In Stevenson’s novel, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, he expresses the problems within Victorian society. Dr. Henry Jekyll feels as if he is unworthy of his title as a Doctor. Because Jekyll feels this way, a new character is introduced. Mr. Hyde. This a double identity or a split personality of himself. Because of this, Jekyll is seen as a hypocrite. The social structure of this Victorian Era is reflecting poorly on Jekyll because he aspires to be someone else than what he’s portrayed to be. He would rather be without consequences and be freer than have so many responsibilities and a character to live up to as a doctor. As Jekyll suppresses Hyde, Hyde eventually comes out stronger and uncontrollable.
Victorian class structure consisted of 3 parts. Aristocrats, Professions, and Tradesmen. Dr. Jekyll fit into the middle class also noted as “Professions”. In buildings throughout London, there were two doors, a front, and a back. The front door was for the respected people that consisted of Aristocrats and people with Professions. Tradesmen and people of less importance would go through the back door. For instance, the poor, servants, homeless, etc. (Harper, Lecture). Hyde possessed all aspects of someone who should enter the back door yet went through the front door. This lead people to think that Hyde was blackmailing Jekyll. Aristocrats and the people of the Professions sections of the class structure were looked at the elites of the society. They were educated and had a good family background. Even if some could be poor, if they had a good background they could enter the front door.
Mr. Edward Hyde was created my Dr. Henry Jekyll because Jekyll wanted to indulge himself in behaviors that wouldn’t be acceptable as his prestigious placement in the class structure. Jekyll stated that “Man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson) implying that split personalities take place in everyone. Split personalities don’t always have to be good or evil. They could simply be a different side of you that you repress. Like what Jekyll did with Hyde. Depending on where you come from and what is accepted vs what isn’t, people can behave in different ways which cause them to want to be someone else. Lots of people want what they cannot have and what they do not have. It’s human nature! Nabokov adds to this topic of split personalities by stating that “There are really three personalities- Jekyll, Hyde, and a third, the Jekyll residue when Hyde takes over”. (185).
In Walter Houghton’s essay, “Hypocrisy” he gets to the bottom of true hypocrisy in the Victorian era. The Hallmarks of Victorian society include Conformity, Moral Pretension, and evasion. (Houghton, 146).
Conformity: A social influence on one’s self to change who they are to fit in with society.
Moral Pretension: Value that is doubtful.
Evasion: To avoid something.
Instead of looking at hypocrisy in Victorian society as a whole, we can focus on one specific character of that novel; Jekyll. The “Conformity” of this book explains the confusion of who Hyde (Jekyll’s other personality) was and which class he belongs to. In the novel, people thought that Hyde was Blackmailing Jekyll because they seemed to live in the same house and share the same items. (Stevenson, 10). The Victorians acted better than they were. Using Jekyll as an example, we see that although he is a doctor and is highly respected in society, he also wants to let a darker side of himself. This shows us the Jekyll had some darker ways in a society where the image portrayed was to be a great and successful person with good intentions. Evasion in this instance was to push away any evil in hearts or souls and only focus on being good or the better person. Houghton used an example of being a “model” Christian. “Correlative fears of finding doubt in the mind or evil in the heart and the general pressure to adopt noble attitudes.” (Houghton, 148). In this scenario, I would disagree this applies to Jekyll because he doesn’t feel as if he should present noble attitudes. Jekyll saw Hyde as a younger, smaller, and slighter version which proves that maybe not the “evil” in his heart is being accepted and expressed, but maybe Jekyll sees this as an opportunity to live a life in his own image and do what he wants through Hyde.
Through Stevenson’s novel, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, we see that aspect of Victorian society is the big issue in this book. Through specifically Jekyll, we get to experience a life in an environment where success and prestige are what you need to strive for and show to the world. We understand how difficult this is for someone who doesn’t feel like the deserve their title in the upper society of the Victorian Era. Jekyll is in an unfortunate situation where what he wants to be isn’t accepted, yet he still pursues this split personality as Hyde. And as Nabokov says, a 3rd split personality which is what is left of Jekyll when Hyde becomes too powerful to control.
Houghton, Walter. “Hypocrisy.” Stevenson, pp. 146-149.
Nabokov, Vladimir. “A Phenomenon of Style.” Stevenson, pp. 184-188.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, edited by Katherine Linehan. Norton, 2003.
Harper, Lila. Lecture. 9 January 2018.