Friday Essay: “Jekyll in Hyding”

This is an edited version of an essay I wrote at Reformation Bible College. This is the second in a series I’m developing of Friday Essays. Because the original footnote format is difficult to transfer to a blog format, I include parenthetical footnotes with the author’s last name and the page number; all referenced sources are included at the end of the essay.
Jekyll-mansfield

Richard Mansfield portrayed both Jekyll and Hyde in a stage adaptation(1887-88); this double-exposure photo shows him in both roles  c.1895

Thanks to Universal Studios sensationalized cinematic version of Stevenson’s classic story in 1931, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has yet to receive a fully faithful film adaptation. Too often Hollywood turns this fascinating look at the naked human soul into a Halloween freak show about monsters and mad scientists. I have, however, seen at least one interpretation which tries to capture the intent of the original story. Produced for television 2003 and starring John Hannah, this particular version deviates from the book’s plot in many ways but most importantly by removing the physical change from Hyde. Nonetheless, it drives home the reality that Jekyll and Hyde are in fact one person, not two. The story is often seen as a narrative look at the tension between the good and evil in man, but I believe we must be careful not to confuse Jekyll’s view (a view clearly laid out in his letter to Utterson) and Stevenson’s view of man. Jekyll holds explicitly to a dualistic view of man’s nature. By contrast, Stevenson, I want to argue, actually holds that good and evil are not two natures at war in man. Rather, good and evil are conflicting characteristics of the one nature. Hyde is Jekyll’s hidden sin.

Hyde’s name is key to understanding his relationship with Jekyll. In the story, Jekyll never tells us how Hyde received his name- did his other self simply come with a predetermined name or did Jekyll select one? To understand why the name “Hyde”, we have to look beyond Jekyll and back to the actual author, Stevenson, who clearly intends a double meaning with his name choice. In Chapter 2, Utterson in his quest to find the mysterious Mr. Hyde comments to himself, “If he be Mr. Hyde, I shall be Mr. Seek (10)”. Hyde is homophonous with the word “hide”, a word that characterizes Hyde’s entire existence. From sneaking into Jekyll’s house almost instantly after his unmasking to withdrawing into the laboratory and his eventual demise, Hyde remains cloaked in a shroud of silence. Even Jekyll’s final confession declines to divulge the full extent of the depravities committed by his other self. Edward Hyde then is a metaphor or symbol of Jekyll’s hidden sinful life. Stevenson’s purpose is to show the hidden Hyde that all men possess the potential to be if the restraints are removed. For Jekyll, and presumably Stevenson, the restraints are societal conventions or the desire to be respected. Jekyll’s barriers come crashing down when he becomes Hyde, a state induced by drugs. Jekyll ascribes a neutral power to the agent of change, so I believe Stevenson wants to avoid a “Hyde is Jekyll on drugs” (although that is technically true) concept. Rather, when Jekyll takes the potion, he is removing his reasons for morality and his sensitivity to those around him. It is the reasoning process that leads to the rationalization of our sin. In the end, however, Hyde becomes manifest without the aid of the drug. Sin becomes his norm, and in terror, Jekyll adopts the primary characteristic of Hyde by hiding himself from the world. At one point, as he engages in conversation with Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield during the final period of intense seclusion, he begins turning into Hyde. Eventually, Hyde consumes him to the point where Hyde becomes the norm. By depicting the slow replacement of Jekyll by Hyde, Stevenson describes the festering and toxic nature of hidden and unchecked sin. Jekyll seeks to redeem himself by suppressing Hyde, not through revealing him and seeking forgiveness. Granted, Stevenson himself as a non-believer would be less inclined toward the concept of repentance and offers little if any redemptive hope for Jekyll’s situation. I find it odd that while occasional references to God and heaven are made, the Church is practically nonexistent in this story. Jekyll’s best friends are a lawyer, a subtle but important reinforcement of his condemnation, and another doctor, who displays the inability of science to deal with human nature. Since science fails him and the law can only judge him, Jekyll has nowhere to turn and inch by inch he succumbs to the power of his own deceitful heart, a heart wherein hides Mr. Hyde.

While Hyde cloaks the desires of Jekyll on the one hand, on the other he ultimately reveals those same desires. By the end of the book, Jekyll hates Hyde but only after Hyde ruins him. Even then, he writes in his confession:

But his love of me is wonderful; I go further: I who sicken and freeze at the mere thought of him, when I recall the abjection and passion of his attachment, and when I know how he fears my power to cut him off by suicide, I find it in my heart to pity him (43).

