Robert Louis Stevenson’s Inspiration for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
In Anne Stiles’ article “Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde and the Double Brain”, she argues that though Stevenson claimed he had no previous knowledge of the psychological idea of multiple personalities, he may have read several scientific articles published during the 1870’s and 1880’s from French and British popular medical journals about this condition, which inspired him to write several works including Deacon Brodie: A Double Life, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and “Markheim”. During the Victorian Era, contemporary scientists were discussing the idea of everyone having a double brain. As they saw it, the right-hemisphere and the left-hemisphere were associated with distinct attributes (this still remains true) and that a person may have the opposing sides pulling them towards specific characteristics. Stiles explains Stevenson’s interpretation by saying “While Jekyll exhibits left-hemisphere attributes (masculinity, whiteness, logic, intelligence, humanness), Hyde embodies right-hemisphere traits (femininity, racial indeterminacy, madness, emotion, and animality)”. However during this time, Stevenson may also have heard about the dual-brain theory, where the right and left hemispheres could act independently such that an over-active right brain may lead someone to very emotional and irrational acts, such as murder. Stiles discusses an article “The Brain of a Criminal Lunatic” by the physiologist David Ferrier (1882) where he discovered an over-enlarged right-hemisphere and an abnormally-small left-hemisphere during an autopsy of a woman who was mentally ill and murdered her children. During the Victorian Era, many scientists proposed the idea of needing to equally exercise both areas of the brain in order to prevent one side of the dual-brain from taking over. Stevenson likened this idea of a dual-brain in Jekyll and Hyde:
“The evil side of my nature, to which I had now transferred the stamping efficacy, was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed. Again, in the course of my life, which had been, after all, nine tenths a life of effort, virtue and control, it had been much less exercised and much less exhausted. And hence, as I think, it came about that Edward Hyde was so much smaller, slighter and younger than Henry Jekyll” (55).
In the beginning, Jekyll and the right-brain was the dominant personality but as the story progresses and Jekyll increasingly turns into Hyde, the secondary persona strengthens until eventually Jekyll is no longer in control and Hyde can appear whenever he wants.
“That part of me which I had the power of projecting, had lately been much exercised and nourished; it had seemed to me of late as though the body of Edward Hyde had grown in stature, as though (when I wore that form) I were conscious of a more generous tide of blood; and I began to spy a danger that, if this were much prolonged, the balance of my nature might be permanently overthrown, the power of voluntary change be forfeited and the character of Edward Hyde become irrevocably mine” (59).
It can be connected in the novel how the new medical theories about dual-brains and multiple personalities that Stevenson may have been exposed to played a significant impact in his writing. After the publication of Jekyll and Hyde, Frederic W. H. Myers sent his 1886 article titled “Multiplex Personality” in which he discussed the case study of Louis V. Also at the time two other famous case studies of Felida X. and Sergeant F. were summarized and discussed in the Cornhill Magazine during the late 1870’s, of which Stevenson was also a contributor. These case studies of potential interest to Stevenson along with his own scientific interests may have led him to create Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The fact that Stevenson titles the novella as The Strange Case infers that he sees the potential behind his story being like a psychological case study of someone with multiple personalities. Stiles goes on to say “In other words, Stevenson does not merely reproduce the typical form of the case study, which was generally dry, unemotional, and detached from the patient’s suffering. Stevenson combines the basic structure of the case study with a tone and subject matter more appropriate to the Gothic, so that his novella suffers from a case of split personality like that of the protagonist himself. The logical, left-brain perspective of science combines with the primitive, emotional, right-brain perspective of the Gothic, demonstrating how Stevenson incorporates the polarities of the dual-brain theory into the literary form of his famous novella”.
I agree that there were many new psychological and scientific theories being discussed during the time when Stevenson was working on Jekyll and Hyde and that while he may not want to admit any inspiration from these theories, there are definite connections that can be drawn between the two. While the story has been seen historically as a tale of “good versus evil” within a man, there are much subtler psychological depths with which we can study Stevenson’s “case study”.
