If you tried to highlight the dramatic phrases in this slim novel, you'd end up with approximately a hundred and fifty neon pages.
Take a look at a couple of these passages:
He would be aware of the great field of lamps of a nocturnal city; then of the figure of a man walking swiftly; then of a child running from the doctor's; and then these met, and that human Juggernaut trod the child down and passed on regardless of her screams. (2.13)
The most racking pangs succeeded: a grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death. Then these agonies began swiftly to subside, and I came to myself as if out of a great sickness. (10.4)
Sentences like these exemplify the drawn out, dramatized tone of shilling shockers. Stevenson increases Mr. Hyde’s sketchiness, for example, by writing in a mysterious fog that appears every time Mr. Hyde is nearby.
At the same time, however, the book is written rather "factually." The points of view are fairly objective. How can the book possibly do both of these things at the same time? Read it and find out.
Make no mistake, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gets our hearts pumping with its brutal murders, magical potions, inexplicable events, game-changing documents, and, of course, the evil-oozing Mr. Hyde.
At the core of this novel is a mystery: who exactly is this Mr. Hyde and what is the nature of his relationship to the seemingly benevolent and wonderful Dr. Jekyll? As we read, we come to find that this question may not be easy to answer. Along the way, we get a good dose of all kinds of Gothicky things. Let's pull out our Gothic checklist:
We've definitely got a Gothic tale on our hands. All of these elements come together to convince us from the beginning that something is awry, that this isn't a normal, realist world we're contending with. As a result, we are on the edge of our seats, trying desperately to cope with the suspense of finding out who Mr. Hyde is.
It took us a while to wrap our minds around all of the potions and the idea of Jekyll turning into Hyde, and vice-versa. That's where the "science fiction" side comes in—the story is not based on reality, but draws instead on scientific knowledge and speculation.
The novel concerns the strange doings of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, who, we find out, are one and the same. Mr. Hyde just happens to be the terrible, evil, criminal side of Dr. Jekyll who is unleashed via mysterious potions. The two men embody "man’s dual nature," hence the dual nature of the title.
Notice the servants? The discrepancy between rich and poor? The bachelor living? The religious allusions? The repression? That’s all 100% Victorian England.
This setting allows Dr. Jekyll to become a more sympathetic character. It also explains why he needed to unleash his inner Hyde. Repression is no joke. In fact, you could go so far as to say that this book, because of its setting, provides social commentary on the place and times.
In a book about the duality of human experience, we think it's only fitting that Robert Louis Stevenson uses a kind of split approach when it comes to the writing style of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On the one hand, he's writing in the Victorian era, for a Victorian audience. What that means for us modern readers is that this book's style comes across as, well, old.
To be sure, Stevenson's work is full of antiquated structures and expressions, but it's also very Victorian in another sense, too: it minds its manners.
To the Victorians, manners were everything, and the appearance of being prim and proper counted for a whole heck of a lot. Today, we're far more laid back, but it's important to realize that this book was written for a different time and place. In keeping with the book's theme of the split between the civilized and the uncivilized sides of human nature, though, the writing style is at once formal and proper, as well as dark and grimy.
Check out an example:
All of a sudden he broke out in a great flame of anger, stamping with his foot, brandishing the cane, and carrying on (as the maid described it) like a madman. The old gentleman took a step back, with the air of one very much surprised and a trifle hurt; and at that Mr. Hyde broke out of all bounds and clubbed him to the earth. And next moment, with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot and hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered and the body jumped upon the roadway. At the horror of these sights and sounds, the maid fainted. (4.1)
Here, Stevenson relates the murder of Sir Danvers Carew by Mr. Hyde, as seen through a maid's eyes. Of course, modern readers will find some of the language here a bit out of touch ("a great flame of anger," "the air of one very much surprised"). What's more shocking is the detailed violence that's wrapped up in this formal little Victorian package. We read that "bones were audibly shattered and the body jumped on the roadway," which is, you know, pretty gruesome stuff.
But really, that choice of writing style—to embed horror inside formal prose—speaks to one of the main themes of the book: the uncivilized side of humanity that lurks within the formal trappings of civilization. Just like the savage Mr. Hyde hides in the formal, civilized Dr. Jekyll, Stevenson uses his writing style to embed chaos within the formal order of this Victorian page-turner. Very clever, Mr. S.