Despite all the horrors committed and the tragedy caused by Hyde, Jekyll cannot fully hate him. From the beginning, Jekyll wanted Hyde, but he also wanted the perks and privileges which attended his status as a respected doctor. Through his identity as Hyde, Jekyll indulges his inner lusts and while shocked at the deeds done in this state, he only truly renounces the activities and appropriation of Hyde after the murder of Sir Danvers. Jekyll is not the good side of the same being to Hyde’s evil part, or else he would have long before sought to destroy him. Even the doctor himself admits that Hyde “was wholly evil” and Jekyll “was still the old Henry Jekyll, that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had learned to despair (37)”. If the theory espoused is one of two natures, this requires Hyde to be pure evil and Jekyll to become pure good. Hyde is depraved in every fiber of his being, but he is not the totality of Jekyll’s depravity because Jekyll retains his own sinfulness. Hyde merely serves to exposes the true Jekyll.

Although Jekyll speaks of Hyde as a separate person who shares his consciousness, his denial flows out of a visceral reaction to Hyde and refusal to accept any deeper connection rather than a coherent and logical deduction. Far from being another individual, Hyde and Jekyll are clearly one and the guilt of Hyde is the guilt of Jekyll. As the final hours of Jekyll’s physical existence draw to a close, the bachelor describes Hyde as “knit closer to him than a wife” (43). If man is a duality as Jekyll believes then why are Jekyll and Hyde still one person, not two separate beings? Let us assume Jekyll’s theory for the sake of argument. Essentially, Jekyll believes man is not one but two, and the two can be “housed in separate identities” (35). If man is actually a union of a good and evil personality engaged in an internal war and Jekyll can extract the animalistic evil into its own personified state, then Jekyll ought to be without any evil or any negative characteristics. If we push even further, Jekyll and his evil alter-ego should not share the same consciousness. In the book, Hyde is never without Jekyll in some sense, nor Jekyll without Hyde. Hyde’s gradual ascent to primacy is not a removal of Jekyll but an unmasking. In using this analogy, Stevenson paints a bleak picture of man as but a savage dressed in fancy clothes and conventions to keep him from killing his neighbor. When the conventions cease to bind the conscience, the savage acts in accordance with his basest of desires. Despite his passionate insistence that he only shares a consciousness with Hyde, in his heart of hearts I believe even Henry Jekyll realizes Hyde is indeed part of him.

As a tale born out of a nightmare, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems better suited at first glance to provide horror material than a philosophical look into the nature of man (Balfour, 15). Yet Stevenson’s work has proven a significant literary voice in the question of good and evil in man. Stevenson is essentially Hobbesian in his view of man unrestrained, but he also shares some concepts with Scripture. While Stevenson was not a Christian, he nonetheless lived in age familiar with Biblical concepts and was himself raised in a Scottish Presbyterian home. Regarding a minister of the Church of Scotland in his lineage, Stevenson commented:

Now I often wonder what I have inherited from this old minister. I must suppose, indeed, that he was fond of preaching sermons, and so am I, though I never heard it maintained that either of us loved to hear them (Memories and Portraits, 112-113).

Scripture and Stevenson agree that all are prone to evil and that evil touches every aspect of our being (Rom. 3:10-23), that the heart possesses a deceptive nature (Jer. 17:9) and that sin is corrupting and consuming (e.g. Job 15:17-35; Ps. 38:5-8; Jn 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:22). James 1:14-15 provides an especially sobering and relevant commentary that applies to Stevenson’s story:

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. (ESV)

Of course, Stevenson departs from Scripture in his lack of redemption offered. The gospel of Christ is not beyond any sinner, not even Edward Hyde. But all truth is God’s truth and Stevenson gives us insights that are worth thinking on regarding sin and its effects. And the most haunting truth of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is this: The sins of Hyde consumes Jeykll because the sins of Jekyll feeds Hyde and we can easily see that Hyde is nothing less than Jekyll in hiding.

 

Sources:

Balfour, Graham. The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Wisehouse Classics Edition). N.p.: Wisehouse Classics, 2015.

————————-.  Memories and Portraits. London: Chatto and Windus, 1906

Writing Trends: Character Driven Narration

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Part of writing is developing a written voice. Some writers craft long sentences that string words together to paint a verbal picture. Others are believers in brevity. Still, others practice a happy medium. Personally, I lean away from the “clipped” tone of say Hemingway but also from the excessive descriptions of Melville.