Stiles, Anne. “Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde and the Double Brain.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 46.4 (2006): 879-900. DOI: 10.1353/sel.2006.0043
A Changed Lens
When I first closed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde I was unsure whether the story itself was actually science fiction. Yes, Dr. Jekyll did use science to change himself, but where was the de-familiarization, the quest of the author, the novum? Scientific change was definitely present, but as we discussed in class, it takes more than the presence of a new technology to define a work as “Science Fiction”. Then I stumbled across Mr. Hyde and Mr. Seek: Utterson’s Antidote by Richard Gaughan. He explains that the de-familiarization appears from the perspective of Mr. Utterson. Like, probably, many readers, I viewed Utterson as a device through which Stevenson was telling his tale. However, the novel, according to Gaughan, is actually about the de-familiarization that Utterson feels—the complete transformation of mind and thought that he has to make in order to comprehend and step into his role. From the beginning, Stevenson describes Utterson as an unremarkable lawyer—one well versed in social interactions and with a tight circle of friends, but a thorny, and quiet man nonetheless. But as soon as he starts to involve himself with discovering Hyde, he changes.
I think the novel, with Gaughan’s essay taken into account, is a fantastic representation of the subtleties of science fiction, as compared to Flatland or Erehwon. The changes come mainly from within a person, rather than directly because of technology, meaning, it is not Utterson who is messing with new tech; he only sees the one localized case of its invention. I also agree with Utterson that this novel is more about expressing the need to control and compartmentalize, rather a critique of the repression that happened in Victorian Society. Hyde is an attempt of Jekyll to section himself off, control what part of him shows when, where as Utterson has his creativity awakened by the whole case. He gets involved with his whole person, while still managing to act successfully in the Victorian society. Jekyll insists that it is Hyde alone who is guilty of sin (83), not him and that he is a martyr for ending his life and ridding the world of the evil id that he created. Jekyll and Hyde is not about a leap or regression in technology, but a progression in emotional and cultural thought; the revival and renewal of creativity.
Gaughan, Richard T. Mr. Hyde and Mr. Seek: Utterson’s Antidote. The Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 17. No. 2 (Spring, 1987), pp. 184-197.
The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Irving Saposnik’s The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a deep look into the moral issues faced by Victorian men at the time confronted within the book. Many times Saposnik brings up the indivisibility of self. With this concept, he discusses much about how inseparable Jekyll and Hyde are. He goes on to discuss that throughout the novel and, most specifically, Jekyll’s narrative, Jekyll views himself as having two distinct identities as opposed to both himself, Jekyll as well as Hyde being parts of himself. Saposnik mentions that Jekyll “denies the most significant result of his experiment and indeed of his entire story, the inescapable conclusion that man must dwell in uncomfortable but necessary harmony with his multiple selves” (724).
During Jekyll’s narrative at the end of the story, he makes statements that easily back up Saposnik’s arguments.
“…I began to reflect more seriously than ever before on the issues and possibilities of my double existence. That part of me which I had the power of projecting, had lately been much exercised and nourished; it had seemed to me of late as though the body of Edward Hyde had grown in stature, as though (when I wore that form) I were conscious of a more generous tide of blood; and I began to spy a danger that, if this were much prolonged, the balance of my nature might be permanently overthrown, the power of voluntary change be forfeited, and the character of Edward Hyde become irrevocably mine. The power of the drug had not been always equally displayed. Once, very early in my career, it had totally failed me; since then I had been obliged on more than one occasion to double, and once, with infinite risk of death, to treble the amount; and these rare uncertainties had cast hitherto the sole shadow on my contentment. Now, however, and in the light of that morning’s accident, I was led to remark that whereas, in the beginning, the difficulty had been to throw off the body of Jekyll, it had of late gradually but decidedly transferred itself to the other side. All things therefore seemed to point to this: that I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse” (85).
In this paragraph, Jekyll constantly refers to “his other self” and his “double,” which are both in agreement with the argument of the article. I agree with Saposnik’s argument of morality. Within this article he quotes one Chesterton as saying recognizing “The real stab of the story is not in the discovery that the one man is two men; but in the discovery that two men are one man…” (729). I like the use of this quote as a support in his argument for the moral duality as opposed to the physical duality within Jekyll and Hyde. Later, in talking about Hyde in comparison to Jekyll, he remarks that “Hyde is usually described in metaphors because essentially that is what he is: a metaphor of uncontrolled appetites, an amoral abstraction driven by a compelling will unrestrained by any moral halter. Such a creature is, of necessity, only figuratively describable, for his deformity is moral rather than physical” (730). In saying this, he highlights the difference between Jekyll and Hyde; “it is moral, rather than physical.”
Saposnik, Irving, S. “The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 49.1(1971):715-31.Http://www.jstor.org/stable/449833. Jstor. Web. 6 Oct. 2014