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The setting in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1808
  • Category: Novel

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The novel I am analysing is “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and it was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. Stevenson was born in 1850 in Edinburgh. In my opinion, this influenced him to write this novel because, like Jekyll and Hyde, he led a dual life in the respectable New Town by day and the depraved Old Town by night. It was written in the Victorian Era. Around this time, electricity had been invented and the scientist, Galvarni, had managed to bring dead cells back to life. This scientific boom led people to believe anything was possible. Furthermore, Charles Darwin was around this time, and was bringing new theories about evolution into science. This caused controversy and in my opinion influenced Stevenson to write a gothic novel that conflicts with the opinions at the time.

Stevenson uses setting to add authenticity to the novel. He uses a lawyer and two doctors as credible witnesses to make the book more believable. Dr. Lanyon uses a complex vocabulary, such as “justify the formality of registration” to show that he is an educated man, and is trusted to tell the truth. Moreover, Stevenson uses official documents to show authenticity, such as the letter in Chapter 6 and the newspaper in Chapter 4. These are effective because these styles of writing are not associated with fiction, which makes it authentic. All this gives the novel a believable setting from the onset.

The geographical setting of this novel is Soho, London. At this time, London was split into an Old and New Town. Interestingly, this represents the dual personality of the eponymous characters Jekyll and Hyde. The New Town symbolises the respectable, good side, while the Old Town symbolises the evil side. In particular, this links with Stevenson’s experiences in Edinburgh, and in my opinion the novel is based on Stevenson’s double life when he was younger.

The allegorical setting indicates the divided classes of the nineteenth century. It also reflects the dual nature of the main protagonist and this is particularly apparent in Chapter 7 – The Incident at the Window. The window represents the light outside of the character, which I feel is trying to hide the dark inside and is trying to escape.

The window being half-open is also significant to the setting. It indicates that Jekyll is half a man and is ready to welcome Hyde. The weather and time are also important in this chapter. “The court was very cool and a little damp” suggests that something is about to happen and that it is not wet or dry, it is in between. “Premature twilight” similarly portrays the image of being in between phases and change. In my opinion, the twilight represents devolution of the character and that he has no control over the changes, and it will come anyway. This is in contrast to the contemporary theory of evolution by Darwin.

The psychological setting of the novel adds mystery to the story and echoes the unsettled mood of the characters. Both of these can be linked to Stevenson’s childhood, where his nanny told him folk-tales about people who sinned and consequently gave him nightmares. This is linked with the gothic genre. Horror was very popular in the Victorian Era and it gave people the chance to express their repressed feelings.

Pathetic fallacy is also very important to the setting of the novel. Stevenson uses the weather and seasons to evoke atmosphere and mood to reflect the plot. For example, in Chapter 1, the season is described as “three o’clock of a black winter morning”. In my opinion, Stevenson uses winter because the days are short and this creates a negative atmosphere. The only lights at that time would be gas lamps, which would flicker and give an eerie setting. Stevenson also uses personification to bring the fog to life and make it seem like another character. “The fog rolled in” is an example of where Stevenson anthropomorphises the fog and expresses the feeling of the characters. Moreover, the fog reflects the dark and industrial London of the nineteenth century and gives a greater cover of darkness than the smoke from the factories alone.

Exits and entrances are an important aspect of the setting. Stevenson uses the motif of the locked door to symbolise secrecy and that something or someone needs to be kept in, or out. This motif is seen in Chapter 6. “The door was shut against the lawyer” where Jekyll is hiding from Utterson and doesn’t want him to find out about Hyde suggests that Hyde needs to be contained and is dangerous. Similarly, windows and doors are used as a divide between different characters. In Chapter 4, a maid of Jekyll’s is standing at her window and witnesses the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. The window in this chapter represents the divided classes of London. In my opinion, this portrays the image that the lower class Hyde is always watching the upper class Jekyll, and reflects the divided nature of Jekyll, with the lower class inside and upper class outside.

In Chapter 1, the back of Jekyll’s house “showed no window”. This links back with the symbolism of the locked door, and implies secrecy and darkness. In my opinion, this adds to the allegorical setting of the story because it illustrates that Jekyll’s mind is dark and unclear and doesn’t want anyone to find out about Hyde. It also refers to Jekyll when he becomes ill and appears scruffy, with evil Hyde in his mind.