Rather than taking place in only one part of the city, Stevenson’s novel is set in many different areas of London, each meant to reflect the character of its denizens. Soho, where Mr. Hyde lives, for example, is described as being dark and dingy, which, last time we checked, tends to go quite well with people that ooze evil out of their pores. London fog also plays a role in the book, adding sinister overtones where Stevenson needs them.
We start off with the story of a door in a rough neighborhood that leads to a passageway that leads to Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory. Think of it as a passage between two worlds. Until the end of the story, Jekyll (himself and as Hyde) is the only one who traverses this passage. He’s also the only one walking the fine line between normality and evil. Sounds like a symbol to us.
The London fog serves to shroud or veil the city and make it eerie. Fog = obscurity, and the literal fog emphasizes the metaphorical fog surrounding the true identity of Hyde. You’ve also got firelight, lighted lamps, and light in general as the counterpoint to fog because of their safe, illuminating qualities.
The third person limited point of view picks one character and follows him around—in this case, Mr. Utterson. However, Mr. Utterson’s point of view is supplemented by four other narratives: Mr. Enfield’s story of the door, the maid’s account of the Carew murder, Dr. Lanyon’s story, and Dr. Jekyll’s confession.
We get the story this way because it draws out the suspense, the mystery, and the shocking nature that was sort of requisite for shilling shockers back in the day. If we just had the story from Jekyll’s point of view, there wouldn’t have been such a dramatic ending, where we, the readers, get to say: "Ohhh."
Even though we hear other people’s perspectives, we basically follow Mr. Utterson: we don’t learn the full story until he does. But since he’s a bit of a dry fellow—he must be, to spend so much time doing nothing but studying—he’s not a terribly involved narrator. We watch him speculate about Dr. Jekyll and try to unravel the mystery, but he’s not overcome by strong emotions all the time. He’s an average fellow who cares about his friend’s well-being and isn’t going to project many of his own opinions onto the story he unravels... which makes him a good narrator.
Given his own appetite for shame, Dr. Jekyll decides that man has a dual nature—good and evil—and becomes obsessed with separating the two.
During the day, Dr. Jekyll leads a respectable, sober life. At night, however, he gives way to his secret desires and roams the street as Mr. Hyde. He leads the best of both lives. He’s living the dream.
Dr. Jekyll feels that the balance of his natures is tilting in favor of evil. He then decides to remain permanently as Dr. Jekyll, but the secret desires remain.
Mr. Hyde becomes a wanted man throughout the country. Dr. Jekyll resolves to stay respectable, but his transformations into Mr. Hyde increase, even without the aid of his potions.
Dr. Jekyll finally loses all control over his transformations into Mr. Hyde and barricades himself in his laboratory. He runs out of his transformative potion and although he tries to make new batches, he cannot duplicate his original potion. He ends his statement by saying that Dr. Jekyll is dead, and that he cannot know what Mr. Hyde will do. This is a textbook ending to the classic tragedy plot.
Quite a dramatic way to start things off. You might even call this shilling shocker "shocking." Mr. Utterson hears a story from his friend concerning the evil-doings of a Mr. Hyde. We find out that this name is familiar to Mr. Utterson—Mr. Utterson’s respectable friend Dr. Jekyll plans on leaving his entire estate to Mr. Hyde. This obviously sparks Mr. Utterson’s curiosity, and sets up the book’s central mystery: what’s the connection between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
Mr. Utterson hunts down Mr. Hyde, who is rude and refuses to answer any questions. Mr. Utterson also questions Dr. Jekyll, who is polite and refuses to answer any questions. Thus, despite Mr. Utterson’s best efforts, Mr. Hyde remains an enigmatic character. Enigmatic—that sounds like conflict to us.
Mr. Hyde becomes a wanted man throughout London. Yes, that complicates things considerably. Dr. Lanyon dies and, in the grand tradition of dying characters everywhere, leaves documents with Mr. Utterson
This is climactic because it’s like the cops finally breaking down the door of a drug den. Actually, Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory really is a drug den.
This is only momentarily suspenseful, because the last two chapters of the book are the documents that Mr. Utterson hastens home to read. All will soon be revealed.
All those mysterious connections between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are finally explained.
Dr. Jekyll gives his firsthand account of why and how he transformed into Mr. Hyde. We also find out that he really, really liked being evil, but that his conscience wouldn’t stand for it.
Mr. Utterson sets out to explore the connection between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Mr. Hyde murders Sir Danvers Carew.
By means of two separate narratives, we discover that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person.