Dr. Henry Jekyll, physician and chemist, has concocted a substance that frees his baser impulses from his usually upright, respectable personage. While under the influence of this potion, he transforms into a second person (Edward Hyde) who not only acts independently from the good doctor, but also has different physical attributes.
Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886, twenty-seven years after Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species came out. Victorian England's growing understanding of and interest in scientific matters is reflected in the details of this novella. Also of note in terms of placing the story in its historical perspective is the passing of Britain's Pharmacy Act of 1868. This legislation limited the sale of arsenic, ergot, opium and its derivatives (including laudanum), and other dangerous drugs to licensed and registered chemists. Prior to that time, all manner of drugs (including cocaine and opium) were widely available, and were frequently used in home remedies. Opiate use was popular with artists and writers of the day; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde may have been written while R.L. Stevenson was on a cocaine binge.
To me, this is a story about addiction. While the parallels can be seen in the earlier chapters, narrated (for the most part) by Dr. Jekyll's lawyer, Mr. Utterson, they are particularly clear in the final chapter, Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case.
Seven Stages of Addiction
"There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet. I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a millrace in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul."
"...it is not as bad as that; and just to put your good heart at rest, I will tell you one thing: the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde. I give you my hand upon that; and I thank you again and again; and I will just add one little word, Utterson, that I’m sure you’ll take in good part: this is a private matter, and I beg of you to let it sleep.”
"Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde; but the situation was apart from ordinary laws, and insidiously relaxed the grasp of conscience. It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered."
"It was on this side that my new power tempted me until I fell in slavery. I had but to drink the cup, to doff at once the body of the noted professor, and to assume, like a thick cloak, that of Edward Hyde."
"The power of the drug had not been always equally displayed. Once, very early in my career, it had totally failed me; since then I had been obliged on more than one occasion to double, and once, with infinite risk of death, to treble the amount; and these rare uncertainties had cast hitherto the sole shadow on my contentment. Now, however, and in the light of that morning’s accident, I was led to remark that whereas, in the beginning, the difficulty had been to throw off the body of Jekyll, it had of late gradually but decidedly transferred itself to the other side. All things therefore seemed to point to this; that I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse."
"I was seized again with those indescribable sensations that heralded the change; and I had but the time to gain the shelter of my cabinet, before I was once again raging and freezing with the passions of Hyde. It took on this occasion a double dose to recall me to myself; and alas! six hours after, as I sat looking sadly in the fire, the pangs returned, and the drug had to be re-administered. In short, from that day forth it seemed only by a great effort as of gymnastics, and only under the immediate stimulation of the drug, that I was able to wear the countenance of Jekyll. At all hours of the day and night, I would be taken with the premonitory shudder; above all, if I slept, or even dozed for a moment in my chair, it was always as Hyde that I awakened."
"I am careless; this is my true hour of death, and what is to follow concerns another than myself. Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end."
In his online essay "What Everybody Gets Wrong About Jekyll and Hyde", Steven Padnick suggests that there is no Edward Hyde; that Henry Jekyll is fully aware of his actions at all times. The potion that he takes allows Jekyll to act without inhibitions in a way that would not otherwise be possible for a proper Victorian gentleman. At no point in the story do we get Hyde's point of view; even when Jekyll is acting as Hyde, he still speaks of himself as Jekyll. All of this makes sense if the novella is describing a descent into addiction.
Although Dr. Jekyll is aware of the heinous acts committed while in the guise of Hyde, it would be wrong to say that he is fully in control; over time, Hyde grows stronger, the transitions from Jekyll to Hyde begin to take place without the good doctor's consent, and Jekyll begins to worry
"...if this were much prolonged, the balance of my nature might be permanently overthrown, the power of voluntary change be forfeited, and the character of Edward Hyde become irrevocably mine."
By the end of the story Jekyll realizes he is powerless to stop Hyde. The only way to put an end to the evils perpetuated by Hyde (to stop the downward spiral of his own chemical dependency), is to commit suicide.
The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
My radical ideas have already occurred to others:
Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde Addiction Analysis
The Victorian Period and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A Time of Change
The Victorian Web: Victorian Drug Use
Brookdale Premier Addiction Recovery & Luxury Drug & Alcohol Rehab in PA
What Everybody Gets Wrong About Jekyll and Hyde
I hadn't notice the parallels between Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Tyler Durden & Jack until today. Now I can't un-see them.
lizardinlaw says Way cool. Another way to see it is that Dr. Jekyll is doing a failed midlife crisis and flipping to the surppressed parts of his personality. This is Jungian. In a successful individuation aka midlife thing, the suppressed stuff becomes conscious slowly.