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  • The Strange Case of Addiction in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Patricia Comitini (bio)

It is a commonplace in scholarship on Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to focus on the moral corruption of Henry Jekyll and the emergence of Edward Hyde, the latter often viewed as the quintessential doppelgänger. This critical focus on the double has also become part of popular culture in that many versions of the story present Jekyll and Hyde as the representation of the struggle between good and evil that occurs within everyone. In emphasizing the Jekyll/Hyde dyad of the novel, critics have tended to ignore the centrality of the lawyer Gabriel John Utterson to the narrative. For most of the novel, the omniscient narrative perspective follows Utterson: it is Utterson who reads Jekyll’s “Full Statement” as well as Jekyll’s and Lanyon’s letters; it is to Utterson that Enfield relates his encounter with Hyde. While the third-person narrator is not reducible to Utterson, attention to Utterson’s narrative point of view, among the other interpolated first-person accounts of Hyde, is of great significance in placing the novel within the developing discourse of addiction in the late Victorian era.

What I suggest is that it is not Jekyll and Hyde who form the novel’s most significant dyad but rather Utterson and Jekyll. Utterson’s perspective helps us understand how Jekyll’s addiction structures Utterson as an “unaddictable” subject, while Utterson constructs Jekyll as the “addictable” subject, dependent on the “transforming draught” that leads to the emergence of Hyde, who in turn embodies addiction in the novel.1 Reframing the discussion in this way enables us to understand the role Jekyll plays as Utterson’s other, so that Jekyll’s addiction is revealed in the narrative as the aporia of Victorian society: just as Hyde is the inexplicable entity that Utterson seeks to understand throughout the novel, addiction is the inexplicable centre of medical and legal discourses that attempt to rationally explain its origin, its progression, and its dangers. This novel (and literary discourse in general), along with the medical and legal discourses represented in the novel, participates in managing or controlling the aporia that is addiction by promising to reveal the secret of Hyde. It is thus clear why Hyde’s perspective should be absent from the novel.

If we look to Utterson’s point of view, however, we can historicize how Hyde ultimately comes to represent the embodiment of addiction, produced by a dynamic doubling of Utterson and Jekyll. This embodiment is overdetermined [End Page 113] by the medical and legal discourses that construct divided categories: normality/abnormality, the natural/unnatural body, and the unaddictable/addicted.2 The aporia of these discourses, and of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, reveals the inherent contradictions of Victorian society between Utterson and Jekyll, rationality and affect, mind and body. Hyde represents what traditional middle and professional classes fear: the Orient and South America, whence the commodities of opium and coca come; the working class’s unregulated access to alcohol and opium-derived drugs; social exposure that keeps hidden the pleasure Victorian propriety cannot admit; and contagion in the British social body in the form of an incurable disease. In other words, the conceptualization of addiction as an inexplicable horror masks the contradictions of what Utterson’s and Jekyll’s Britishness is built upon: alienation, oppression, and imperialism.

To see Jekyll as Utterson’s double permits us to see how addiction functions as the inexplicable centre of Victorian ideology. It is what cannot be subjected to meaning as a construction of the symbolic system, yet it is something that works to create desire in the subject, as in Jekyll’s desire to indulge his addiction. For Jekyll, his pleasure cannot be spoken of or about, though it pervades the whole text. It is something that resists absorption into meaning: in other words, this desire, meaning, or pleasure cannot be understood according to the ways Victorians understand their society. Jekyll’s desire for undignified pleasures (Stevenson 53) stands outside the ideologies of earnestness, progress, and self-determination—hegemonic systems of meaning that help...


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pp. 113-131
Launched on MUSE
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