Littérature Britannique L2

Littérature Britannique L2
Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, R.L. Stevenson
Commentaire composé de: pp.45-47 “This person… murderer of Carew.”
A few preliminary remarks:
1) This novel presents various points if view; the first eight chapters are a third-person
narrative using inner focalisation and presenting the events as seen through the eyes of
Enfield, Utterson, and even a maidservant (murder of Carew); the last two chapters constitute
a complete change in the form of the narrative: the last but one chapter is a long letter written
by Dr Lanyon, the last (and longest) chapter is Dr Jekyll’s confession.
When dealing with multiple perspectives it is all the more important to ask ourselves the
question of who is talking and of what we know about the character in question.
“Dr Lanyon’s Narrative” is a letter written to Utterson (the main focaliser, as most of the
events are seen through his eyes). The author of the letter is now dead; his mysterious death is
related in the sixth chapter, so that this letter may be regarded as a testament, an explanation
of the strange illness that took Lanyon away.
Lanyon is a secondary character in terms of the space devoted to him in the novel. We see
him only twice: once in the second chapter, then in the sixth chapter, but we also hear Jekyll’s
comments about him in the third chapter. However he is important from a narrative point of
view, since he is the recipient of Jekyll’s secret.
2) What is the interest of the passage from a narrative point of view? What does it reveal
about action, characters, atmosphere?
This passage is capital inasmuch as it contains the revelation of Jekyll’s secret and of Hyde’s
identity. It is interesting therefore to analyse how dramatic tension is built up and suspense
created to lead up to the climactic scene. The revelation, however, is related through Lanyon’s
words and through his eyes; what is at stake here is not only Jekyll’s secret, but also the lethal
effect it has on Lanyon.
3) Situation of the passage in context:
Lanyon’s narrative is framed in between the third-person, chronological narrative that has just
come to an end in the previous chapter and Jekyll’s statement of the case. We can expect the
last two chapters to complement each other, each offering a different perspective on the
events related in the first eight chapters.
The beginning of the chapter in which the passage under study is situated contains important
information. The chapter begins with a letter from Jekyll to Lanyon on January 9 (in chapter
6, we learn that Lanyon, Jekyll, Utterson and other guests had a very pleasant dinner at
Jekyll’s the night before, on January 8). The letter contains a list of instructions to be carried
out by Lanyon and makes it clear that it is a matter of life and death. The urgent, pleading
tone used by Jekyll and his insistence on secrecy raises the reader’s expectations and
contributes to the building up of suspense.
The effect of such a letter on Lanyon is double: it arouses his curiosity (p.44, “it whetted my
curiosity”) and leads him to the conclusion that his friend is “insane” (p.43), “flighty” (p.44)
and suffers from a case of cerebral disease” (p. 44).
Plan de commentaire:
Lanyon’s description of Hyde
1) the effect produced on Lanyon by his visitor
2) contradictions and contrasts
3) the specificity of Lanyon’s description
Lanyon’s choice:
1) his greed of curiosity
2) the nature of the choice
3) the identity of the speaker
The nature of the revelation
1) a climactic scene
2) what caused Lanyons’ death
3) the meaning of Hyde
The passage under study belongs to the chapter entitled “Dr Lanyon’s Narrative”, which
follows the chronological narrative of the mysterious events related by a third-person narrator,
and immediately precedes the last chapter of the novel, “Dr Jekyll’s Full Statement of the
Case”. In a long letter addressed to Gabriel Utterson, Dr Lanyon relates how he received, on
January 9, a strange message from his friend Jekyll, containing a list of precise instructions to
be carried out faithfully that very night. Lanyon is then to wait for the arrival of a mysterious
visitor at midnight, in the secrecy of his consulting room. As the last sentence of the previous
chapter leads us to expect (“Utterson… trudged back to his office to read the two narratives in
which this mystery was now to be explained”), this passage will explain both Lanyon’s
mysterious death and Jekyll’s no less mysterious disappearance from his house where Hyde
has just put an end to his life.
For the first time in the novel Hyde is seen by Lanyon whose description echoes those made
by other characters, but also contributes to giving the reader a fuller, more detailed portrait of
Jekyll’s “protégé”, while reflecting on Lanyon’s character.
The interview between Lanyon and his visitor leads to a confrontation that will result in
Lanyon’s choice of knowing the whole truth of the matter - a choice that will lead to his
The revelation made to Lanyon –and to the reader – is a climactic moment in the novel and
sheds light both on Lanyon’s and the other characters’ flaws, as well as on the true meaning
of “Mr Hyde”.
