Stevenson’s Descriptive Passages of City at Night Analysis

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Paying particular attention to Stevenson’s descriptions of the city at night, discuss how Stevenson uses descriptive passages to evoke a mood of dread.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written in a very factual, ‘case-study’ like way. Stevenson has done this to make the story seem true to life and to reflect the no-nonsense attitudes of the middle class men the story is about. However, this story line is interspersed with descriptive and elaborate sections that Stevenson has used to bring emotion to the story. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published as a ‘Christmas “Bogey Tale” ‘ and so the idea of the story was to shock and horrify, but also entertain the readers. Stevenson uses these emotive sections of descriptive passage to evoke a mood of dread and terror in the readers that they would be looking for when reading the story.

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The terror in the story is accentuated because most of the ‘action’ takes place at night, where important themes in the story come into play to make the setting more ominous. For instance, the conjunction of fog and darkness can be very unnerving because it completely impairs one’s ability to see. The street lighting, a new addition to nighttime London, had troubling connotations because some argued it enabled crime to take place more efficiently rather than preventing it. The way Stevenson personifies the city to make it a living being around the characters creates an intimidating setting because if the whole city is alive at night, there is nowhere to hide from it.

Stevenson has used fog as a main theme in Jekyll and Hyde. As well has having fog physically present in the city, it also acts as a metaphorical barrier between the characters and the truth about Jekyll and Hyde until the very end of the book, when the fog is ‘lifted’. As mentioned in the introduction, most of the book is written in a very factual and unemotional way, however one of the richest descriptive passages in the book is in the chapter ‘The Carew Murder Case’. Stevenson uses elaborate and detailed metaphors and imagery to conjure up the idea of fog in the reader’s minds. Utterson describes the fog as “a great chocolate covered pall lowered over heaven” (Page 23). The word “pall” has negative connotations, because it is connected with death as it can be used to describe the smoke given off from crematoriums.

This negative idea is contrasted by the fact it is “chocolate covered”, although this could be a slightly sarcastic description of the fog as everything associated with chocolate – a sweet taste, wealth and love, is everything that the fog is not. The idea that the fog is “lowered over heaven” gives the impression that the fog is separating the city from heaven above, or even just ‘the heavens’ – a clear blue sky, or a night sky with stars. As well as this Stevenson implies that the fog has cut off the moon as well, by saying the city is “under the face of the fogged city moon” (Page 14, ‘Search for Mr Hyde’) The fact he says “city moon” implies that the moon is meant for the city, but it has been taken away from them by the fog, and all that is left is an image of the “face” of the moon.

This evokes a mood of dread because the spiritual idea of being cut off from heaven by a thick fog similar to the smoke given off by burning bodies is a horrible thought. To further explore the idea of being shut off from heaven, Stevenson personifies the fog as “these embattled vapours” which has militaristic connotations, to give the impression that the fog is actively preventing the city from reaching heaven, like an army would prevent enemies from coming into their country.

There is also a reference that the fog might be killing the city, when it is described as a “drowned city” (Page 28, ‘Incident of the Letter’) by Mr Utterson. The idea that the fog is suffocating the city, or drowning it in it’s vapours is an emotive description that would evoke a mood of terror in the reader, because it is a horrible way to die. The war reference evokes a mood of dread in the reader because it could be associated with brutal killings that often occur in the war, which are chilling to think about.

Street lighting was a relatively new concept revolutionised in London at the time that Jekyll and Hyde was written. Street lighting was supposed to reduce crime, but in actual fact having light twenty-four hours a day made crime levels worse, because it enabled the criminals to work more efficiently, and effectively. This is because they could see what they were doing as well as carry out the crime quicker and with more ease because they needn’t trouble themselves with holding a lamp. Indeed street lighting was not received overly positively by the people of London, as is reflected in Jekyll and Hyde. The first time street lighting is mentioned it is when Enfield is describing his encounter with Mr Hyde in the first chapter:

“A part of town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps. Street after street, and all the folks asleep, street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church – till at last I got into that state of mind where a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman.” (Page 7, ‘Story of the Door’)

Here Enfield is uneasy because the scene before him is so uniform, simple and geometric, so all he can see is lamps, street after street. His repeating of the phrase ‘street after street’ reinforces the idea of the never-ending repetition of lamps, as well as implying that the streetlights could actually make people start to become mentally unsound, because they are being hypnotised by the repetitiveness of the lights. This is shown especially well when Enfield uses the phrase ‘I got into that state of mind’. He implies that his surroundings and the streets of lamps were beginning to make him panic, when he says the phrase ‘a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman’. This evokes a mood of dread in the reader because it introduces them to the idea of people being mentally unsound as well as being in situations that make people panic and want to see a policeman, all of which are unsettling to think about.