The differences between the front and back of Jekyll’s house are also important to setting. In Chapter 1, Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield are walking together along the road behind Jekyll’s house. The back door of the house is described as having “neither bell, nor knocker”. This gives the impression to me that something is hiding away and won’t let others in, while the two negatives suggest that it is something dangerous and sinister. This chapter also reveals that Hyde uses the back entrance to the house, which gives the impression that he wants to live up to his name and hide away.

The back of the house is described as “blistered and distained” and implies that Hyde is like this, while Jekyll, who uses the respectable front entrance. This is a precursor and gives dramatic structure to the story. In the same way, because Jekyll and Hyde have two minds, they are separated by two entrances; this is example of duality. Jekyll’s house is another example of duality, because in Chapter 1, the rest of the street is described in a positive way, but Jekyll’s is the opposite. This suggests that there is bad in everything and at that time, Jekyll had control over the small amount of evilness in him.

In addition to this, the interior of the building is very important to the setting. In Chapter 8, the dramatic device of irony is used as a precursor to what happens next. Stevenson uses warm and pleasant vocabulary to describe Jekyll’s cabinet, but the irony is that Hyde commits suicide in there. Interestingly, it portrays the contrast between Jekyll wanting to die and Hyde being afraid of death. In my opinion this ultimately indicates that Jekyll has won.

However, in Chapter 5, Jekyll’s laboratory is described as a “dingy, windowless structure” revealing that it is a dark and dirty place. “Distasteful sense of strangeness” in my opinion implies that there is something supernatural and evil about the place. This also gives a precursor to what is going to happen to Jekyll. Furthermore, Stevenson again uses the dramatic device of anthropomorphism to describe the theatre as “gaunt and silent” giving the reader the feelings of loneliness, helplessness and suggesting death.

The theatre and laboratory are important to the setting in this chapter because they add authenticity to the story, as at the time, new discoveries were being made and people needed proof that these things could happen. So scientists, like Galvarni, Darwin and many others, started allowing the public to view their experiments so they could see it with their own eyes.

Noticeably, Utterson’s house is presented as the opposite to Jekyll’s house, and is important to the setting as well. Utterson’s house is portrayed as a normal and sensible. “A nicely calculated distance from the fire” suggests that Utterson is an average man of his class and adds authenticity to the story. Stevenson creates warmth and trust towards the character, who is someone that the reader can relate to.

Stevenson utilises the setting to establish the gothic genre in many ways. Firstly, throughout the book, whenever dates are given, the last two numbers of the year are blanked out which adds mystery to the story, and I feel Stevenson wanted to make people think that the story was real, and he was protecting the characters by making sure they couldn’t be tracked. Secondly, whenever Hyde commits an evil act, it is always at night time, which sets the scene, and adds suspense and mystery.

It also adds a threatening feeling, and this is intensified by the fog. A key point to the gothic genre is that it is often based around an abandoned area, and Stevenson shows this by describing Jekyll’s house as “sinister” with “marks of prolonged and sordid negligence”. Finally, the gothic genre relies on feelings of loneliness, and Stevenson shows this through the windows and doors, which separate the characters. It is also shown through the lack of windows and handle on the back of Jekyll’s house which is far from welcoming.

The setting also adds to the duality of Jekyll’s character. The interior of Hyde’s room in Chapter 4 is an example of this. The room is described as “furnished with luxury and taste” but had been “recently and hurriedly ransacked”. This reveals that Jekyll was a good man to begin with, but he has only recently let in the bad side. The windows and doors in the story emphasise a divided Victorian society, which also reflects the divided nature of Jekyll.

In my opinion, Stevenson’s choices of setting are very significant to the novel. This allowed him to tell an authentic story that entertains, as well as frightens, the reader. Until the penultimate chapter, the reader does not know who Hyde really is, which creates suspense. It also educates and warns the Victorian reader about how dangerous science is and tells them that anything is possible, but it has its consequences. I think that Stevenson thought a lot about the setting of this book, and without all of the little details, in my opinion, it wouldn’t have been such as good a book as it was.

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