As Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde begins, the characters of Gabriel John Utterson, a lawyer, and Richard Enfield, a distant relative of the former and regular companion during long strolls, are discussing a strange and particularly disturbing event witnessed by the latter. Enfield describes the scene as follows:
“All at once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the childs body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see. It wasnt like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut.”
Thus begins Stevenson’s macabre tale of the respected physician Henry Jekyll and his alter-ego, Edward Hyde, the latter the perpetrator of the horrific scene Enfield describes. As the two men continue their stroll, Utterson questions Enfield more about the strange man and about the house to which Enfield was led by the stranger. The man’s name, Enfield replies, was “Hyde.” As Chapter Two, titled “Search for Mr. Hyde,” begins, then, the atmosphere has been established. A peculiar, oddly-postured man, known to few, has coldly assaulted a young girl, and readily handed over financial restitution in response to the demands of Enfield and the girl’s family. Utterson, however, is bewildered by the events described by Enfield, and Stevenson begins to build suspense by focusing on this barrister’s sudden change of routine, a routine the injection of suspense into which is heightened by the observation that Utterson lives alone:
“That evening Mr. Utterson came home to his bachelor house in sombre spirits and sat down to dinner without relish. It was his custom of a Sunday, when this meal was over, to sit close by the fire, a volume of some dry divinity on his reading desk, until the clock of the neighbouring church rang out the hour of twelve, when he would go soberly and gratefully to bed. On this night however, as soon as the cloth was taken away, he took up a candle and went into his business room. There he opened his safe, took from the most private part of it a document endorsed on the envelope as Dr. Jekylls Will and sat down with a clouded brow to study its contents.”
The will to which Stevenson refers specifies Edward Hyde as the recipient of Henry Jekyll’s estate in the event of the latter’s disappearance—an event that apparently has transpired. The lawyer’s possession of his friend Dr. Jekyll’s will, with the prominence accorded Hyde therein, has become suddenly problematic, to say the least. Utterson’s realization that this violent, bizarre stranger named Edward Hyde at the center of the events described earlier that day by Enfield is the same as the individual named in Jekyll’s will is described by Stevenson as “there leaped up the sudden, definite presentment of a fiend.” Stevenson, then, is building suspense and tension through the revelation that a malevolent figure has appeared in the midst—a figure the identify of which is a mystery. Utterson, consequently, becomes determined to investigate this menacing figure.
Stevenson continues to build suspense through Utterson’s conversation with a medical colleague of Jekyll’s, Dr. Lanyon, and the two men, both close associates of Jekyll, mutually acknowledge that their friend has become increasingly scarce. What makes this conversation instrumental to the proceedings, though, is Lanyon’s observation of Jekyll as having begun “to go wrong, wrong in mind.” Utterson is determined to ferret out the identity of Hyde, and it becomes all-consuming. He lies awake in bed restlessly trying to reconcile the divergent personalities of Jekyll and Hyde. Utterson’s efforts soon lead to the desired encounter, but Stevenson injects tension into the proceedings, as the lawyer’s nighttime endeavor invariably involves the sound of approaching footsteps possibly attributed to a malevolent being:
“Mr. Utterson had been some minutes at his post, when he was aware of an odd light footstep drawing near. In the course of his nightly patrols, he had long grown accustomed to the quaint effect with which the footfalls of a single person, while he is still a great way off, suddenly spring out distinct from the vast hum and clatter of the city. Yet his attention had never before been so sharply and decisively arrested; and it was with a strong, superstitious prevision of success that he withdrew into the entry of the court.”
In the context of the story—the search for Mr. Hyde—Utterson’s nocturnal activities assume a greater level of tension. There is a sense of approaching danger, although the encounter with Hyde ends peaceably, but not before Utterson is able to get a good look at this stranger:
“[H]e 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.”
Stevenson still has quite a bit of story left to tell when this chapter ends. He has, however, ably introduced the reader to the character of Edward Hyde, while injecting into his narrative the possibility that the lawyer’s friend, Dr. Jekyll, may have been the victim of Hyde’s evil machinations. That the two men—Jekyll and Hyde—are one and the same cannot, of course, have occurred yet to Utterson, but the suspense surrounding the identity of Hyde and the whereabouts of Jekyll set the stage for the resolution to come.