How is Mr. Utterson presented at the beginning of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the very beginning of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mr. Utterson is identified as a lawyer, whose appearance denoted a

rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile

This entails that he is a person who adopts a serious, perhaps even rough demeanor that never changes.

He is also described as

cold, scanty, and embarrassed in discourse

which means that he does not show a lot of emotion in his overall demeanor, is quite demure, and not overly expressive. In short, he is the epitome of the Victorian "gentleman." He embodies the behaviors expected of a man who is educated, respectful, self-possessed, virtuous, and even religious.

He is definitely not "fun" to be around, since he is described as:

lean, long, dusty, dreary

Still, as a true gentleman, he is also a good friend that can be relied upon. This is evident when he is described as someone who still can be

somehow lovable

The rest of the description states that Mr. Utterson has the capacity to emit 'something eminently human [..] from his eye' when he enjoys his wine. This means that Utterson can let his guard down a bit after drinking wine, like other people do.

Mr. Utterson is also described as someone "austere," that is, someone who would forbid himself from certain enjoyments. In order to restrain his taste for good "vintages" he would make himself drink gin, which tastes drastically bitter and is more medicinal- tasting, in comparison. That is pretty harsh!

Perhaps the strangest aspect of Mr. Utterson's austerity is that he loves the theater but never goes there, and has not gone to the theater in twenty years.

The most positive aspect of Mr. Utterson's behavior is his "approved tolerance for others." This means that he has no prejudice against anyone and is capable of befriending or socializing with people of all walks of life.

This is a big deal, actually. In Victorian times, optics were everything, and acquaintances reflected one's own social standing. A serious, virtuous, dry, and dreary lawyer willing to associate with strange and shady characters denotes someone who, despite his seriousness, is willing to take bold and risky steps that may not be socially accepted. This is an interesting dimension of his personality and proves that nobody is entirely "black and white" when it comes to personal choices. There is a "gray" area in everyone.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the very first line of chapter one, you might first think poorly of Mr. Utterson as a cold, unsmiling, dull, and "dusty" man. However, that first line ends on the word "lovable." And as the description of Mr. Utterson continues, it is clear that he is a good, honest, stable, and trustworthy friend. He is reliable because he is a person of character.

Mr. Utterson is quiet and modest, but his friends go back a long way, and he is loyal to them. He is "austere" with himself: he hasn't, for example, gone to the theater for twenty years, but he likes the theater and is tolerant of people who enjoying having a good time. He is not judgmental and is inclined to be helpful toward others. Often he sticks with friends who are going down a bad path and is their "last good influence." All in all, Mr. Utterson is man you would want to have as a friend, because you would know he would always be on your side.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial