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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson
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What kind of person is Mr. Utterson in the story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

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Robert Louis Stevenson opens The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydewith a lengthy description of Utterson. He is described as:

a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and...

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Robert Louis Stevenson opens The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a lengthy description of Utterson. He is described as:

a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable. At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye; something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but which spoke not only in these silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life. He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years. But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove.

This passage provides a character portrait of Stevenson's main viewpoint character. He is a lawyer and is highly professional, both in the context of his profession as well as in that of societal life as well as in his relationship with his client, Dr. Jekyll. In many respects, he gives off an air of Victorian respectability and self-control.

It is through Utterson that we experience this story as Stevenson tells it. We learn about Hyde along with Utterson, as he hears the story from Enfield, and later, we meet Hyde directly, once again, alongside Utterson himself. The same applies to the story's conclusion, with the letters. We only learn the full truth of Jekyll's story at the book's end, when Utterson has the opportunity to read about it.

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Utterson is intended by Stevenson to be the reader's way into the story. As a decent, respectable, law-abiding gent, he's someone with whom we can more readily identify, someone we can trust. We need to feel there's someone pitching for us and the values we hold dear—values that are under threat from Dr. Jekyll's demonic alter-ego. With all the crazy things going on in the story, it's important to have someone who's calm, rational, and unfailingly stable, someone who can make sense of it all. Utterson fits this bill.

That Utterson is a lawyer is also crucial. As well as representing the forces of law and order, Utterson has the lawyer's curiosity for solving complex puzzles, for getting to the bottom of things. Combined with his high regard for his good friend Dr. Jekyll, this makes him all the more admirable, and all the more effective, as the story's hero.

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In Stevenson’s classic tale, Mr. Utterson is a lawyer, and a representation of Victorian order. Those two details are two sides of the same coin. Utterson not only practices law, he represents the law. He is, as the early lines of the story explain, disciplined. He likes wine, and because of this doesn’t drink it. Instead, he drinks gin. Because he likes the theater, he doesn’t go. Utterson embodies conservative Victorian self-restraint. He shows what fully repressing your passions looks like. He is introduced first, to show what Henry Jekyll is rebelling against. He lives a dull life by choice, to preserve virtue. He is what Jekyll should be. He’s the conscience of the story, but a conscience who is intentionally ambiguous. You should respect him, but not really like him.

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