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To what extent could The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde be considered to be a gothic text?

Gothic literature can be simply defined as “poetry, short stories, or novels designed to thrill readers by providing mystery and blood-curdling accounts of villainy, murder, and the supernatural” and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stephenson aptly fits into this criterion, especially the latter three elements. This novella can be justified as a gothic text due to its conventional use of character, weather and setting combined with themes of secrets and religion within a mysterious plot that engages the reader constantly.

Angela Wright (2007) claims that “Gothic fiction does not offer a finely-drawn demarcation between reality and its opposite; rather the relationship between the two is often described in a suitably antagonistic way to make readers question their own assumptions about the relative values of each category”. This view of Gothic literature actually appropriately describes the moral of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: the agony of conforming to a morally-constraining society, and the breakthrough of developing science that notoriously promotes transgression; yet it also shows how the two can merge and blur the distinction between realism and supernaturalism.

In many gothic texts, there are usually characters that are portrayed as heroes, victims or monsters, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde includes all of these, allowing the text to utilise different gothic attributes within the characters. Firstly in Chapter 1, the ‘hero’ of the novel is introduced; Mr Utterson is defined as “long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable”. With the juxtaposition of this sentence setting a positive at the end of the sentence, it remains in the readers’ memories longer and outlives his negative characteristics. In gothic literature, a hero must be helpful and approachable, which Mr Utterson certainly seems to be as he is said to be more “inclined to help rather than to reprove”, setting his convenient role of ‘detective’ to unfold the mysteries of the story.

Also in Chapter 1, the villain of the story is introduced, yet he is introduced by a character which shows he has a reputation, so the reader can instantly form an opinion. Mr Utterson defines Mr Hyde as a “murderous mixture of timidity and boldness” which hints at the opposite natures of his character, which we later discover to be the effects of his chemical. Mr Hyde’s acknowledges his barbarity in his confession in Chapter 10, telling how he “mauled the unresisting body, tasting delight from every blow”, and this shows his corruption and sick pleasures. These negative images of Mr Hyde tell that he is the villain while the extreme uncouth images tell that he is the monster of the novel. Also, a vital characteristic that the 'villain' must possess in gothic literature is a barbaric nature, and Mr Hyde fits into this role very well when Mr Enfield remembers him “[trampling] calmly over the child's body and [leaving] screaming on the ground” in Chapter 1, as well as “stamping with his foot and brandishing the a madman” as he kills Sir Danvers Carew in Chapter 4.

Finally, the reader can see a victim in the character of Dr Jekyll towards the end of the novel, as in Chapter 10 he reveals that he “was once again raging and freezing with passions of Hyde” which shows the uncontrollable turmoil caused by the spontaneity of his inverse character. This is a significant emotional device as it allows the reader to sympathise with his feelings.

Weather is a fundamental element within the repertoire of gothic fiction and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’s extensive use of pathetic fallacy to create certain moods fully enables it to be classed amongst other gothic literary texts within the genre. The first essential example of pathetic fallacy is in Mr Enfield’s account of his impromptu meeting with Mr Hyde in Chapter 1, as he describes it taking place on a “black winter morning” which creates the Mr Hyde’s immediate evil from the word “black”, and the coldness of his character with “winter”. This early use of pathetic fallacy creates the reputation for Mr Hyde, linking to his gothic character, as well as engaging in the aspect of darkness that is common across the genre. Also during the crucial ‘Last Night’ of Chapter 8 a large amount of pathetic fallacy is used in order to build up tension towards Dr Jekyll’s revelation. The night is “a wild, cold, seasonable night of March, with a pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her”, which employs similar adjectives to the previously used “winter” and “black”, creating the ever-constant atmosphere that is always present when Mr Hyde is nearby. Furthermore, the recurring fog that surrounds Mr Hyde is also present during this climatic scene, recounting that “the wind, which only broke in puffs and draughts into that deep well of building”. This repeated setting makes the reader easily recognise Mr Hyde as the villain and causes an eerie ambience, contributing to the overall mood of the story.

In addition, description is vital within gothic fiction and uses detailed imagery of the settings and atmospheres that the readers find themselves becoming drawn into. The description is usually exaggerated in order to create the extreme horror genre, and it is used to reflect typical elements of the genre. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde taps into the element of buildings as it describes Mr Hyde's accommodation as “ancient” and “decayed from their high estate” which could suggest the corruption of Dr Jekyll when he is Mr Hyde, as he degrades himself from all the respectable reputation of his moral self. Dr Jekyll recognises this corruption towards the end of the text, by referencing addiction in Chapter 10's confession. He recalls “something strange...indescribably new...incredibly sweet” and “drinking pleasure with bestial avidity”, which helped him gain “freedom of the soul”, relating to hedonism and greed (one of the seven deadly sins). This shows that description within this novella constantly taps into main themes of general gothic fiction like buildings, corruption and religion.

Furthermore there is a strong sense of 'good vs evil' within this story, yet it is original in the fact that the battle is between one person's need for duality, and the danger of mixing the two is noticed by Mr Utterson who remarks in Chapter 8 that “evil was sure to come – of that connection”. Dr Jekyll recites his anguish of experiencing both personas in Chapter 10, saying that “it was the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were thus bound together” showing how he blames society for forcing him to live as one of these characters, when in reality he yearns for both. The fact that he has made a concoction that allows him to break through these rules shows complete transgression; another recurring theme in gothic literature. The reason he suffered during living as both of these characters is because they are completely different: Mr Hyde is classified as “unjust” and “extraneous evil” who exposed Dr Jekyll to “disgrace and penitence”, which shows him as truly satanic and malevolent. Dr Jekyll is regarded as “just”, with “aspirations and remorse” and who does “good things he [finds] pleasure [in]”, showing him as a saintly character. With such blunt and opposite characteristics, and because none of the two characters 'win', it is easy for the reader to understand the turmoil that Dr Jekyll faces each day as a result of his duality problem.

In conclusion, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can definitely be considered to be a gothic text because it fluently uses typical gothic conventions like setting and atmosphere, character attributes, weather and religion. All gothic literature must centre itself around detailed description, and the novella doesn't stray away from this necessity, allowing the reader to be drawn into all of the drama and tension.

Posted Sun 24th June, 2012 @ 20:26 by Jessica Gledhill

3 Answers

  • -1 votes

This is a really good essay, very detailed and advanced!

Answered Fri 21st September, 2012 @ 17:12 by Alice Deane
  • -1 votes

woowwww, really detailed!!! well done!!

Answered Mon 10th December, 2012 @ 19:21 by Lullu
  • -1 votes

This is really good! did you find out what mark you got??

Answered Wed 12th December, 2012 @ 20:04 by rhianna