‘You must suffer me to go my own dark way. I have brought on myself a punishment and a danger that I can’t name.’ (Dr Jekyll)
Stevenson’s remarkable novel explores the ‘other’ face of Victorian respectability, the underbelly of a society ‘profoundly committed to the duplicity of life.’
The setting of novel lends itself to horror. We are in London, a filthy degraded place, full of labyrinthine streets, blinded by fog, searching for a ‘creature’ who evades detection at every turn. We wander the streets with men who have a pronounced predilection for night walks and alley ways and speak in male codes. Insomnia suggests sexual restlessness and with no women in sight, and lots of male friendships, this fin de siecle text rather suggests the unlawfulness of homosexual desire.
We abruptly encounter the inhuman figure of ‘Mr Hyde’ as he stamps maliciously on a helpless child. This transgression of any residue of civilised behaviour catapults the novel into horror where it lingers for the rest of the narrative. We spend time gazing at a ‘blistered and distained door’ through which the unspeakable Hyde makes his way and we metaphorically lose our respectable ways!
Ironically for a novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson, or ‘Tusitala’ as he was called by the Samoans with whom he lived during his final years.’Tusitala’ means teller of tales’. In this text the tale refuses to be told. This is because the narrative is initially dependent upon the voice of the unprepossessing Utterson, ironically a man who fails to utter anything in terms of personal disclosure or revelation. This secrecy is then reinforced by other restrictive narrative viewpoints, thus confining the ‘secret’ of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to conjecture – the strait jacket of Victorian repression. (And yes, there is a joke in there!)
For who is the final teller of this macabre tale? The last voice we hear in the novel is that of Dr Jekyll, yet we know he died as the infamous Mr Hyde, and that we are only privy to this knowledge through the ‘eyes’ of Utterson who never comments about it.He just disappears into respectable silence. Each time I read the novel I am always aware of the missing voice in the text and feel rather bewildered at the lack of any stable conclusion to the novel. We are just left with the voice of the very much resurrected and undead Jekyll/Hyde voice who finishes his own novel after all!
Read it at night and lock your door!