With summer somewhere between full swing and distant memory depending on where you were on the globe, in August we retreated from the sunshine of the Southern Gothic to the dimly lit cityscapes and natural wilds of 19th century Europe. As you may have read here, August was all about monsters and the monstrosity of man; last month was Of Monsters and Men.
Monsters are common in gothic literature, art, architecture, and film across time and space. They come in shapes and sizes at times unknown, and at others frightening in their familiarity. One of the most well-known examples of the blurry, gothic relationship between monster and man is Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The Victorian novella, published in 1886, was the subject of the first of two readalongs that I hosted last month. You can read the text yourself online, or find the right format to download, thanks to Project Gutenberg. Before I jump into the dark passageways of the narrative plot, I will begin with a quick introduction to the principal theme upon which all else exists. After that, expect spoilers!
Duality is defined as the conflict or contrast between two sides of something, and appears across literary genres.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a prime example of the multitudinous ways in which duality can be explored within a single text. What Shakespeare avoided in duality, is what the gothic is most attracted to: the conflict of good vs evil.
Think: doppelgänger and evil twins, monstrous men, human monsters, and the double-sided nature of the single whole. This duality is at the heart of the monster narrative, and is key to understanding The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Frankenstein too.
The duality in Jekyll and Hyde is manifold, presenting in moral, religious, and scientific debate, narrative structure, and, of course, Jekyll and Hyde. Today, I am going to explore the slightly less commonly discussed duality of house and home. I’d love to hear where else you found duality in the novella; let me know in the comments!
𝕿𝖍𝖊 𝕾𝖙𝖗𝖆𝖓𝖌𝖊 𝕮𝖆𝖘𝖊 𝖔𝖋 𝕯𝖗 𝕵𝖊𝖐𝖞𝖑𝖑 𝖆𝖓𝖉 𝕸𝖗 𝕳𝖞𝖉𝖊
The first gothic event of Stevenson’s Strange Case is introduced through the description of a building, mimicking the genealogy of the gothic, itself rooted in architecture. (Read more on that, via ‘Mother Radcliff [sic]’, here.)
The scene is set: a Sunday-quiet passageway that “shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood.” The structure itself, however, fails to shine. It is a “sinister block of building” that “bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence.” Happening by this foreboding edifice, Mr Enfield is inspired to share a most peculiar account with Mr Utterson, thus beginning the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – a narrative brimming with gothic horror.
“That place with the door” appears to be a home, of sorts, to Mr Hyde, the monstrous figure of the novella. In other words, it is the hideaway of Dr Jekyll when he is transformed. As a respectable society man, Jekyll keeps contrasting lodgings that maintain “a great air of wealth and comfort.” When looking at the wider setting, Jekyll’s house is presented as a singularly well-kept establishment in an otherwise degraded area. The effect of this is to encourage our awareness of appearances – the impression that a character may wish to project, and what it is they are thus attempting to conceal… What we later come to learn, of course, is that these two buildings are one and the same – like their occupant[s] they are two facades of a single interior.
“[𝕿]𝖍𝖊 𝖇𝖚𝖎𝖑𝖉𝖎𝖓𝖌𝖘 𝖆𝖗𝖊 𝖘𝖔 𝖕𝖆𝖈𝖐𝖊𝖉 𝖙𝖔𝖌𝖊𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖗 𝖆𝖇𝖔𝖚𝖙 𝖙𝖍𝖆𝖙 𝖈𝖔𝖚𝖗𝖙 𝖙𝖍𝖆𝖙 𝖎𝖙’𝖘 𝖍𝖆𝖗𝖉 𝖙𝖔 𝖘𝖆𝖞 𝖜𝖍𝖊𝖗𝖊 𝖔𝖓𝖊 𝖊𝖓𝖉𝖘 𝖆𝖓𝖉 𝖆𝖓𝖔𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖗 𝖇𝖊𝖌𝖎𝖓𝖘.”
This duplicitous building provides the novella with a concrete, constant illustration of duality. It is:
• a private gothic space – “house of voluntary bondage”
• a deteriorating body and mind – “the place is really not fit”
• a well-guarded space, accessible only by force – “The door was very strong, the lock excellent”
• a metaphor most plain – “each […] housed in separate identities”
• a modernisation of the gothic castle – “buttressed and guarded by the terrors of the scaffold. Jekyll was now my city of refuge…”
The gothic has been associated with architecture longer than literature, and gothic literature has thus relied upon architecture to provide its familiar, unsettling landscapes since it began. What Stevenson does here has become so common in the gothic mode and horror genre that ‘house as metaphor for mind’ and ‘house as subverted symbol of safety’ exist almost as sub-genres entirely their own. Regardless of what followed, and preceded (hello, Poe!), The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde provides a foundational example of the gothic house motif that endures the test of time.
“[𝕹]𝖔 𝖒𝖔𝖗𝖊 𝖙𝖍𝖆𝖓 𝖆 𝖘𝖎𝖓𝖌𝖑𝖊 𝖜𝖔𝖗𝖉: ‘𝖉𝖔𝖚𝖇𝖑𝖊'”
The novella begins with duality – it is present from the opening sequence and permeates the narrative to its completion. If you wish to better comprehend the complex questions of Stevenson’s Strange Case, I would suggest focusing on ‘Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case’ (chapter 10); it offers detailed insight into the “double existence” of the titular anti-hero and villain, the duality within man and nature, of religion versus science, and of the good and evil battling at the heart of it all.
Start a conversation or join in on Instagram; let me know where you found duality in Jekyll and Hyde and where you’ve spotted the house motif elsewhere.
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Identifying the Gothic: The Seven Gothic Signs,
Into the Abstract: ‘The Paperhanger’,
The American Civil War: ‘A Rose for Emily’, and
Race and Regionalism: ‘Drenched in Light’.
And to learn more about monstrosity in the gothic, check out Understanding Monsters: How Monstrosity is Constructed – a post by the wonderful Books from Fangorn, over on her blog 🖤.