Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in January 1886. It recounts the horrific tale of a scientist whose experiment backfires and leads him to his own end. It was the author’s masterpiece and sold around 40,000 copies in six months in England and became a popular sensation in America. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a novella written in Bournemouth and set in London was one written in the late nineteenth century in the backdrop of the scientific progress.
It is evident that literature has always mirrored life and many a times literature has imagined possibilities that science later on could turn into realities. So does the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which aims at portraying the possibilities of what a nineteenth century scientist could seek to find. The nineteenth century saw the rise of scientific developments. There were developments in every field of scientific study. These developments generated awe in the minds of the people. They began to think that everything was possible through science.
All the experiments and scientific research came in view of The Royal Society. Charles Darwin published his groundbreaking book The Origin of Species in the year 1859. He declared that it was evolution that created the difference in Species and not some god. The book was chiefly a scientific one and it created ripples in the intellectual circles. Some accused Darwin of taking morality out of nature and others supported his view. All these debates were instrumental in making his theories famous. Many intellectuals and philosophers came up who put in their faith in the omnipotency of science.
The believed that there were many discoveries those were still to be made. There was knowledge waiting to be discovered. Experiments were conducted in every field of science in a hope of making some discovery or invention. While astronomers explored the solar system and the universe, the medical scientists explored the world of germs and microbes, discovering a whole range of diseases. The human body too was open for explorations. The whole trend was towards professionalization of science. Science was once the domain of gentlemen of independent means and it was during this time that science moved into universities.
The experimental nature of science was widely explored. Alchemy or the modern day Chemistry was one of the fields researched widely. Alfred Nobel invented explosives such as dynamite and nitro-glycerine in 1867, which were capable of mass destruction. Nobel himself lost his brother to an explosion in his dynamite factory. Many inventions were made; many were constructive and many others were destructive. Now, coming to the present paper; through this paper I would like to suggest that Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde can be read as a critique to this particular rise in the trend of conducting scientific research and making inventions in the Victorian period. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde can be placed among the texts which featured mad-scientists and their inventions which prove to be disastrous. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley also talks of a similar story where Dr. Frankenstein tries to create life and creates a monster instead. Dr. Jekyll in Dr . Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, creates two separate identities: a bad and a good one, out of his own self.
Soon after, his bad self, Mr. Hyde is freed from the influence of his good self and disaster ensues. The end of Dr. Jekyll comes when the “Evil” of his personality overcomes his “Good”. R. L. Stevenson’s text thus suggests that scientific inventions may not always lead to positive results. And when experiments go wrong they may lead to grave results. Uncensored and possibly dangerous experiments may prove to be fatal or harmful to the society. Even when the scientist’s intention may be good, the final result may not be good. Dr.
Jekyll’s intention was not to give a free will to his evil nature but to create two separate identities; In each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the extraneous evil. (Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, p. 53)
But, what happened was that the evil and the unjust self conquered the good self. We can read this as a suggestion that unbridled use of science may lead to disaster, however pure the intention might be. Only the public life of Dr. Jekyll is described in the text except in the last chapter which is Jekyll’s own statement. His life remains shadowed all throughout the novella. His preoccupation with his scientific research comes into the full view of the reader only in the last chapter, “Henry Jekyll’s statement of the Case”. R. L. Stevenson’s portrayal of Dr. Jekyll, itself suggests the distrust in science and scientists. Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory was a building set apart from the main house. It was solitary place, a place where secrets reigned. Jekyll used to work with doors closed in extreme secrecy. He let out his secret only in a dire necessity. Secrecy is always precarious in nature. The lawyer Utterson is the person who plays the role of a detective to dig out Jekyll’s secret. He tries to find Mr. Hyde and uncover his relation with Dr. Jekyll. He collects and saves every clue he finds and tries to link them up.
He disapproves the secrecy of the doctor and time and again tries to persuade the doctor to confide in him. He worries about the doctor and thinks that he is misguided and going towards his ruin. Dr. Lanyon is another friend of the Dr. Jekyll. He himself is a doctor and also the first person to whom Dr. Jekyll reveals his the secret of his invention. It is clear that Lanyon supports the ethical use of science. He disapproves of Jekyll’s sense of science. This is evident from his reply to Utterson’s question if he had a common area of interest with Dr. Jekyll: ‘We had,’ was the reply. ‘But it is more than ten years since Harry Jekyll became too fanciful for me. He began to go wrong, wrong I mind; though of course I continue to take interest in him for old sake’s sake as they say, I see and I have seen devilish little of the man. Such unscientific balderdash. ’ Added the doctor, flushing suddenly purple, would have estranged Damon and Pythias. ’ (Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, p. 12) Jekyll writes Lanyon the frantic letter asking for help when he unconsciously without taking the potion transforms into Mr. Hyde.
Lanyon does his bid for their friendship’s sake. And when he comes to know of Jekyll’s transforming potion and his frequent transformations into Mr. Hyde who was ‘hunted for in every corner of the land as the murderer of Carew’, he was utterly shocked. He was sickened at it and soon died after the incident leaving behind a narrative for Utterson to read after Jekyll disappearance. Dr. Jekyll’s invention was a potion he had prepared which transformed him into Mr. Hyde, an ape-like creature. Hyde is evil-incarnated.
Jekyll describes his feeling on transforming into Hyde: I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill race in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation an unknown, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul. I know myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold as a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine. (Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, p. 54) Soon, Jekyll grew intoxicated to his invention. In his statement he confesses, ‘my new power tempted me until I fell in slavery. I had but to drink the cup, to doff at once the body of the noted professor, and to assume like a thick cloak, that of Edward Hyde. ’ He became so intoxicated that he did not make his invention public and further hid the fact. Hyde commits unsocial activities. And the gravest crime he commits is the murder of Mr. Carew. The murder is not as gruesome as the manner Hyde kills him. Mr. Hyde broke out all bounds and clubbed him to earth.
And next moment, with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot, and hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered… (Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, p. 20-21) An inventor is always attached to his invention. It is the result of his/her labour and he/she always tries to protect it. So did Dr. Jekyll. Hyde was his creation. He wrote in his statement, ‘Jekyll had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference. Such a love for such a malicious character as Hyde was due to his passion for his invention. And this was dangerous as it prevented him from discarding his identity as Mr. Hyde sooner and finally it was too late. His passion for his discovery and his love for his invention led him to sacrifice his ethics. It was his life that he had to finally sacrifice in order to end Hyde’s The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde can be studied as a text advocating the proper and ethical use of science. It brings out the possible shortcomings and some dangers involved with scientific experiments.
Set in the late Victorian period it can be considered to be a critique of the growing Victorian trend of conducting scientific experiments without paying heed to the risks involved. The author suggests that science and human body are not plaything to play with.
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