Robert Louis Stevenson was dealing with a volatile subject when he decided to write “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which was said to have been inspired by a nightmare. In Victorian times it was an unwritten rule that certain subjects could not be mentioned in print. Women had lots of...
Robert Louis Stevenson was dealing with a volatile subject when he decided to write “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which was said to have been inspired by a nightmare. In Victorian times it was an unwritten rule that certain subjects could not be mentioned in print. Women had lots of children in Victorian novels, but there was never any hint of how these children got conceived. Yet this Mr. Hyde was supposed to be so wicked that he indulged in every possible form of vice. If Stevenson had written his story from Dr.Jekyll’s point of view, he would have been unable to avoid describing what sorts of mischief Jekyll and Hyde were up to when they went out on the town.
Mr. Utterson starts off knowing nothing about these matters and ends up not knowing very much more, regardless of the fact that he makes numerous inquiries and that he is Jekyll’s old friend and his lawyer. The story is slow-moving because of the way Stevenson felt obliged to tell it. Even when the reader gets to the very last chapter, titled misleadingly “Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case,” and thinks he is finally going to learn something about the terrible things Jekyll and Hyde did together, he finds that it is not a full statement at all. Jekyll writes specifically:
Into the details of the infamy at which I thus connived (for even now I can scarce grant that I committed it) I have no design of entering.
He has no intention of confessing anything. The reader is left to imagine what sorts of orgies and perversions the good Dr. Jekyll, as the evil Mr. Hyde, might have indulged in. Hyde often seems like a rather meek character, more frightened than frightening. Dr. Jekyll, who should be the central character of the story, stays in seclusion most of the time. Even in the last chapter he is not present but leaves a long written statement behind.
Utterson is unsatisfactory as a point of view character. He is a stuffy stock figure of a British lawyer. He spends much of his time sitting in front of a fireplace or having dinner with friends. Meanwhile the wicked antics of Mr. Hyde are taking place offstage and out of sight, so to speak. The story is constrained by the censoring of the times. It is significant that Stevenson refers to his story as a "strange case." This makes it seem like a legal matter to be discussed in formal surroundings in legal terminology with appropriate euphemisms and circumlocutions rather than a horror story.