Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable. . . . He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theater, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years. But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove. . . . [I]t was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of down-going men.
This passage is taken from the first paragraph of the novel, in which Stevenson sketches the character of Utterson the lawyer, through whose eyes the bulk of the novel unfolds. In a sense, Utterson comes across as an uninteresting character—unsmiling, “scanty" in speech, “lean, long, dusty, dreary" in person. As we know from later passages in the novel, he never stoops to gossip and struggles to maintain propriety even to the point of absurdity; the above passage notes the man’s “auster[ity]."
Yet this introductory passage also reveals certain cracks in this rigid, civilized facade—cracks that make Utterson an ideal person to pursue the bizarre case of Jekyll and Hyde. For one thing, the passage draws attention to Utterson’s “lovab[ility],” his tendency to “help rather than to reprove.” This geniality and approachability positions Utterson at the center of the novel’s social web—all of the other characters confide in him and turn to him for help, allowing him glimpses of the mystery from every point of view. Both Lanyon and Jekyll confide in him; his friendship with Enfield gives him a salient piece of information early in the novel; Poole comes to him when Jekyll’s situation reaches a crisis point. Utterson even serves as the attorney for Sir Danvers Carew, Hyde’s victim. Second, the passage notes Utterson’s keen interest in individuals with dark secrets, in those who suffer from scandal. Indeed, the text observes, Utterson sometimes wonders with near “envy” at the motivations behind people’s wrongdoings or missteps. It is this curiosity, seemingly out of place in a dully respectable man, that prompts him to involve himself in the unfolding mystery.
“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. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment.”
This quotation appears in Chapter 1, “Story of the Door,” when Enfield relates to Utterson how he watched Hyde trample a little girl underfoot. Utterson asks his friend to describe Hyde’s appearance, but Enfield, as the quote indicates, proves unable to formulate a clear portrait. He asserts that Hyde is deformed, ugly, and inspires an immediate revulsion, yet he cannot say why.
Enfield’s lack of eloquence sets a pattern for the novel, as no one—from Utterson himself to witnesses describing Hyde to the police—can come up with an exact description of the man. Most people merely conclude that he appears ugly and deformed in some indefinable way. These failures of articulation create an impression of Hyde as an uncanny figure, someone whose deformity is truly intangible, mysterious, perceptible only with some sort of sixth sense for which no vocabulary exists. It is almost as if language itself fails when it tries to come to grips with Hyde; he is beyond words, just as he is beyond morality and conscience. As a supernatural creation, he does not quite belong in the world; correspondingly, he evades the conceptual faculties of normal human beings.
He put the glass to his lips, and drank at one gulp. A cry followed; he reeled, staggered, clutched at the table and held on, staring with injected eyes, gasping with open mouth; and as I looked there came, I thought, a change—he seemed to swell—his face became suddenly black and the features seemed to melt and alter—and at the next moment, I had sprung to my feet and leaped back against the wall, my arm raised to shield me from that prodigy, my mind submerged in terror.
“O God!” I screamed, and “O God!” again and again; for there before my eyes—pale and shaken, and half fainting, and groping before him with his hands, like a man restored from death—there stood Henry Jekyll!
This quotation appears in Chapter 9, “Dr. Lanyon’s Narrative,” as Lanyon describes the moment when Hyde, drinking the potion whose ingredients Lanyon procured from Jekyll’s laboratory, transforms himself back into Jekyll. Lanyon, who earlier ridicules Jekyll’s experiments as “unscientific balderdash," now sees the proof of Jekyll’s success. The sight so horrifies him that he dies shortly after this scene. The transformation constitutes the climactic moment in the story, when all the questions about Jekyll’s relationship to Hyde suddenly come to a resolution.
Stevenson heightens the effect of his climax by describing the scene in intensely vivid language. When he depicts Hyde as “staring with injected eyes” and suggests the dreadful contortions of his features as they “melt and alter," he superbly evokes the ghastliness of the moment of transformation. As this passage emphasizes, the true horror of Jekyll and Hyde’s secret is not that they are two sides of the same person, each persona able to assert itself at will, but that each is actually trapped within the grip of the other, fighting for dominance. The transformation process appears fittingly violent and ravaging, causing the metamorphosing body to “reel," “stagger," and “gasp.” Indeed, by this point in the novel, Jekyll is losing ground to Hyde, and, correspondingly, emerges “half fainting," as if “restored from death."
It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date . . . I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on the thought of the separation of these elements.
This quotation appears midway through Chapter 10, “Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case," which consists of the letter that Jekyll leaves for Utterson. The letter allows us finally to glimpse the events of the novel from the inside. In this passage, Jekyll discusses the years leading up to his discovery of the potion that transforms him into Hyde. He summarizes his theory of humanity’s dual nature, which states that human beings are half virtuous and half criminal, half moral and half amoral. Jekyll’s goal in his experiments is to separate these two elements, creating a being of pure good and a being of pure evil. In this way he seeks to free his good side from dark urges while liberating his wicked side from the pangs of conscience. Ultimately, however, Jekyll succeeds only in separating out Hyde, his evil half, while he himself remains a mix of good and evil. And eventually, of course, Hyde begins to predominate, until Jekyll ceases to exist and only Hyde remains. This outcome suggests a possible fallacy in Jekyll’s original assumptions. Perhaps he did not possess an equally balanced good half and evil half, as he thought. The events of the novel imply that the dark side (Hyde) is far stronger than the rest of Jekyll—so strong that, once sent free, this side takes him over completely.
[B]ut I was still cursed with my duality of purpose; and as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for licence. Not that I dreamed of resuscitating Hyde; . . . no, it was in my own person that I was once more tempted to trifle with my conscience. . . .
[However,] this brief condescension to my evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul. And yet I was not alarmed; the fall seemed natural, like a return to the old days before I had made discovery. It was a fine . . . day. . . . I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin. After all, I reflected, I was like my neighbours; and then I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect. And at the very moment of that vainglorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering. . . . I began to be aware of a change in the temper of my thoughts, a greater boldness, a contempt of danger, a solution of the bonds of obligation. I looked down; my clothes hung formlessly on my shrunken limbs; the hand that lay on my knee was corded and hairy. I was once more Edward Hyde.
These words appear in Jekyll’s confession, near the end of Chapter 10, and they mark the point at which Hyde finally and inalterably begins to dominate the Jekyll-Hyde relationship; Jekyll begins to transform into his darker self spontaneously, without the aid of his potion, and while wide awake. In the particular instance described in the passage, it only takes a single prideful thought to effect the transformation—although that thought comes on the heels of a Jekyll’s dip into his old, pre-Hyde debauchery. As elsewhere, the novel gives no details here of the exact sins involved in Jekyll’s “brief condescension to evil," and thus when he mentions “the animal within me licking the chops of memory," we are left to imagine what dark deeds Jekyll remembers. Again, the language of this passage emphasizes Jekyll’s dualistic theory of human nature, as he contrasts “the animal within me" to his “spiritual side." And the text deliberately presents Hyde’s body as animal-like, especially in the reference to a “corded and hairy" hand. In addition, Stevenson describes Jekyll’s longing as a “growl for licence," which, ironically, is reminiscent of animals communicating with each other. In a novel intentionally devoid of billowy language and concerned more with providing a record than with developing verbal description, Jekyll can be most vocally expressive of his desires when he longs to transform into Hyde. As Hyde, he loses the conscious abilities to form language completely, falling victim to the instincts within and losing the ability to recall exactly what is happening. The above description implies that Jekyll, in becoming Hyde, is regressing into the primitive and coming closer to the violent, amoral world of animals.