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"Down With the Door, Poole": Designating Deviance in Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Once sex is debarred, physiology becomes luxuriant. —Roland Barthes M. Kellen Williams Kennesaw State College EDWARD HYDE'S BODY repels not only everyone who sees it, but all the words mustered to describe it. Here is Enfield's response, the first in a series of failures to answer Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde's structuring enigma par excellence—"What sort of a man is [Hyde] to see?" He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point. He's an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can't describe him.1 As Enfield's difficulties suggest, Hyde's disconcerting effect is as much linguistic as it is visceral: for while everyone who sees him agrees that there is "something queer about that gentleman—something that gave a man a turn,"2 no one is quite able to "specify the point," to "find a name" fit for designating that "haunting sense of unexpressed deformity with which the fugitive impressed his beholders."3 Hyde stands in this text, then, as an obstacle to expression, the point at which narrative discourse , apparently unable to take charge of its referent, lapses into an account of something which "sounds nothing to hear, but... was hellish to see."4 In short, and as Enfield is the first to admit, Edward Hyde makes for "a bad story."5 412 WILLIAMS : STEVENSON Recent criticism of Stevenson's novel has attempted to gloss these difficulties by reading Hyde as a figure for, variously, the perverse violence of male sexuality, the necessarily preterited pleasures of homoeroticism , or the frightful blurring of conventional gender categories linked in the late-nineteenth century imagination to such figures as the New Woman.6 But rather than determine which "repressed historical referent" lies back of this figurative disturbance,7 I want instead to examine how Hyde's indeterminacy works in relation to Stevenson's own contestation of the shared affinities between realist tactics of representation and late-nineteenth century medical and scientific configurations of social and sexual deviance. For Hyde's "unexpressed deformity" and the revulsion it inspires, his sheer narrative intractability, is finally less a result of his suspect sexuality or shady behavior than it is the effect of a logic which by the end of the nineteenth century had come to determine contemporary medical and scientific accounts of deviance—a logic, Stevenson was convinced, both reflected in and perpetuated by realist methods of representation. Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can be read, then, as a case study in narrative pathology—or, more precisely, as an inquiry into what appears pathological from the realist perspective, represented here by the "plain and natural" narrative, the story that "hangs well together and delivers us from all exorbitant alarms."8 That from such a perspective Hyde's physiology seems alarmingly out of line, difficult to fix, "deformed somewhere," is not particularly surprising, given that Stevenson's novel appeared at a time when the question of whether or not literary texts could do without the sexual body and still claim to be "plain and natural" was not only topical, but highly charged.9 Nor is it surprising that Stevenson himself, who thought realism insufficiently attuned to what he elsewhere styled "the problems of the body," might join the fray through the infinitely problematic body of Edward Hyde, whose "light step, leaping pulses, and secret pleasures" recall those "nameless longings" Stevenson saw stifled in realist chronicles of "the clink of teaspoons and the accents of the curate."10 That Stevenson understood realism's predilection for suppressing such longings as symptomatic of what Leo Bersani calls "the realistic novelist's commitment to character structures which depend upon the sublimation of desire"11 comes clearest in the remarks he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 412-429
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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