- In the Company of Strangers:Absent Voices in Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Beckett's Company
On the night before Dr. Jekyll disappears for the last time, Utterson is summoned to the doctor's home by Jekyll's butler. The butler is disturbed because his master has mysteriously withdrawn into his laboratory for several days. But he is more deeply disturbed by the voice that issues from behind the locked door of the laboratory: it sounds strange and unfamiliar to him. Utterson agrees when he listens to this strange voice that it is "much changed" and that it could not be the voice of "the master." The lawyer's concern over the mystery is deepened when he reads the "strange note" that Jekyll had apparently written to a druggist, franticly pleading for certain chemicals to be delivered to him. The note is even stranger than Utterson and the butler realize, and its implications are more far-reaching: written in it is the formula that Jekyll had used to regain his identity after having lost it for a time to Hyde. The reason that Jekyll has disappeared and his voice is so strange is that his identity no longer conforms to that formula. He no longer fits the text by which he defined himself. Nor does Hyde's identity continue to be contained within the formula Jekyll had written for him. Whereas Jekyll cannot return to the text that defines him, Hyde keeps uncontrollably breaking out of his. [End Page 157]
Like the voices and personalities in its title, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde contains encased within it two opposing texts with two opposing plots: a plot of exclusion and a plot of escape. It recounts the estrangement of a speaker from his own voice and of a writer from what he has written, while it also declares the independence of the text from the "mastery" and intentionality of its author. In this, the tale enacts one of the central problems of modern fiction: the "death" or "disappearance of the author" and the taking on by the text of a life of its own. The act of self-narration is revealed in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to be a ritual act of self-estrangement rather than the act of self-discovery that it purports to be in the case of traditional novels such as Jane Eyre or David Copperfield. The end of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the fragmenting of the self into distinct pieces with distinct voices, not the bringing together of those pieces into some unified character who speaks with a single voice.
The novel has always been a form in which an individual's image of himself is reexamined and restructured, where the misrepresentations of a self are tested, uncovered, and replaced with a more authentic self-integration.1 In the modern novel, however, this restructuring of the image of the individual calls for a restructuring of the whole notion of individuality and the form of the novel in which it is contained. The novel is no longer the scene of self-possession; it has become a sign of the self's dissolution. My argument here is that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde announces this development by launching an elaborate assault on the ideals of the individual personality and the cult of character that dominated the nineteenth century, striking at the heart of that ideology: the life story. Moreover, this case is in its narrative form as well as its content at the beginning of a tradition subversive to conventional self-narration,a tradition that can be traced through the central modernist English writers of fictional autobiography—Conrad, Joyce, and, most prominently, Beckett. A further claim is that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is ultimately concerned with fundamental questions about the authority of texts and the power of language to represent human life—the very questions that preoccupy much of modern fiction and criticism as well.2 [End Page 158]