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Stevenson tells us a lot about Victorian society in this book. The upper and middle classes were often superficial and hypocritical with regard to their morality. They thought it was acceptable behaviour to appear respectable on the surface, while at the same time dabbling in various forms of immoral behaviour. In the book, much of the clandestine behaviour occurs when it is foggy or dark, which helps to imply the hidden nature of their immoral behaviour. Poverty and squalor were part of everyday life for the lower classes in the cities of Victorian England. The poor were often desperate so turned to criminal activities. The upper classes thought of criminals as very different from themselves, almost a different species. Stevenson implies this by his descriptions of Mr Hyde as being "savage" and "ape-like". It is interesting that there are only two female characters, and each of these only has a minor part to play - the child who is trampled by Hyde, and the maid servant who witnesses the brutal murder of Sir Danvers Carew. This lack of female characters illustrates the low importance given to women in Victorian society, and would probably have seemed quite normal to someone reading this book, when it was originally published. A reader in 2008 might have more difficulty with a book which is imbalanced in favour of male characters The dual nature of man, as shown in the characters of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is not just a Victorian concept, but I think it was particularly relevant to that time where supposedly respectable people were often not what they seemed. It remains very relevant today however, as often seemingly respectable public figures are exposed as having indulged in behavior unacceptable to society. The dual nature of man is therefore probably a timeless concept. The Victorians were confused about the scientific discoveries which were being made at that time, which often seemed to conflict with their more traditional religious beliefs e.g. Darwins theory of evolution versus God as creator of life. Dr Jekyll would be seen by a Victorian reader as a reckless scientist who is meddling in God's work of creation, and the malevolent Mr Hyde would be the inevitable result of unnecessary experimentation. Today's reader would perhaps be more sympathetic with Dr Jekyll, as we are nowadays more comfortable with science and that to make progress, experimentation is necessary. It is likely however that someone reading the book in 2008 would still class Dr Jekyll's form of experimentation as unethical, as cloning is seen as today. 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' fits well into the gothic genre. It is a tale of the darker side of man, death, evil and horror. The description of the murder of Danvers Carew is particularly horrific - "with ape-like fury he was trampling his victim underfoot, hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered". It was written at a time when Victorians were concerned about the changes in society due to the industrial revolution and scientific discoveries. People were scared of where science could be leading them. It is a fantasy and fulfils the need which exists to escape from a world controlled by logic and science, and indulge our emotions. That need exists today perhaps as much as in Victorian times.
Overall, It's an ok book but more for those people studying GCSE and have to read it. That's what I read it for and I found it interesting in some parts, complicated in others and just plain weird in some.
Hmm, yes, you have made me think about this. Also, it was probably around the time of psychologists such as Freud with his Id, Ego and Super Ego, which could be construed as the two extremes Id being Hyde, and Super Ego being Jeckyll. Very interesting!