Whatever style you prefer, you can see how writing styles have developed and changed over the last hundred years. It is a given that the novelist of our era must not be wordy. He cannot devote his paragraphs to lengthy descriptions of the location, or expositional descriptions of the characters themselves.  True, he may describe but indirectly. He cannot say “Bill was a tall man.” He can say, “Bella looked up at Bill, wondering slightly at his great height.”  Of course, the second is wordier than the first, but at least we can work into something productive like developing the personality of Bella (i.e. we show the reader that Bella is short).

Modern novelists are every bit as wordy and descriptive as their predecessors. What has changed, however, is the content. Older writers used more description for setting and characters in an attempt to give you a basic picture. Read an original Sherlock Holmes story, and you’ll notice how every time a client comes to see Sherlock Holmes, Watson gives a straightforward description – sex, gender, socio-economic position (poor, rich, middle-class) hair color and their fashion. Sometimes he gets more detailed but he hits the essentials in painting an impression in your mind. Contemporary writers describe feelings, emotions, and reactions. It might be a no-no to spend a few sentences telling the reader what Bill looks like. But by all means, let’s spend every other sentence describing his facial muscles, his feelings and his slightest physical movement.

This difference between writing methods flows from a larger style change I’ve observed in the literature of the last hundred and fifty years: a switch from external-narration to internal-narration. Let me write an example of each style, talking about the exact same character(s) and situation and then break down some of these differences I’ve found:

Example A: In the morning, Jack and Mary hit the road again, taking the exit for Highway 12.  The couple had the highway to themselves and the hours passed quietly as the enjoyed the open road and the sound of jazz over the radio. As the evening hours approached, a loud “pop” sounded from the rear of the car, and Jack pulled over.  He checked the rear and found both tires gashed. “Well that’s just dandy,” he said. “What now?” asked Mary.  What indeed. They had only one spare, of course. According to the map, the nearest city lay another thirty miles northeast, the nearest gas station eighteen miles behind them.  With any luck, they could thumb a ride but luck had been against them so far. The solitude of the desert highway which delighted them earlier had just become their enemy. Inside the car, Mary examined the map. Her eyes lit up and she called out excitedly to Jack. “Honey look! There’s a town here, off the highway about three miles.” She handed the map to her husband. “Rascals’ Flats, eh? I believe that’s a ghost town, Mary.” “Maybe we’ll find somebody there? Or at least a place to sleep.” With evening fast approaching, Jack had to agree with her point. They still had a few hours of daylight left, enough to reach Rascals’ Flat before total darkness arrived. Bring only the essentials, Jack and Mary left the car by the side of the road and started the three-mile walk to the ghost town.

Example B: Mary looked at the desert scenery through the car window. The radio, at half volume, played an upbeat jazzy tune that made her smile. In the driver’s seat, her husband Jack had one hand resting lazily on the steering wheel, the other on the window seal. In either direction, Mary saw only pavement and desert – and she loved the solitude. All day, she and Jack had had the road to themselves. Suddenly, a series of loud “pops” erupted behind them, and the car jolted. Mary felt her throat tighten as Jack pulled the car over. He checked the back of the car. “Two flats, honey,” he called out.  “Just dandy.” “What do we do now?” She asked, trying to calm the rising fear she felt. Jack shook his head. “We’re in for a long walk either way, according to the map.”  “Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Mary replied, trying to convince herself more than Jack. “Maybe we can thumb a ride.” Jack laughed. “Maybe. But with our luck today, I wouldn’t count on it.” Mary laughed back – he was right. She pulled out the map and looked for anything nearby. Nothing. Or, almost nothing. Her eyes rested on a small name, near the highway. “Honey look, there’s a town right here, about three miles away,” Jack took the map and examined it for himself. “Rascals’ Flat, eh? I believe that’s a ghost town.” “Maybe we’ll find someone there; at least a place to sleep perhaps?” Mary glanced outside at the evening sky and noticed Jack doing the same.”Alright,” he said. “Let’s  start walking.”

