Six o ‘clock struck on the bells of the church that was so conveniently near to Mr. Utterson’s dwelling, and still he was digging at the problem. Hitherto it had touched him on the intellectual side alone; but now his imagination also was engaged, or rather enslaved; and as he lay and tossed in the gross darkness of the night and the curtained room, Mr. Enfield’s tale went by before his mind in a scroll of lighted pictures. He would be aware of the great field of lamps of a nocturnal city; then of the figure of a man walking swiftly; then of a child running from the doctor’s; and then these met, and that human Juggernaut trod the child down and passed on regardless of her screams. Or else he would see a room in a rich house, where his friend lay asleep, dreaming and smiling at his dreams; and then the door of that room would be opened, the curtains of the bed plucked apart, the sleeper recalled, and lo! there would stand by his side a figure to whom power was given, and even at that dead hour, he must rise and do its bidding. The figure in these two phases haunted the lawyer all night; and if at any time he dozed over, it was but to see it glide more stealthily through sleeping houses, or move the more swiftly and still the more swiftly, even to dizziness, through wider labyrinths of lamplighted city, and at every street-corner crush a child and leave her screaming. And still the figure had no face by which he might know it; even in his dreams, it had no face, or one that baffled him and melted before his eyes; and thus it was that there sprang up and grew apace in the lawyer’s mind a singularly strong, almost an inordinate, curiosity to behold the features of the real Mr. Hyde. If he could but once set eyes on him, he thought the mystery would lighten and perhaps roll altogether away, as was the habit of mysterious things when well examined. He might see a reason for his friend’s strange preference or bondage (call it which you please) and even for the startling clause of the will. At least it would be a face worth seeing: the face of a man who was without bowels of mercy: a face which had but to show itself to raise up, in the mind of the unimpressionable Enfield, a spirit of enduring hatred.
This scene is entered imaginatively (and ironically) via the conventional device of a church clock tolling. Once time is announced, ‘six o’clock’, then the excursion into dream language can begin. It is as if Utterson needs an awareness of chronological, conventional time and its orienting effect, in order for permission to be granted for this nightmarish exploration of Hyde and his power, in the erotically charged, ‘gross darkness‘ of the night. As the intellectual is usurped by the realm of the imagination, the public Utterson yields to the private man. This ‘private’ exploration seems darkly erotic and compelling, hence the dramatic irony of the church clock tolling as it is ‘so conveniently near to Utterson’s dwelling ‘. Perhaps the fact that Utterson lives by the Church, gives a strange moral and psychological complexity to his secret longings and near obsessions with Jekyll and his strange disciple, Edward Hyde? He needs to feel safe and even spiritually aligned, in order to flirt with danger, even if only in his imagination. His literal proxmity to the church sets up a deeply felt conflict and then subversion of the higher(spiritual) self perhaps?
Looking at the qualification,’ conveniently near’ I wonder in whose eyes this proximity is so important and why this might be? Perhaps Utterson’s predilection for ‘down-going men’ makes the nearness of the Church ironically reassuring? He can inform his public that he lives ‘by the church’ and this may reassure others and even himself. It could also act as some sort of ‘code’ for his private longings too? Certainly, Utterson’s care for fallen men carries with it, a sense of the spectator or voyeur..
When the ‘intellectual’ is now usurped by the ‘imagination‘, the effect is one of a nightmarish stream of ‘lighted’ images, which form a conflictual realm alternating between fascination and repulsion. The contradictory nature of the narrative, is indicative of the veiled subject matter(desire) at its heart.
The impossibility of seeing Hyde’s face, is suggestive of this conflict between repulsion and fascination, and is indicative of sexual repression perhaps. The ‘gross darkness’ and ‘curtained’ nature of this night realm, seem to release Uttterson from self censorship and he dreams of that which he dare not admit in a more conscious reality. Hence the desire to ‘see’ or visit Hyde’s face is described as ‘singularly strong’ and is equated with a form of ‘bondage’. This associative narrative of the dream, lends itself very well to the expression of repressed sexual desire. Here, Utterson utters, that which preoccupies all the central male figures in the narrative, namely the appearance of the ‘unspeakable’ Hyde. The illegibility of Hyde is representative of the secretive, taboo nature of homosexual desire, a desire which seems to preoccupy Utterson in the visually ambivalent nightmare above. The line ”…then the door of that room would be opened, the curtains of the bed plucked apart”, renders sexual violation central to the effect. These images are suggestive metaphors for violent sexual intercourse perhaps between repressed middle class men and their dark ‘other’. Their violation is surely initiated by a Hyde figure who represents their lawless, aggressive opposite; a rough working man maybe who would be a subject of fascination for the ‘respectable’ Jekyll and all his friends. The energy and feral, roaming tendencies of Hyde, contrast with the languid walks of his fascinated pursuers. Ironically, the respectable male protagonists seems as much night’s sexual watchmen as Hyde himself. The hunter and the hunted seem interchangeable in the novel.
The Woman in Black
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