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  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde After One Hundred Years
  • Hans-Peter Breuer
William Veeder and Gordon Hirsch, eds. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde After One Hundred Years. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988. 332 pp. $47.50 cloth; pb. $16.95.

This collection of interpretative studies begins with William Veeder's collation of fragmentary manuscript drafts of Robert Louis Stevenson's popular tale; the essays that follow are intended to provide a modernist assessment of it. Unfortunately, some are so clogged with specialist jargon or marred by excessive appeals to the assumptions of Marxism and the authority of Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and their followers that one comes away more muddled than enlightened. The usual interpretation of the Jekyll/Hyde duality as Stevenson's adaptation of the "double" theme is hardly touched on. The tale (or novel), we are told, constitutes chiefly an attack on patriarchy and Victorian repressiveness; but it also depicts the oedipal rages of insurrective phallic sons, unmasks the "cult of character," is a parable of the "estranging power" of language and of the conflict between the demands of high and popular culture. Two or three contributors do argue more conventionally and cogently for suggestive conclusions. Gordon Hirsch, for example, connects the tale with Frankenstein to demonstrate that in both works the self-confident positivist scientist must confront the mysterious and inexplicable. In the end, however, he aligns himself with the shibboleths of deconstruction to conclude that we cannot even be certain the tale presents us with a crime or a criminal because of the ambiguities inherent in language and the concept of identity. The several interpretations, furthermore, are cumulatively bewildering and contradictory inter se. Hyde is conceived as the product of language (the chemical formula), the text "escaping from Jekyll's control," the repressed sadism of Western culture, the "gross populace" hampering the serious artist; he is witchcraft, a racist stereotype, the hated Fenian, the "monstrous defiler of both white womanhood and civilized patriarchal authority." Of course, this confusion of possible meanings is the result of the several "approaches" and methodologies and consequently bears witness to the power of Stevenson's central symbol. But it is difficult to entertain most of these interpretations as insightful explorations of this symbol. The arguments in support of them observe no sense of realistic probabilities with which we relate a work of art to the shared experience of the primary world. Because Stevenson's tale is here related to hypothetical constructs, the critics are free to indulge in speculations entirely dissociated from collective representation.

Furthermore, little regard is shown for the "text's" artistic integrity as a tertium quid: it is alternately treated as a symptom of Stevenson's oedipal conflicts, a disguised psychoanalytic treatise on male dominance, a sociological report, a writer's manifesto, an autonomous and self-reflexive construct. The evidence adduced is often flimsy and strained: the absence of women characters becomes irrefragable proof of the misogynism and insecurity of Jekyll, Utterson, and the others. Poole, because he serves Jekyll, unambiguously represents the "watery depths" lurking beneath the "taut surface of patriarchy." And what were Utterson and Enfield doing at night rambling the streets of London? Up to antifeminist doings, no doubt. In short, the tale is too recklessly made over into a brief for anti-Victorian preconceptions. The possibility that the tale elaborates the universal theme of the dangerous violence of the irrational or the realization that "Reason kens he habits in / A haunted house" (as Robert Bridges put it in "Low [End Page 677] Barometer") is not considered seriously. It would in any case undermine the Marxist generalizations informing this collection as a whole. Instead, we are asked to believe Stevenson has revealed that rationality, respectability, familial ties, and "cultural authority" are all unnatural and wicked, resting on the repression (and hence the perversion) of what is originally vital and beyond bourgeois good and evil—this even though Stevenson in his dedication (which is here ignored) writes, "It's ill to loose the bonds that God decreed to bind. . . ." The insistence that Jekyll is a symbol of the original sin of patriarchy is not informed by the details of social analysis but by the...


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