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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


The city

Cavendish Square
The city of Dr Jekyll and Hyde’s mystery is London, first mentioned on page 7, "a by-street in a busy quarter of London", to locate the topographical setting from the very beginning. In the course of the novel, there are also frequent references to other places: its squares, streets, districts such as Queer Street (12), Cavendish Square (16), the dingy, "dismal quarter of Soho" where Mr Hyde lives, an area as "disreputable" as Hyde’s nature itself (22, 34, 51), Regent’s Park (114), Portland Street (115). Most of the times London is described as a nocturnal city: on the one hand, this reflects the mysterious and dark psychological inner reality of the protagonist and some of its inhabitants. On the other hand, darkness gives London a nightmare quality and this adds to the sense of mystery of the story itself, because the city certainly appears to be more dangerous and more mysterious at night when everyone should sleep, instead of being involved in something illegal or secret.
    According to some critics, the nocturnal city in the novel is highly cinematic, even somehow foreshadowing the invention of the cinema, especially at some points as this: "Mr Enfield’s tale went by before his mind in a scroll of lighted pictures. He would be aware of the great field of lamps of a nocturnal city; then of the figure of a man walking swiftly; then of a child running from the doctor’s; and then these met, and the human Juggernaut trod the child down and passed on regardless of her scream" (18-9).
    This does not mean that the city is not ambiguous or strange during the day. For example, its appearance, "like a fire in a forest" (7), suggests there is something hidden behind its nice and busy streets and shops, something that is not openly revealed during the day. With its own division between the wealthier, more respectable area of the East End and the squalor, poverty and criminal activities of the West End, London itself mirrors the theme of the ‘double’ encapsulated in the Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde dichotomy.
    However, even though the story is set in London, the topography of the city in the novel, owes much to 18th -century Edinburgh, Stevenson’s native city, itself with a ‘double’ soul: the New Town, inhabited by respectable, well-off citizens; the Old Town, instead, with its dark streets and alleys peopled by poor people, dangerous criminals and vagabonds.
    Referring to Jekyll and Hyde, the English scholar Terry Eagleton defines them as the “shadowy figures who symbolically dominate the age”, the Victorian fin de siècle, together with Jack the Ripper. He then goes on to add: “The century closes with Freud’s discovery of the unconscious; but that violent, anarchic region has already been prefigured in the East End, in primitivist anthropology, in the exotically intensified sensations of the decadents, and the line which divides it from the socially respectable ego is […] tenuous”.1

View of the Thames

Light and darkness

The sense of security conveyed by daylight is false. The nocturnal landscape is the protagonist of Utterson’s nightmare with its shadows, lamplights, swift movements, that characterise the moments of suspense (20-21, 23-24, 31, 45), adding elements of horror and mystery to the scene.
    The main symbols used to this end are light, shadow, fog, cold. Light appears with "lamps, unshaken by any wind" (20), with the twilight and the full moon, and as the "haggard shaft of daylight" (34). The shadows provoked by these lights make the houses "plung[...] in darkness" (24), so that everything is "dark like the back-end of evening" (34). This effect of inscrutability is increased by the presence of fog: "a fog rolled over the city in small hours" (31), "the fog settled down again" (35), "the fog lifted a little" (35). The literal London fog that veils the true aspect of the city, partly hiding it to the view of its inhabitants, can be considered as a metaphor for the obscurity enveloping the identity of Mr Hyde.

Print of a street of Edinburgh


Wine is the symbol of the social respectability and the financial security of the middle classes, which Mr Utterson, Dr Jekyll, Dr Lanyon and Mr Enfield belong to. All of them appreciate wine and are deep connoisseurs of it: wine is usually drunk at dinner parties with friends or while having private discussions, but its presence reminds the reader that the happiness and the lightness of those moments must always undergo the strict official customs of the period and do not represent an unrestrained moment of relax and pleasure. This is the reason why the austere and serious lawyer simply lets "something eminently human beacon from his eyes", after tasting an excellent wine. Even though it is sometimes sipped in solitude, as Dr Lanyon does at the beginning of chapter two, when Mr Utterson pays him a visit (17), usually important people, who are "all intelligent reputable men, all judges of good wine" (27), share the pleasure of drinking together, even with someone from a different social group, as Mr Utterson’s head clerk, Mr Guest (45).
    Instead this symbol has a different role when the police discover that there is "a closet [...] filled with wine" (36) in the house of Mr Hyde, the evil twin of the scientist and the killer of Sir Danvers Carew. Obviously, in this case the presence of such a good and expensive drink does not underline Hyde’s civilised manners, but it aims at highlighting his depravity and vices.
    Besides, it is important to remember that once Poole, Dr Jekyll’s butler, does not drink the glass offered by Mr Utterson, when they talk of their serious fears about the strange behaviour and the secluded life of the researcher, before going to his house and finding Mr Hyde’s corpse. The fact that the lawyer "observed with wonder […] that the wine was still untested" (64) means that the future discoveries do not fall within the sphere of the ‘normal’ everyday world and the social dimension of man.

1 Terry Eagleton,‘The Flight to the Real’, in Sally Ledger ed., Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle,
   (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), (pp.11-21), p. 14-15.