Robert Louis Stevenson’s masterwork, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” would likely have been much less successful had it been introduced in any other era of history and at any other location in the world than in Victorian London. Stevenson’s novel played on the fears that much of British society held in the years following Charles Darwin’s rise to preeminence in the world of science. The British both loved and hated that they were the most scientifically advanced nation on the planet.
Furthermore, the city and the nation were tied to the alleged morality of their Virgin Queen and found themselves torn between morality and enjoyment, science and the church. Before the rise of science in the 19th century, healing had often been left to the whims of the church. However, with the rise of science and medicine in the 1800s, Londoners were torn. No longer was healing just the province of God. To make matters worse, a man of science had gone so far as to challenge God’s position as the Creator, claiming that animals evolved from one species to the next.
“For some two centuries at any rate, British science was a matter of national pride, or, in the case of Darwin, of national concern; but it was hardly to be disregarded. It was solid, visible, a major element in the intellectual design of the world,” (Millhauser 1973, p. 287). This was the dichotomy under which the British citizen lived. The Virgin Queen represented morality and devotion to the church; the scientists, the best in the world, somehow represented a much darker ideal. “If science can be represented in terms of knowledge and that knowledge is shown to be evil, then the case is made.
” (Toumey 1992, p. 414). The case was simple: modern knowledge, science and medicine, threatened the moral center of the country and therefore must be evil. Such was the world view Stevenson saw when writing “Jekyll and Hyde”. And, thus he wrote a cautionary tale of a mad scientist so divided that he was willing to be irresponsible (Toumey 1992, p. 413) with medicine and amoral in his dealings. As a fable, “Jekyll and Hyde” is a warning to those around him that science must be dealt with cautiously and that any missteps in the use of science can have devastating consequences.
At the same time, Stevenson is showing that the repressed self forced upon people of the Victorian age could lead to the development of a monster inside. Some authors even argue that Stevenson was more interested in showing the evils of a repressed and rigid society than in the dangers of science. “The central issue is the necessity for moral and social flexibility in a society which dictates rigidity. ” (Saposnik 1971, p. 715). They argue that Victorian England was a country divided by the image of fine, upstanding society and its underlying dark urges.
In that way, some argue that Hyde and Jekyll were one just as London society and its dark underbelly were one. Both portray a “division-within-essential-unity” (Saposnik 1971, p. 718), a necessary melding of the two halves of the soul: The good and bright and moral Jekyll and the evil and dark and amoral Hyde. Still, though his caution about absolute rigidity is also in place, Stevenson’s main commentary appears to be devoted to the rapid development of medicine and science around him. His mad scientist story is one of many to depict the “mischief of modern medicine”.
(Toumey 1992, p. 413). In short, he showed that science threatens morality “Simply stated, these stories are a way of shouting, ‘Beware of Science’! ” (Toumey 2992, p. 413). The essence of Stevenson’s story is a cautionary tale meant to warn Londoners about the potential dangers of embracing science and using it to cure their ills. Medicine and science had the potential for becoming the new faith of the Victorian era, as Britain excelled in the sciences and Stevenson felt the need to warn his countrymen of the danger of placing all their faith in anything.
He demonstrated with Jekyll that even the well-meaning and generally good doctor could become a monster if science was not kept in check. Like all mad scientist tales, it warns of the evils of science without ever delving into the real science of the matter. His goal was not to educate, but to create a new parable for the modern age. As Toumey suggest, “The mad scientist stories of film and fiction are homilies to the evil of science”. (411).
BIBLIOGRAPHY Carroll, Noel.“Nightmare and the Horror Film: The Symbolic Biology of Fantastic Beings” Film Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3. Spring, 1981. Pp. 16-25. http://links. jstor. org/sici? sici=0015-1386%28198121%2934%3A3%3C16%3ANATHFT%3E2. 0. CO%3B2-4, June 22, 2007. Millhauser, Milton. “Dr. Newton and Mr. Hyde: Scientists in Fiction from Swift to Stevenson. ” Nineteenth Century Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 3, December, 1973, http://links. jstor. org/sici? sici=0029-0564%28197312%2928%3A3%3C287%3ADNAMHS%3E2. 0. CO%3B2-K June 22, 2007. Saposnik, Irving S.
“The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 11, No. 4. Autumn, 1971. Pp. 715-731. < http://links. jstor. org/sici? sici=0039-3657%28197123%2911%3A4%3C715%3ATAODJA%3E2. 0. CO%3B2-F> June 22, 2007. Toumey, Christopher P. “The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science”. Science, Technology & Human Values, Vol. 14, No. 4, 1992. pp. 411-437 <http://links. jstor. org/sici? sici=0162-2439%28199223%2917%3A4%3C411%3ATMCOMS%3E2. 0. CO%3B2-W>, June 21, 2007.