Mr. Utterson was sitting by his fireside one evening after dinner, when he was surprised to receive a visit from Poole.
“Bless me, Poole, what brings you here?” he cried; and then taking a second look at him, “What ails you?” he added; “is the doctor ill?”
“Mr. Utterson,” said the man, “there is something wrong.”
Take a seat, and here is a glass of wine for you,” said the lawyer. “Now, take your time, and tell me plainly what you want.”
“You know the doctor’s ways, sir,” replied Poole, “and how he shuts himself up. Well, he’s shut up again in the cabinet; and I don’t like it, sir I wish I may die if I like it. Mr. Utterson, sir, I’m afraid.”
“Now, my good man,” said the lawyer, “be explicit. What are you afraid of?”
“I’ve been afraid for about a week,” returned Poole, doggedly disregarding the question, “and I can bear it no more.”
The man’s appearance amply bore out his words; his manner was altered for the worse; and except for the moment when he had first announced his terror, he had not once looked the lawyer in the face. Even now, he sat with the glass of wine untasted on his knee, and his eyes directed to a corner of the floor. “I can bear it no more,” he repeated.
“Come,” said the lawyer, “I see you have some good reason, Poole; I see there is something seriously amiss. Try to tell me what it is.”
“I think there’s been foul play,” said Poole, hoarsely.
“Foul play!” cried the lawyer, a good deal frightened and rather inclined to be irritated in consequence. “What foul play? What does the man mean?”
“I daren’t say, sir” was the answer; “but will you come along with me and see for yourself?”
Suspense is immediately generated at the beginning of this chapter through the tension lurking at the heart of an apparently tranquil scene. Such seeming calmness in a narrative concerned with the grotesque secrets of the privileged appears all too temporary. This suspicion proves correct in the next breath, when Jekyll’s loyal servant, Poole, appears to rupture the peace of the bachelor hearth: ‘‘Mr Utterson was sitting by his fireside one evening after dinner when he was surprised to receive a visit from Poole.” Here, the signifiers ‘fireside’ and ‘dinner’ reinforce the idea of respectability, tranquility and normality. Utterson’s rituals are those of a morally, unblemished character, unlike the secret criminality and secrecy surrounding Dr Jekyll and his double/nemesis, Mr Hyde. However, the appearance of Poole is suggestive of desperation and panic. For Poole has been forced to quit his faithful post at Jekyll’s, to call upon the lawyer, Utterson, who Poole hopes can in order restore legality and stability to the anarchy of ‘foul play’. Poole has traversed the city in order to ask for help from the trustworthy figure, lawyer and ‘detective’, Utterson.
Utterson’s role as the detective is made clear here, via the appearance of the desperate Poole. Interestingly, the servant class in Stevenson’s novel, represent loyalty and integrity. They are (forced)witnesses to Jekyll’s fall and are horrified by his transgressions. The word ‘surprised’ reinforces the strange hour and event of Poole’s visit and may even suggest a wariness on Utterson’s part, about the nature and reason for the visit. This wariness adds to the tension and suspense as the reader tends to identify with Utterson as he is a site of (relative) normality in the novel and is our ‘eye’ on the action.If Utterson is wary, then so are we. Utterson knows this is not a civilised hour to call and that Poole would only call if something terrible had occurred.
The suspense is clarified and heightened by Poole’s simple declaration: ‘there is something wrong.’ The clarity of the assertion underlines Poole’s morality. Our suspicions are confirmed. We may even notice an ironic echo of Marcellus’ famous pronouncement in Hamlet that ‘there is something rotten in the state of Denmark’. The world is in disorder and Poole needs the intervention of Utterson to repair the ‘wrong’. The refusal of ‘wine’ and the obfuscation of Poole heighten the suspense as they suggest the anxiety emanates from something Poole fears to express in any direct manner. This illegibility around Jekyll’s relationship with Hyde is an essential aspect of the narrative. It is literally ‘unspeakable’ which again reinforces a sense of dis-ease in the narrative and which feeds the reader’s own imagination as to the precise nature of Hyde’s monstrousness.
When Poole who is stoical and dutiful confides to Utterson, ‘I can bear it no more,’ we feel the burden of his knowledge of Jekyll.Even the most stoical reach a limit and this spiritual and moral exhaustion makes Poole deeply sympathetic and again heightens suspense.
“I think there’s been foul play,” said Poole, hoarsely.
This declaration is cathartic for Poole. He brings into the open the possibility of criminality and even murder. The adverb ‘hoarsely’ suggests acute anxiety and fear. The very words he utters are difficult because they relate to the unspeakable.
Utterson’s reaction is both curious and even strange. “Foul play!” cried the lawyer, a good deal frightened and rather inclined to be irritated in consequence. “What foul play? What does the man mean?”
Look at the seemingly antagonistic emotions exposed in Utterson by the revelation of ‘foul play.’ Utterson’s fear is understandable but then he is also ‘inclined to be irritated in consequence.‘ Is this irritation due to his loss of composure? Does Utterson feel implicated or complicit with Jekyll’s fall into ‘foul play’? Perhaps he is compromised as he had tried to save Jekyll, recognising in Jekyll an aspect of himself and other gentlemen in Victorian society.
When Poole is referred to as ‘the man’ rather than by the pronoun ‘you’ we sense distanciation on the part of Utterson, who is endeavouring to detach himself, even linguistically from the impending chaos of the ‘foul play.’ This technique defamiliarises the reader for a moment until we recognise the psychological implications of this move.
When Poole refuses to elaborate further, we, like Utterson as forced to journey literally and metaphorically into the night, in order to,” see for yourself?” The verb of seeing is heavily ironic and reveals the duplicitous and anxious relationship between seeing and believing. We cannot refuse the invitation and neither can Utterson, so we are forced to go and see for ourselves. A truly chilling, yet thrilling spectacle awaits!
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The Woman in Black
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