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English Coursework Kevin Lau 10H

What would a Victorian reader find shocking about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis
Stevenson?

There are many features in the book; Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that a Victorian reader
would find shocking. The theme that Stevenson highlights are often considered taboo in the sixteenth
century such as the challenges to moral and religious codes of a Victorian society. Stevenson also
shows us that Jekyll explores the limit he can push these social boundaries in the novel through the
character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The consequences that unfold would definitely shock the
Victorian reader.

During the nineteenth century there were many rapid changes such as the Industrial Revolution, the
collapse of several European Empires and, specially the theme that Stevenson explores, the
advancement of science. The Victorian fascination of science at the time produced many mixed
feelings. The unknown quality of science can be represented by the Gothic novel Frankenstein.
Stevenson's novel is also an example of that fascination with the dark side of science.

A major theme of the book is a duality of life. Perhaps what many Victorians would find disturbing is
Stevenson's use of the alter-ego in his novel. Jekyll is presented as the well mannered doctor but
underneath he has repressed urges to commit "crimes". Stevenson seems to be hinting that beneath the
surface of society there are many different layers of complexity that we do not voice out and repressing
these urges leads us to lash out, very much like Mr. Hyde who, as we learn, seeks "evil" and "lustful"
nature, which would undermine and question about to what extent were Victorians religious, for lustful
conducts would have been frowned upon for unmarried couples in the middle and upper-class.

Whilst Jekyll would have been living a dual personality, something a Victorian would consider to be a
mental illness and locked away in an asylum. Jekyll lives a dual personality because he presents
himself in society as a rich, respectable, courteous doctor. Whilst in his thoughts, he fantasises of
having a "lustful and violent" and cruel behaviour. To a Victorian, a proper gentleman should restrain
his urges and to be reserved. In the Victorian era, it was disapproved for men and women to seek such
pleasures. This would shock Victorians for they were very religious, and pre-martial "sensual" or sex
was forbidden, especially being "monstrous" (homosexual). In Victorian times religion was central to
every aspect of life, attending service and obeying the rules of God was essential to be a good citizen.
Not only does Dr. Jekyll challenge the belief of God and society by creating having a dual personality.

Furthermore, Jekyll's ambition of separating his antagonistic personalities to satisfy his bad urges by
making a potion from the uses of science. Just the thought of using science to change what was given to
him by God, would frighten a Victorian. Stevenson could have been influenced to write about such idea
could be described similar to how Satan fell from Grace, refusing to accept that he was created being.
A Victorian may question on whether or not Jekyll was a Christian, as Stevenson shows no religious
behaviour.

When Hyde tramples over a little young girl, he does not show any remorse or acknowledgement.
Utterson's description about how Hyde had "trampled calmly" will shock a Victorian for Hyde was not
provoked, and acted violently without reason, presenting to the Victorians how barbaric and foreign for
Hyde's behaviour is unsettling for his lack of decency of not being a proper Victorian gentleman. In
Victorian society, it was important to maintain a well respectable outlook, be reserved, well respectable
and following religious moral principles. Furthermore, Victorians would be shocked to find that the
crowd of women were acting similar to "harpies", filled with rage and anger, ignoring their role in
society, oppressed and pretend to be helpless and silent.

In the final chapter, Jekyll's final statement about his life would shock Victorians for it explains about
features of what a Victorian would disregard as being uncivilised. He described how he was able to
"inherit" a large sum of "money", a "healthy life", and well "respected" reputation would be considered
a proper Victorian gentleman. However despite his wealth, he has a frivolous and corrupt nature, and
lives with an alter-ego. This would frighten a Victorian for having a dual personality would mean
having an mental illness, which Victorians were for curing these strange madness. His hope of
separating both his personalities and satisfying his dark and evil side, and live in an attempt to be
completely good, resulting in the creation of Hyde a terrible immoral character. A Victorian may
applaud the idea of separating his dark "nature" to be more reserved and live up to his status as an
upper-class, however they may argue that holding off the urges represents how masculine he is.

There are many religious references in the the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A Victorian
would be shocked to find that "salt" is one of the "main [key] ingredients" for Jekyll to transform into
Hyde. Salt is considered holy for it is the necessity of life which is described in the Bible to be used as
purification. Victorians would question on why would such a holy thing to ward off demons creates
such a terrible creation. Victorians would further find religious references, when Jekyll expresses his
knowledge that he is taking a "risk" that could result in his "death". This can be interpreted as Adam
and Eve eating the forbidden fruit despite God's warning that eating it will kill them., "Feeling pain and
nausea" could be described similar as to being banished from paradise.

The idea of two antagonist "natures" of "good" and "evil", affects everyone. He shows how hideous
Hyde is, can be convey to be how repulsive Hyde's behaviour is to the Victorian public. Because of
this, Stevenson reveals a new perception, which suggest a sinister dark side of human nature and
society. Jekyll's transforms into a "formlessly shrunken" and "deformed" being, which causes Hyde to
be instantly "forever, despised and friendless" possibly because how in the Victorian society would
never accept Hyde into society for his behaviour or his appearance. Being "formlessly shrunken" would
suggest degeneration, the opposite to evolution in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Victorians
would despise Darwin's theory of evolution due to the devout society. Furthermore, the "shrunken" size
of Hyde suggest new life, and further suggest the idea that Jekyll's dark side is smaller and can be
easily suppressed, however it changes when Hyde become more bigger, bring a change in Jekyll's
dominance.

Jekyll shows how "Hyde [is] struggling for freedom" creates an idea to Victorians that too much
freedom can cause a breakdown in society. Victorians would see that Jekyll, the well respected doctor
who has fallen from his "moral weakness" and seeks to unleash Hyde again. However, soon failing to
suppress his dark side Victorians would be shocked to find that Jekyll is not able to take control over
himself, which portrays evils triumphing good which the complete contrast to the book of Revelation.
To end his "suffering", he commits "suicide", which is strongly against religion for the Victorians
believe that only God has the right to take a life away, and suffering shows manliness in Victorian
times.

It cannot be decided on what a Victorian would find most shocking about the Strange Case of Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There has already been books that would have shocked Victorians. Such as The
Picture of Dorian Gray for Dorian Gray had sold his soul for eternal beauty, or Frankenstein for a
scientist had used science to bring back life. However most likely, Victorians would find most
shocking is that Stevenson was able to write such Gothic book and shows evil triumphing over good,
and humanities last way out was through suicide.

Total word count: 1,292