Through The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Stevenson examines the intersection between monstrous appearance and morality to engage with cultural developments and political questions of Victorian England. In the novella, merely the sight of Mr. Hyde is unsettling to every character that encounters him. He is described as “giving the impression of deformity without any nameable malformation” (15). Hyde is the monstrous embodiment of Victorian anxieties and everything considered by them to be wicked.
Though only the trampling of a child and the murder of a man at his hands are described, other immoral indiscretions are hinted at. This includes alcohol abuse and sexual deviancy through involvement with prostitution or queer relationships. These implications come from the location of Hyde’s home: Soho, an epicenter of London’s sex industry and nightlife where Mr. Utterson sees “many women of many different nationalities passing out, key in hand, to have a morning glass” (22). Hyde conforms to no standard of Victorian propriety and dismantles the concept of the gentleman. This provides direct contrast to the reputation of Dr. Jekyll - an attractive, well-mannered, wealthy doctor. Stevenson challenges the idea of nobility through birth as opposed to morality, since an unsullied name and high social standing do not absolve Dr. Jekyll of evil desires. Dr. Jekyll’s loss of control over transformations further epitomizes that he and Hyde (a monster) are not separate beings.
What is immoral depends on who defines it, and within Victorian society, middle class professional men did the defining. Oftentimes, the binaries created by these men demonize anybody that deviates from their own accepted lifestyles, including lower class men or socially/sexually empowered women. Interestingly, there is a kind of unspoken solidarity between the men in the novella. They protect each other’s reputations from scandal, keep transgressive affairs secret, and Mr. Enfield even protects Hyde from a mob of women eager to hurt him. In a way, they recognize Hyde as their own through shared gender, class, and immoral desires – though they wish to maintain the assertion that wealthy men do not behave immorally or associate with men that do. Furthermore, the men are repulsed by Hyde on the basis of physical deformity; implied disability contributes to these intense reactions. In Victorian England, the disabled body was considered unmanly, and often unhuman (LaCom 547).
Throughout the novella, Mr. Hyde is referred to in ways that take away from his both manhood and personhood. Mr. Enfield states 'It wasn't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut' (7). Mr. Utterson declares that Mr. Hyde 'seems hardly human” and is “something troglodytic” (16). Through such descriptions, Mr. Hyde becomes a thing to be terrified of and despise. The separation of human experience into extreme binaries suggests that respectable individuals can engage in monstrous behaviour provided they maintain appearances. This fuels a horrific kind of addiction, allowing those like Dr. Jekyll to rationalize their behaviour until they cannot control it. Through this, Dr. Jekyll becomes what he fears, or perhaps discovers that what he fears has always been an inseparable part of him.
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