The identity of the mysterious visitor referred to as “This person” at the beginning of the
passage makes no doubt for the reader: the recurrent references to his small size (“a small
man crouching…”, “he was small”, p.44, “his clothes… were enormously too large for him”,
p.45), the insistence on the abnormality of his appearance (“something abnormal and
misbegotten, p.45) and on the impression of uneasiness he arouses in those who see him
(“struck me, I confess, disagreeably”, “the odd, subjective disturbance caused by his
neighbourhood, p.44) point to My Hyde, who has been described in similar terms earlier in
the novel by Enfield, Utterson, the maidservant and Poole. For Lanyon, however, this is his
first encounter with a character the reader knows only too well, which makes for dramatic
Lanyon’s reaction at the sight of the man is no different from Enfield’s (“I had taken a
loathing to my gentleman at first sight”, “I saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with the
desire to kill him, p.9, “ I never saw a circle of such hateful faces”, p.10, “something wrong
with his appearance”, “something displeasing, something downright detestable… a strong
feeling of deformity”, p.11), Utterson’s (“pale and dwarfish”, “an impression of deformity”,
“disgust, loathing and fear”, “hardly human! something troglodytic”, p.17), the maidservant’s
(“for whom she had conceived a dislike”, p.21) or Poole’s (“you felt it in your marrow kind of
cold and thin”, p.37).
However, Lanyon’s description differs somewhat from the others’: where both Enfield and
Utterson likened Hyde to Satan (“really like Satan”, p.10, “Satan’s signature”, p.19),
Lanyon’s approach is more scientific, even medical, and detailed: the “disturbance” he feels at
the sight of Hyde is described as something akin to a disease or even to death (“incipient
rigor”, “a marked sinking of the pulse”, p.44, “the symptoms”, p.45, “I sat petrified”, p.46).
Lanyon’s is the most detailed description of Hyde we have had so far, especially as far as his
clothes are concerned (“rich and sober fabric”, “the trousers hanging on his legs and rolled
up”, “the waist of the coat below his haunches”, “the collar sprawling wide”). His is a
description made by a methodical man of science. Yet never can the reader visualize precisely
what the visitor really looks like.
This is partly due to the fact that Hyde is a mass of contradictions: “his remarkable
combination of great muscular activity and great apparent debility of constitution” (p.44), the
“disparity” (p.45) between his small size and his large clothes, his “collected manner” (p.45)
and “a voice that was fairly well under control” (p.46) in spite of the “hysteria” (p.45) of his
manner, all point to the duality of the character. There is an animal-like quality about Hyde
(“He sprang to it… I could hear his teeth grate with the convulsive action of his jaws”, p.46)
strangely at odds with the pathetic, albeit frightening, human being depicted as now smiling
(“a dreadful smile”, “a smiling nod”, “smiled”, p.46), now “laying his hand upon his heart”
(p.46), now uttering “one loud sob of such immense relief”. These contradictions are apparent
in the syntax and markers used by Lanyon (“although… strange to relate… rather… though…
yet… but…, p.45) and summed up in the oxymoron used to describe Hyde’s behaviour: “on
fire with sombre excitement” (p.45), at odds with the effect produced on the onlooker: “a
certain icy pang along my blood”, a few lines further.
These numerous, unexplainable contradictions account for Lanyon’s response, which he
describes as “a disgustful curiosity”, itself an oxymoronic expression. It is this curiosity on
Lanyon’s part which will lead him to make a fatal decision.
Lanyon’s curiosity is repeatedly referred to in the chapter, at first by Lanyon himself. It is first
applied to the contents of the drawer he has brought back from Jekyll’s house, more
especially to the diary contained in it: “it whetted my curiosity” (p.44).This first occurrence of
the word refers to the natural scientific curiosity a man of the trade may feel for one of his
colleagues’ research and it accounts for the precise description that follows of Hyde drinking
the mixture: we can note an accumulation of details concerning the colour and texture of the
potion (“reddish hue”, “dark purple”, watery green”, “the crystals melted”, “small fumes of
vapour” p.46) and a series of precise scientific terms concerning the various stages of the
experiment (“a few minims of the red tincture”, “effervesce”, “ebullition”, “compound”,
“metamorphoses”, p.46).
This curiosity also applies to his visitor’s appearance (“a disgustful curiosity”, p.45) as well as
to “his origin, his life, his fortune and status in the world”. Lanyon admits that the suspense
was too much for him and that he was animated by the desire to know more (“my own
growing curiosity”, p.45).
