Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde


Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 1886.NY: Signet, 1994.

—. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 1886. Ed. Martin A. Danahay. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press, 1999.



Robert Louis Stevenson (1859-1894) claimed to have been inspired by a terror-dream regarding voluntary change becoming involuntary, which turned into the “incident at the window” scene. He was supposedly shrieking in his sleep and was awakened by his wife, formerly married and ten years older than he, with whom he seems to have been ill-at-ease. The work was written between lung hemorrhages during the early stages of tuberculosis, when Stevenson was taking pain-killers.


Meaning/significance/answer/solution seems enfolded.
I. Enfield’s story of a “Juggernaut” trampling a girl.
II. Utterson gathering information from documents, from Lanyon, to Hyde; “If he be Mr. Hyde, … I shall be Mr. Seek” (49). An impersonal report. All third-person narration is based on first- and second-hand info.
III. Dr. Lanyon’s narrative.
IV. Jekyll’s “full statement of the case.” The separation yields an evil Hyde and a still composite Jekyll. The creepiest facet is when Jekyll begins speaking of both Hyde and himself in the third person.
So the revelation comes after a peeling away of many narrative layers, or … hides?


Utterson is described as self-repressed: “He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years” (37). Meanwhile, legal papers are locked away literally in a safe (55): Jekyll’s “Will.” Note the twos and doublings regarding even the architecture described: no clarity where one building ends and another begins (43), former estates now decayed and divided (52), the focus on the “dissecting room” (53), eventually a reference to separately “housed” identities (105).


Hyde — to hide (Danish: haven); or skin covering. The implications of the concealing and revealing dynamics reverse our initial impression in that Hyde hides in Jekyll (as after the murder of Carew).

Jekyll — (Danish: jökulle = icicle); jackal? (a wild dog known for sneaky thieving behavior); je kyll = I kill?

Utterson — uttering implications. That he is Gabriel John Utterson (92) suggests justice and mercy combined, but is he credible? When he sees Hyde there is excitement, then nausea. Utterson does not talk much, but hides information (93). He cherishes his silent walks with Enfield (38, 78).


“a by-street in a busy quarter of London…. Two doors from one corner on the left hand going east … two storeys high….”

“the buildings are so packed together about the court, that it’s hard to say where one ends and another begins.”

“I saw Mr. Hyde go in by the old dissecting-room.”

“If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable….”

“for any drug that so potently controlled and shook the very fortress of identity….”

“He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance, something displeasing, something down-right detestable.”

“The two hands are in many points identical: only differently sloped.”

“Utterson was amazed to find it a copy of a pious work, for which Jekyll had several times expressed a great esteem, annotated, in his own hand, with startling blasphemies.”

“Here and there a brief remark was appended to a date, usually no more than a single word: ‘double’ occurring perhaps six times….”

“‘Compose yourself,’ said I. He turned a dreadful smile to me….”

“Though so profound a double-dealer, I was in no sense a hypocrite.”

“Hence, although I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll, that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had already learned to despair.”

“My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring.”

“Jekyll had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference.”

“Hence the ape-like tricks that he would play me, scrawling in my own hand blasphemies on the pages of my books, burning the letters and destroying the portrait of my father….”


Although in one sense the story of Jekyll and Hyde is the most blatant literalizing of the doppelganger effect, Jekyll and Hyde are not quite good and evil twins. How old is Jekyll? Hyde seems to be in his 20s or 30s and is smaller in stature. We hear a reference to Jekyll’s irresponsible youth, that he is paying for those capers now (42), the ghost of some old sin (54). It sounds like the rhetoric of having had an illegitimate son, and of course Hyde is an heir.

Jekyll is a protector of Hyde, a parental host, and Hyde writes blasphemies in Jekyll’s books (123), burns letters, and destroys a portrait of Jekyll’s father! “Jekyll had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference” (114). Hyde is once called “that child of Hell” (120).

So Hyde is at least the renounced or repressed youth of Jekyll before Jekyll became a man of means. Hyde is Jekyll’s inner child!


Talkers die. Lanyon chooses to see for himself the transformation and tells it in a letter while dying. Jekyll reveals all and dies. Hyde wields power in silence (and would destroy Jekyll’s final document?). There is nothing said and nothing to say, apparently, after the final letter.


The countless films based on the novella don’t do so much injustice to the story as play out some missing implications. “The more derivative and exploitative the version, the more revealing it may be” (Twitchell 84).

In Stevenson’s novella, the victims are an 8-year-old girl (trampled a little) and an arbitrary older man, Carew (who just has the same lawyer). The story is more a matter of detection than it is a gothic horror.

Soon there was a stage play, and true to popular cultural tendencies, the play straightened out the plot, chucked the narrative sophistication, and drew out the sexual tensions. The story became coursened, but the narrative unfolded rather than was enfolded (Twitchell). The 1887 play introduced Agnes, Carew’s daughter being courted by Jekyll. So the beating to death of the old man (with a phallic stick?) becomes more significant as the killing of a father figure who delays marriage or prohibits a love affair. The drinking of the brew follows a forced separation. And another woman is introduced too, a lust object to balance the frustrated love object.

In the 1920 film version, John Barrymore as Hyde looks like a tarantula.

In the 1932 Mamoulian film version, Fredric March as Hyde looks simian, a buck-toothed Neanderthal. Muriel is sexually quarantined, so Hyde visits Ivy, whipping, beating, and biting her. (This film helped bring about the motion picture production code of 1934.) Clearly Jekyll is unwilling to be parented anymore. Hyde avoids the woman Jekyll loves, but the danger is assumed.

In the 1941 film version, Spencer Tracy as Hyde just looks like a gangster. Later films explore gender dynamics too: Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957), Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Hammer 1971), Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (1995).

Works Cited

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 1886.NY: Signet, 1994.

—. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 1886. Ed. Martin A. Danahay. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press, 1999.

Twitchell, James B. Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror. NY: Oxford University Press, 1985.