister block of building,” with a door which is “blistered and distained.” This side of the house is also portrayed as “bearing in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence.” Yet when we come to Jekyll’s side of the house it is the exact opposite. It is described as “wearing a great air of wealth and comfort.” This is personification and Stevenson uses it to make it easier for us to paint a mental picture of scenes in the book.
The other houses which also occupy the street with Jekyll’s house are described as handsome houses. This is again personification. When Utterson goes inside this house there is a warm and welcoming feeling. The hall is “comfortable,” and there is a glowing fire, suggesting a cosy and warm atmosphere in which you would feel relaxed. However, when things begin to take a sinister twist in the plot, the aura of the area is described in a completely different light. When Utterson is making his way to Jekyll’s house the weather is described as “wild, cold,” “of the most diaphanous and lawny texture” and “the wind flecked blood into the face.”
These are all animal like descriptions and I believe that Stevenson uses this device to make us consider the weather at this time as like a wild animal, or even like Hyde. Also, London is “deserted,” and this imparts a sense of fear as to why everyone in a usually bustling city has turned indoors. The fire in the house has changed in appearance. It is now much larger conveying, to us a hell like aura and the servants are described as “like a flock of sheep,” which portrays them as weak and helpless against the big predator which is, of course, Hyde.
However, outside Stevenson at one point describes the house as “wearing a great air of wealth and comfort, though now it was plunged into darkness.” This tells us that although the house is obviously very beautiful, still there is something slightly sinister and mysterious about it. I think the point of the house in this book is to reflect the personality of the man who inhabits it. Jekyll’s half is described in a positive contrast to Hyde’s, and yet still retains a sense of being not quite what it seems on the surface.
In conclusion, we can see that Stevenson effectively uses setting to convey the theme of duality in ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’.