The fifth occurrence of the word can be found in Hyde’s speech and it is referred to as “the
greed of curiosity”, p.48). At this point, before drinking the potion, Hyde gives Lanyon a clear
choice expressed in a balanced syntax: “Will you… will you… will you… or…?”, “you shall
be left… or…” (p.46).That the choice will be Lanyon’s and only Lanyon’s is made clear:
“Think before you answer”, “it shall be done as you decide. As you decide…”, “if you shall
so prefer to choose…”. The stress is laid on free will. The choice is also clearly expressed as
to its alternatives: either Lanyon lets Hyde go without further ado or he is shown the truth
about the whole experiment.
What is remarkable here is that the choice should be expressed in moral terms: it is a choice
between being “wise” and “guided” – and thus being rewarded by a “sense of service
rendered to a man in distress”, which in itself is an enrichment of “the soul” – and yielding to
the temptation of “knowledge”, “fame” and “power”. The reference to the “unbelief of Satan”
at the end of Hyde’s speech casts doubts as to the identity of the speaker. Some critics pointed
out that this speech did not correspond to Hyde’s usual broken syntax and amoral line of
behaviour, to which remark Stevenson replied that putting such words in Hyde’s mouth had
been “a gross error”. I must admit that far from regarding this speech as an error, I think it
adds to the complexity of Hyde’s character and I agree with V. Nabokov that there is “a Jekyll
residue when Hyde takes over” (Lectures on Literature, ed. Fredson Bowers, New York,
1980). In other words, the person speaking in this speech to Lanyon is not Hyde, but Jekyll,
even though it may be Hyde in physical appearance. The choice, which contains an implicit
criticism of Lanyon’s curiosity, takes the form of a warning and a challenge; Hyde/Jekyll both
warns Lanyon against the “greed of curiosity” (“too much command of you”) and challenges
him to gain access to “a new province”, “new adventures”, “a prodigy”.
The interview between Lanyon and his unknown visitor now turns into a duel between two
men who have known each other for years and have become estranged: the conflict between
Lanyon and Jekyll is now coming to a head. The last two lines of Hyde’s speech and their
merciless condemnation of Lanyon (“you who have so long been bound to the most narrow
and material views…”, p.47) clearly belong to Jekyll and call to mind what we already know
of Jekyll’s opinion about his old friend, expressed in the third chapter: “that hide-bound
pedant, Lanyon… an ignorant, blatant pedant. I was never more disappointed in any man than
Lanyon” (p.20). Here Jekyll, in the persona of Hyde, takes complete control: “you who have
derided your superiors – behold!” (p.47). It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the
conversation Hyde referred to Jekyll as “your colleague, Dr Henry Jekyll” (p.45), whereas
now he refers to “the seal of our profession”. Also note the ironic reversal of the reference to
Satan: here it is no longer Hyde who is likened to Satan, as was the case in the previous
chapters, but Lanyon and his disbelief. As can be expected Lanyon yields to the temptation of
knowledge and tastes the forbidden fruit.
The reader is then made to share Lanyon’s dreadful experience and vision. The scene of
transformation of Hyde into Jekyll that follows the conversation aforementioned is a climactic
moment and one of the purple patches of the novel. Its dramatic intensity results from the
author’s consummate skill in story-telling.
The scene contrasts with the fluid, ample sentences contained in Hyde/Jekyll’s speech: the use
of abundant punctuation (commas, semi-colons, hyphens) makes for a broken, halting rhythm;
the use of hyphens and modal markers especially points to Lanyon’s hesitation as to the way
he should describe the horror of the scene: “there came, I thought, a change – he seemed to
swell- his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter…” (p.47).
The use of short, one-syllable words (“cry”, “clutched”, “eyes”, “black”, “melt”) contrasts
with the recurrence of long, abstract terms in the previous passage (“prodigy”, “unbelief”,
“transcendental medicine”). What prevails here is the lexical field of the senses, mostly sight,
hearing and touch: “staring”, “looked”, “my eyes”, “pale”, “a cry”, “gasping”, “I screamed”,
“clutched at the table and held on”, “groping”. The quick succession of verbs of action in the
simple past makes for a very dynamic scene that stands in sharp contrast with the static nature
of what has just preceded it. Lanyon can only stammer “O God!” (as he points out, he
repeated these two words “again and again”) and continues stammering even in the very act of
writing his letter, as is shown by the repetition of the same structure in the sentence that
constitutes the climax of the scene and culminates in an exclamation mark: “for there before
my eyes… there stood Henry Jekyll!”. The placing of these last two words at the very end of
a long sentence provokes a coup de theatre that is meant to cause a shock to the reader
(Hyde’s true identity) and will prove fatal to Lanyon.
