The Mad Scientist and Degeneration


“ Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing, and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him. “There must be something else,” said the perplexed gentleman. “There is something more, if I could find a name for it. God bless me, the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say? or can it be the old story of Dr. Fell? or is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent? The last, I think; for, O my poor old Harry Jekyll, if ever I read Satan’s signature upon a face, it is on that of your new friend.”

In this quote, Mr. Utterson describes Mr. Hyde as being something more grotesque than human. By comparing his physique to a troglodyte, Stevenson is emphasizing the major devolution that Jekyll experiences when he morphs into Hyde. This description serves to add to the aspect of degeneration within the novel. Victorian readers may have seen Stevenson’s words as a threat that even with advancement, like that from the Industrial Revolution experienced in England around this time, the possibility of evolutionary regression still existed. This fear was especially acute after Darwin’s explorations of the Galapagos Islands and his subsequent evolution-themed papers, The Descent of Man and On the Origin of Species. These radical ideas sought to transform the very religiously-based thinking of Victorian England, which proved very inspirational for many literary minds, such as Robert Louis Stevenson.

Mad Scientist

“…”Have you a graduated glass?” [Hyde] asked.  I rose from my place with something of an effort and gave him what he asked.  He thanked me with a smiling nod, measured out a few minims of the red tincture and added one of the powders.  The mixture, which was at first of a reddish hue, began, in proportion as the crystals melted, to brighten in colour, to effervesce audibly, and to throw off small fumes of vapour. Suddenly and at the same moment, the ebullition ceased and the compound changed to a dark purple, which faded again more slowly to a watery green.  My visitor, who had watched these metamorphoses with a keen eye, smiled, set down the glass upon the table…’And now,’ said he, ‘to settle what remains. … if you shall so prefer to choose, a new province of knowledge and new avenues to fame and power shall be laid open to you, here, in this room, upon the instant; and your sight shall be blasted by a prodigy to stagger the unbelief of Satan.’ … ‘And now, you who have so long been bound to the most narrow and material views, you who have denied the virtue of transcendental medicine, you who have derided your superiors— behold!’  He put the glass to his lips and drank at one gulp.  A cry followed; he reeled, staggered, clutched at the table and held on, staring with injected eyes, gasping with open mouth; and as I looked there came, I thought, a change—he seemed to swell— his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter…”

     This passage perfectly exemplifies the theme of the mad scientist within this novel.  Edward Hyde goes from mixing the chemicals to create his solution to a full-fledged power-rant at Lanyon that comes close to manic.  He is pictured in this quote as power-hungry, greedy, and bordering on insane.  This ‘mad scientist’ trope of a psychologically-confused scientist with questionable ethics using science to further his aim of proving the worth of his experiments in “transcendental medicine” to the academic and medical communities at large and more specifically to Dr. Lanyon, his colleague.  From this, the trope expands with “disagreeing with the current standard explanations in the field…” and comes into play with Jekyll’s heavy interest in his “transcendental medicine” that is ridiculed and shunned by more conventional practitioners such as Dr. Lanyon.

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