Another idea Stevenson suggests which adds to the idea of terror is the way the streetlamps are so unnatural, not least because they are trying to create an artificial daylight. This is already expressed in the previous quote, but is shown well later on in the chapter, when Utterson describes the lamps as “unshaken by any wind, drawing a regular pattern of light and shadow” (Page 14, ‘Search for Mr. Hyde’) This implies their unnaturalness by the fact that they are “unshaken by any wind” so they are not affected by weather, as well as that the lamps create an artificial and predictable “pattern of light and shadow”, adding to the previous idea of regularity and turning London into a bleak, uniform, dehumanised city, especially since the lights are not controlled by anyone who experiences them.

This is accentuated in the description of Utterson’s dream, where he is “aware of the great field of lamps of a nocturnal city…” (Page 13, ‘Search for Mr. Hyde’) where the juxtaposition between the words ‘field’ and ‘city’, enhances the idea of the streetlamps being unnatural because the two opposites are forced together and combined to create the streetlights in London. The idea of the streetlamps being unnatural enhances the mood of dread because the streetlamps are going against nature in creating light where there isn’t any naturally, but the ‘daylight’ that they produce is immoral because it helps criminals to work more effectively.

In his descriptions of the city, Stevenson sometimes personifies the city at night to make it a living being around the characters: “London hummed solemnly all around” (Page 43, ‘The Last Night’). This gives the reader a very good image of a city at night, with all the individual sounds coming together to create one hum, and maybe everything coming together to become one creature. This technique creates a frightening setting because if the whole city is alive at night, there is nowhere to hide from it. Stevenson describe the town’s life as “still rolling in through the [city’s] great arteries” (Page 28, ‘Incident of the Letter’) This is implying that the city is a living giant, and gives a vivid and chilling image of the whole city being a big monster with all the people in the town running through it’s “great arteries”.

The reference to blood and the inside of a body would intensify the gory aspect of the monster and is also linked to the biological advances in science that were taking place in other cities, for example Edinburgh, as to how the human body was working. This would evoke a mood of alarm in the reader, because the idea of living inside a huge monster is scary, but there are also references to dark and heinous deeds that were being committed as they read the book. One of Stevenson’s other books, called the ‘Body Snatcher’, is based around this theme as well and was published just two years previous to Jekyll and Hyde, so this reference to his recent books also provides a good link between Stevenson’s works, as well as reinforcing his opinion on those topical issues.

During Utterson’s dream, London is described as a “nocturnal city…” (Page 13, ‘Search for Mr. Hyde’). Stevenson has used this description to make it seem similar to the main characters – it could be said that Hyde is a nocturnal creature and, like Jekyll and Hyde, the city seems harmless and innocent during the day, but in the night a dark and terrible creature comes forth. Also, the word “nocturnal” has certain animalistic connotations; it is generally animals that are described as being “nocturnal” so the fact that Stevenson has used it to describe the city makes the city seem animalistic, like Hyde. This would evoke a mood of terror in the audience because it would be very daunting to go out at night when everywhere is a dark creature.

In conclusion, Stevenson uses descriptive passages of the city at night to evoke a mood of dread and foreboding by exaggerating the new and strange atmosphere the street lamps caused during the night in the city. As well as this he keeps the city sounding mysterious, dark and surreal by personifying the fog to be guarding London against Heaven. Stevenson personifies the city to make it an ominous and inescapable monster, which also makes the characters in the city (as well as the reader) feel insignificant, further adding to the mood of terror.

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Stevenson’s Descriptive Passages of City at Night Analysis. (2017, Nov 04). Retrieved from

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