Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde Essay Victorian Era

Transformations in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

704 Words3 Pages

Dr. Jekyll being an eminent doctor, with a powerful social and educational background, has an extremely sophisticated and refined appearance “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty” (44). As the quote suggests Dr. Jekyll has a majestic and renowned persona. The charity he does for the society, and his living Standards are all visible through the appearance he manifests. On the other hand, Hyde being Dr. Jekyll’s contrivance, to carry out evil purposes has an unattractive appearance and a repellent demeanor. “There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable” (35). As per the quote Hyde looks very ugly. His deeds are uglier and compliances suitably to his physical self. Dr. Jekyll is…show more content…

Dr. Jekyll being an eminent doctor, with a powerful social and educational background, has an extremely sophisticated and refined appearance “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty” (44). As the quote suggests Dr. Jekyll has a majestic and renowned persona. The charity he does for the society, and his living Standards are all visible through the appearance he manifests. On the other hand, Hyde being Dr. Jekyll’s contrivance, to carry out evil purposes has an unattractive appearance and a repellent demeanor. “There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable” (35). As per the quote Hyde looks very ugly. His deeds are uglier and compliances suitably to his physical self. Dr. Jekyll is subjugated by the Victorian rules and regulations to lead his evilness in disguise. In Victorian era, a quintessential gentleman is well dressed and is on highly social ranking, which Dr. Jekyll very well fits in. He cannot satisfy his unexpressed desires in his original self. Therefore Jekyll transforms himself into Hyde, to keep his reputation and self-image intact. The appearance is not just subjected to their physical self, it also reflects through their living environment. Dr. Jekyll lives in a well-furnished mansion with “a great air of wealth and comfort” (42). This depicts the quality of the home and the morally right actions that conspires in the house, whereas Hyde lives in a laboratory with “the dingy, windowless

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Late one night, near the end of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian dresses himself in “common” clothes, conceals his face behind a scarf and hat, and walks to Bond Street where he hails a carriage. The driver initially refuses to take him to the address he requests, but after Dorian has promised a large payment, they take a long journey through London to a neighborhood by the shipping docks on the Thames River. The streets are roughly paved and dimly lit. Dorian enters “a small shabby house, that was wedged in between two gaunt factories.” The house is an opium den, peopled with gentlemen, sailors, and prostitutes, South Asians and whites: “grotesque things that lay in such fantastic postures on the ragged mattresses. The twisted limbs, the gaping mouths, the staring lusterless eyes…”

Dorian’s journey on that night makes explicit a pattern of behavior that both Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde reference throughout their novels: wealthy Victorian men escaped stifling social conventions and the surveillance of their peers by seeking pleasure in London’s poor neighborhoods. In the 1880s and ’90s, London was a city deeply divided by class. The city’s population had increased exponentially during the course of the nineteenth century, from less than one million in 1800 to over four million in 1890. The population increase was due to immigration from the English countryside as well as from Ireland and Central and Eastern Europe.

Many poor and working-class people found themselves crowded into miserable slums on the East End, that is, the neighborhoods east of the City of London and north of the Thames River. The area included the docks that received goods from Britain’s growing empire in South and East Asia and the West Indies. It also included sea-related industries, such as shipbuilding and rope making. The hub of the East End was Whitechapel, a neighborhood that became notorious in the late 1880s as the site of the Jack the Ripper murders.

In contrast, the main characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray spend much of their known lives in Mayfair, a wealthy, fashionable neighborhood in central London. Lord Henry Wooton’s house, the Royal Academy of Arts, and the Grosvenor House Hotel are all in Mayfair. In Stevenson’s novel, Dr. Lanyon, the close friend of Utterson and (at one time) Jekyll, lives at Cavendish Square, one block north of Mayfair. Henry Jekyll chooses Soho, the neighborhood just east of Mayfair, but still in central London, as the location for Edward Hyde’s house. This formerly respectable, if not wealthy, neighborhood had, by the mid-nineteenth century, become known for its music halls, small theaters, and prostitutes.

Wilde’s and Jekyll’s wealthy characters were not unusual for venturing to poor and working-class neighborhoods. As historian Seth Koven notes, by the 1890s, large numbers of wealthy Londoners regularly visited the East End, sometimes under the auspices of philanthropy and social reform, but often as tourists and pleasure-seekers or some combination of all of these. For the educated elite, Koven argues, the East End could be the site of personal liberation, an escape from upper-class, Victorian mores into a world they saw as exotic, primitive, and free of moral restraint.

The map below shows the layout of London in the 1890s and, specifically, the neighborhoods represented in Wilde’s and Stevenson’s novels.

Questions to Consider

  1. Describe the layout of London in the 1890s. What do you notice about the city’s location?

  2. How are London’s streets arranged? How would you compare the city’s plan to that of American cities, such as New York and Chicago?

  3. Compare the neighborhoods of central London to those of the East End. Where are the green spaces, such as parks and squares? How large or small are the streets? What evidence do you see of industry or commerce? Which routes would one take from central London to the docks or to other parts of the East End?

“New Plan of London”

John Bartholomew. 1895.

An 1890s London guidebook included this map of the city.

Location of neighborhoods represented in Wilde’s and Stevenson’s novels: (1) Mayfair; (2) Cavendish Square; (3) Soho; (4) Whitechapel; (5) East End docks

The wealthy, fashionable neighborhood of Mayfair was in central London, bordered by Oxford Street to the north, Regent Street to the east, Piccadilly to the south, and Hyde Park to the west.

Cavendish Square, the location of Dr. Lanyon’s home in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, lies one block north of Mayfair.

Henry Jekyll chose Soho, the neighborhood just east of Mayfair, but still in central London, as the location for Edward Hyde’s house (east of Regent St, south of Oxford St, west of Charing Cross Rd, north of Shaftesbury Ave).

During the nineteenth century, London’s East End became notorious for its miserable slums, centered on the neighborhood of Whitechapel.

The East End docks received goods from Britain’s empire in South and East Asia and the West Indies.

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