“It is well,” replied my visitor. “Lanyon, you remember your vows: what follows is under the seal of our profession. And now, you who have so long been bound to the most narrow and material views, you who have denied the virtue of transcendental medicine, you who have derided your superiors — behold!”
He put the glass to his lips and drank at one gulp. A cry followed; he reeled, staggered, clutched at the table and held on, staring with injected eyes, gasping with open mouth; and as I looked there came, I thought, a change — he seemed to swell — his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter — and the next moment, I had sprung to my feet and leaped back against the wall, my arm raised to shield me from that prodigy, my mind submerged in terror.
“O God!” I screamed, and “O God!” again and again; for there before my eyes — pale and shaken, and half-fainting, and groping before him with his hands, like a man restored from death — there stood Henry Jekyll!
What he told me in the next hour, I cannot bring my mind to set on paper. I saw what I saw, I heard what I heard, and my soul sickened at it; and yet now when that sight has faded from my eyes, I ask myself if I believe it, and I cannot answer. My life is shaken to its roots; sleep has left me; the deadliest terror sits by me at all hours of the day and night; I feel that my days are numbered, and that I must die; and yet I shall die incredulous. As for the moral turpitude that man unveiled to me, even with tears of penitence, I cannot, even in memory, dwell on it without a start of horror. I will say but one thing, Utterson, and that (if you can bring your mind to credit it) will be more than enough. The creature who crept into my house that night was, on Jekyll’s own confession, known by the name of Hyde and hunted for in every corner of the land as the murderer of Carew.
For this analysis we can work through the process of interpretation:
This scene is utterly compelling as we witness the transformation of Hyde, directly through the eyes(I) of Dr Lanyon. Lanyon’s role as a trustworthy, if a cynical observer is destabilised by the extraordinary vision of Hyde metamorphosing into Dr Jekyll.
- I find it intriguing that Stevenson made the decision to show the transformation this way around. The repulsive figure of Hyde transforms into the respectable figure of Jekyll. Why? And how might this link to the dead body on the floor of Jekyll’s laboratory being Hyde, rather than Jekyll, though we learn in the final chapter that Jekyll drank the suicide potion, rather than Hyde?
- Look at Stevenson’s crafty manipulation of pronouns in the passage above. He makes Hyde talk in terms of ‘our profession’ which might seem ironic as, at this moment, Jekyll is in the guise of Hyde. Yet Hyde is clearly speaking as if he was Jekyll, despite his unsettling effect on Lanyon. The slippage between the language of Hyde and Jekyll is a sign surely that the apparent difference or disjunction between the two is illusory?
Even Lanyon mentions the civil language of his visitor and aside from a little mention of grating teeth shortly before the passage above, Hyde is Jekyll, except in terms of his size and appearance. This is very unsettling and complicates the apparent distinction between the behaviours of Hyde and Jekyll.
- It is unsettling that Hyde’s rebirth into Jekyll is so described as being painful and Stevenson deploys the language of physical suffering and horror.’‘A cry followed; he reeled, staggered, clutched at the table … he seemed to swell — his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt..” Look at the use of active verbs. This gives energy to the transformation and shows its peril for Hyde. I also wonder why, this way around, the change is so clearly an agony. What does this suggest about the struggle for goodness, if we are to polarise Hyde and Jekyll?
- Or is the narrative destabilising our complacent attitudes to goodness and evil? The reference to ‘black’ is again deliberately ambiguous. If Hyde represents the fallen, regressive, primitive Jekyll then why does the transformation seem anything but a relief? The verb ‘melt‘ cements the overriding impression of nightmare and horror. Heat melts faces. The melting of Hyde into Jekyll is punitive and creates a lasting unease. Maybe the dreamlike aspect of the novel is particularly dominant at this moment when the reader and Lanyon are positioned to recoil at Hyde’s transformation into Jekyll.Surely Stevenson is being provocative and making the reader question the comfortable opposition between good and bad?
- And to continue this point, we can see in the next paragraph the extensive use of repetition. The repetition of the ‘I’ stresses Lanyon’s incredulity. It emphasises his personal predicament.; after all everything, his professional life has been founded upon, is destroyed by the transformation of Hyde. It shows that all his senses confirm the impossible and that this impossible event will prove deadly to his spiritual and physical well being.
- Remember that it is the confession of Jekyll which seems to outstrip Hyde’s actions for ‘moral turpitude.‘ This is important as it is Jekyll’s intimate conversation that precipitates Lanyon’s demise. the narrative remains silent as to the nature of these actions and this silence allows the reader to ‘guess’ at Jerkyll’s evil and decadence. What could be more unspeakable than murder?
- Finally, and for me most importantly, why does the last line of the chapter still refuse to identify Hyde and Jekyll as one person? Lanyon has witnessed the transformation directly and has spoken to a Hyde who speaks very much as if he is just a shorter version of Jekyll or of a ‘gentleman’. And perhaps that is the whole problem. Lanyon’s realisation that the degraded Hyde and the gentlemanly Jekyll are one and the same is too much to admit. Hence the convoluted syntax that avoids the truth: ”The creature who crept into my house that night was, on Jekyll’s own confession, known by the name of Hyde and hunted for in every corner of the land as the murderer of Carew. ”It is as if the idea of the ‘gentleman’ must be upheld, even in the face of its fall.Look at the attempt to keep Jekyll at a distance from Hyde through the depersonalising use of the noun, ‘creature’. This seems rather contrived and attempts to blot out the unnervingly civil manner of Hyde in this chapter.
- The convoluted and indirect identification of Hyde as the ‘murderer’ ironically creates a sense of dramatic climax through the portentous momentum of the last line, yet overlooks the real and shocking revelation, that Dr Jekyll is the murder of Carew! Very cunning writing indeed! Lanyon would rather die than explicitly name Jekyll as the killer. ( And he does die! )
Carol Ann Duffy 15 ideas!
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