 

Example A is, of course, an external narrative while Example B is internal though neither is purely one over the other. In Example A, you’ll notice a few distinctive traits:

  • Neither Jack or Mary is the exclusive point of reference, but rather Jack is the main focus of the narrative since he does most the action but you are not in Jack’s head any more than you are in Mary’s. This gives me, the narrator, the freedom to focus on the active parts of the story rather than being stuck with one character writing from his/her perspective of a scene.
  • The opening sentence begins with time and place, followed by character entrances and an action. The desert and the highway exist as the setting and are frankly introduced, the characters are in the setting and the action is what they are doing.
  • The narrative is active-verb-heavy: “Mary examined“, “Jack pulled over.  As the narrator, I’m narrating what Jack and Mary do, rather than attempting to interpret their actions.

By contrast, in Example B:

  • Mary is the narrative conductor (I deliberately chose her instead of Jack to highlight the different effects of narration style), and we only see into Jack’s head by way of Mary’s interpretation.
  • The opening sentence begins with a character, an action, and a location. Mary is looking at the scenery around her. In Example B, the desert is in the opening sentence to give Mary something to look at. I could just have easily said, “Mary looked out the car window” and from a grammatical perspective, it’s fine. From a narrative perspective, I need to specify what she was looking at, either in the same sentence –  “Mary looked out the window at the desert“- or include the scenery in the next sentence by way of implication  – “Mary looked out the window. In the fading light of evening, the desert was enchanting”. But notice how the second option is awkward. The desert is only there to give Mary something to look at, and Mary is only looking at something to give her an internal-narration introduction.
  • Example B uses mostly emotive action: “Mary felt her throat tighten.” An emotive action is about how the perspective-character is reacting. It doesn’t advance the story but instead seeks to connect you emotionally to the character. You the reader have a tangible reaction from Mary that you can theoretically connect to.

The basic differences come down to a central contrast: In external-narration, when the action happens, the narrator describes the action through the perspective of an observer. In internal-narration, when the action happens, you see it through the perspective of a character and the action happens outside of the focal point rather than being the focal point.

I don’t mean to say internal-narration is bad. I think a good writer can blend both styles appropriately. But I will say that it’s easier to weave internal-moments into an external-narrative than the reverse method. You can work in a character’s personal reaction in the broader external framework without jarring the reader:

Example A: Mr. Charles Johnson lived alone in his New York apartment. Except for a maid who cleaned the place in the morning after he left for his work at the department store, and the occasional guest to share a meal and glass of brandy, Mr. Johnson led a quiet life. On one of these quiet evenings, he relaxed after a long day at work by reading a detective novel, a cheap paperback he had grabbed at the bookstore. And as he read the story, he began to reflect on just how boring his life had become. Perhaps, he thought to himself, one day he would go on an adventure. But not today.

Notice that the narrative is still external. I’m situating where the character lives, and I’m establishing his situation. But to enhance the set-up, in Mr. Johnson’s first action, I describe what he is thinking or feeling. I have my cake but I eat it too, so to speak. Now let’s try switching the order of narration and see how it works:

Example B: Charlie entered the apartment. Another day’s work done, he thought to himself as he collapsed in his favorite recliner. At the department store where he worked, he liked to browse the bookstore when had a chance. Today, he’d bought a cheap detective novel – an older paperback. He opened the pages and began to read. One page in, he reached for his glass of brandy from the previous evening, only to find the glass missing. The maid had probably cleaned and stored it that morning. The maid came to the apartments once a day in the mornings for those who wanted her services. Sighing, Charlie rose from his chair and went into the kitchen, fixed another glass and returned. An hour went by, Charlie letting his mind rest as he read. It hit him, as he neared the end, just how boring his own life actually was. Perhaps, he thought, one of these days I’ll go on an adventure.

You’ll notice how much harder it was for me to introduce external-narration here. I included the detail about the maid and his buying the book. But if I were writing this normally I would not include the line about the maid after “the maid had probably cleaned and stored it that morning.” The following sentence disrupts the flow of the personal perspective. The book’s purchase is needed information, it sets up what the character is doing this evening – a catalyst. But in the first sample, I could introduce the book with a quick expositional statement. In the second sample, I have to include Mr. Johnson’s feelings about the bookstore to make this information blend.

Which brings me to my conclusions for now. Internal narration relies on flow and connection to generate interest and sympathy. External narration relies on the logical sequence of events and their relationship to the characters, trusting that the story itself captures you and creates feelings for the characters. Again, good writing uses both but I believe externality allows for clearer and more active writing.

That’s all my thoughts on this subject for today, but I’d love to do some more posts on writing styles. Let me know if you’d like this to be a regular series!

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