What is it that killed Lanyon? Part of the answer lies in what he himself writes at the end of
his letter: his old-time friend Jekyll was Mr Hyde and the murderer of Carew. But one must
also examine what his letter suggests and what it leaves unsaid.
Throughout the scene Lanyon maintains a very Victorian sense of propriety and tries to keep
his deepest feelings in check. In spite of the extraordinary nature of the situation he clings to
the propriety of social conventions. When Hyde seizes his arm Lanyon puts him down and
reminds him of the elementary rules of polite behaviour: “I showed him an example… with as
fair an imitation of my ordinary manner to a patient” (p.45). He struggles to keep his
composure: “I rose from my place with something of an effort”, “affecting a coolness that I
was far from truly possessing” (p.46). These remarks remind us of our first impression of
Lanyon in the second chapter, where he is described as “a hearty, healthy, dapper, red-faced
gentleman”, whose geniality is “somewhat theatrical to the eye”, although it rests “on genuine
feeling” (p.13). Lanyon is the epitome of polite Victorian society and the embodiment of the
traditional science of the time. His previous remarks concerning Jekyll’s research which he
terms “unscientific balderdash” and his dismissal of Jekyll himself as “too fanciful for me”
(p.14) herald his present diagnosis of Jekyll as someone “insane” (p.43) suffering from “a
case of cerebral disease” (p.44). He is, however, as Jekyll knows quite well, consumed with a
desire to see and to know, but it turns out that he cannot bear to see and know whatever it is
that Jekyll shows him that night: the sight of Evil literally kills him. What he saw that night he
cannot even face to put down in writing: “I cannot bring my mind to set on paper” (p.47), as if
using certain words could contaminate his very soul: “my soul sickened at it”. When he says
“My life is shaken to its roots”, this is the literal truth, inasmuch as the very foundation of all
his belief in a rational type of medicine and in the fundamental goodness of man has been
shattered; all that he has stood for so far in his life has been proved false. What is more, his
fundamental disbelief has not disappeared: “I ask myself if I believe it”, “yet I shall die
incredulous.” He cannot even find in himself that compassion that could enable him to reach
out to his friend: he remains horrified at “the moral turpitude” that has been revealed to him
“even with tears of penitence”. The various ways Lanyon refers to his visitor are quite
revealing: he moves from “This person” to “the creature” to “my visitor” (p.45) to “that man”
to “the creature” again (p.47) until he finally brings himself to utter his name. To the very end
he refuses to acknowledge any kinship with a fellow human being.
What horrifies him so is not only the evil he saw in his friend Jekyll, but the Evil that inhabits
every man, himself included. What kills Lanyon may be a brutal confrontation with himself,
or rather the evil within himself. At the beginning of the passage a clue is given; Lanyon,
wondering about the cause of the hatred evoked in him by the sight of Hyde, says: “I have
since had reason to believe the cause to lie deeper in the nature of man, and to turn on some
nobler hinge than the principle of hatred” (p.45). This same instinctive loathing is also evoked
in all the other characters, as we have seen; Hyde seems to provoke hatred and a desire to kill
in every person he comes across, as if he was turning each one of them into another Hyde, as
if there was a contaminating power in Evil. Hyde acts as a sort of mirror to every man who
crosses his path. What Jekyll has discovered is “man’s dual nature”, and even the possibility
that “man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and
independent denizens” (p.48). This unpleasant truth is too much for both men to bear.
The interest of the passage lies first in its being the scene where all the loose ends are tied up
together: Hyde’s real identity, the mysterious research carried out by Dr Jekyll that so
estranged him from his friend and colleague Dr Lanyon and the cause of the latter’s strange
disease and death. It shows how closely interwoven all the unsolved mysteries were and
presents their resolution in a most dramatic way.
The choice of Lanyon as the recipient of Jekyll’s secret, in spite of their recent disagreements,
becomes clear at the end of the passage: Jekyll wanted to teach Lanyon a lesson about human
nature; ironically it turns out that it is a lesson that Lanyon is unable to bear. Not that any of
the other characters would have fared better, had they been in his place, for the narrator takes
pains throughout the novel to point out the basic similarities that exist in Utterson, Enfield and
Lanyon: all three are men of their time and reflect the basic self-deception at the root of
Victorian society. As Jekyll points out in the following chapter, he himself was the greatest
hypocrite of them all in that he refused to accept the fact that duality, or even multiplicity, is a
fundamental part of human nature.