Victorian Vaccine


Around the time that The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde was written, several vaccines were being studied and introduced, including the Rabies vaccine. Rabies has plagued man since at least 2300 BCE, making it one of the oldest documented infectious diseases. The term “Rabies” stems from the latin verb “rabere”, meaning to rage. Great theologians such as Aristotle observed the effects of Rabies, noting that the infected became very irritable before their death. The Greeks went so far as to dedicate two gods to the prevention and healing of Rabies.
Much later, in the 1870s, french chemist Louis Pasteur assisted by doctor and scientist Emilie Roux begin investigating a vaccine for the disease. An initial vaccine was created in 1883, created from the spine of an infected animal. Two years later, the vaccine was successfully used on an infected person, Joseph Meister. Just a year after that The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde was published.

We chose to focus on this historical event because of the similarities between how Dr. Jekyll goes about his science, and the similarities between rabies symptoms and Hyde’s action. Rabies can cause a person to become irritable, anxious, hydrophobic, insomniatic, and can cause hallucinations. Though Hyde never displays hydrophobic tendencies, he is the more irritable, anxious, and animalistic side of Jekyll. Also, Jekyll uses a vaccine like concoction to separate himself from evil, a disease that causes people to become animalistic in nature. He is even described as animal like.

Though it’s possible that Robert Louis Stevenson was not aware of the new vaccination, it is unlikely as Rabies was a problem in America as well as Europe, having come to the continent in the early 1700s. The vaccine that Roux and Pasteur created was groundbreaking in the field of medicine, and the news would have spread quickly. It could be that Louis Stevenson had this technological innovation in his mind when creating The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


Works Cited

Bollmann, Andreas, et al. “Louis Pasteur.” History of Vaccines RSS. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. “Rabies.” Symptoms. Mayo Clinic, 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

Sholand, Dr. Stephen. “A Rabies-Free World, Inc. – History.” A Rabies-Free World. A Rabies-Free World, 2003. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

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