Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Summary — Chapter 4: “The Carew Murder Case”
Approximately one year later, the scene opens on a maid who, sitting at her window in the wee hours of the morning, witnesses a murder take place in the street below. She sees a small, evil-looking man, whom she recognizes as Mr. Hyde, encounter a polite, aged gentleman; when the gentleman offers Hyde a greeting, Hyde suddenly turns on him with a stick, beating him to death. The police find a letter addressed to Utterson on the dead body, and they consequently summon the lawyer. He identifies the body as Sir Danvers Carew, a popular member of Parliament and one of his clients.
Utterson still has Hyde’s address, and he accompanies the police to a set of rooms located in a poor, evil-looking part of town. Utterson reflects on how odd it is that a man who lives in such squalor is the heir to Henry Jekyll’s fortune. Hyde’s villainous-looking landlady lets the men in, but the suspected murderer is not at home. The police find the murder weapon and the burned remains of Hyde’s checkbook. Upon a subsequent visit to the bank, the police inspector learns that Hyde still has an account there. The officer assumes that he need only wait for Hyde to go and withdraw money. In the days and weeks that follow, however, no sign of Hyde turns up; he has no family, no friends, and those who have seen him are unable to give accurate descriptions, differ on details, and agree only on the evil aspect of his appearance.
Summary — Chapter 5: “Incident of the Letter”
Utterson calls on Jekyll, whom he finds in his laboratory looking deathly ill. Jekyll feverishly claims that Hyde has left and that their relationship has ended. He also assures Utterson that the police shall never find the man. Jekyll then shows Utterson a letter and asks him what he should do with it, since he fears it could damage his reputation if he turns it over to the police. The letter is from Hyde, assuring Jekyll that he has means of escape, that Jekyll should not worry about him, and that he deems himself unworthy of Jekyll’s great generosity. Utterson asks if Hyde dictated the terms of Jekyll’s will—especially its insistence that Hyde inherit in the event of Jekyll’s -“disappearance.” Jekyll replies in the affirmative, and Utterson tells his friend that Hyde probably meant to murder him and that he has had a near escape. He takes the letter and departs.
On his way out, Utterson runs into Poole, the butler, and asks him to describe the man who delivered the letter; Poole, taken aback, claims to have no knowledge of any letters being delivered other than the usual mail. That night, over drinks, Utterson consults his trusted clerk, Mr. Guest, who is an expert on handwriting. Guest compares Hyde’s letter with some of Jekyll’s own writing and suggests that the same hand inscribed both; Hyde’s script merely leans in the opposite direction, as if for the purpose of concealment. Utterson reacts with alarm at the thought that Jekyll would forge a letter for a murderer.
Analysis — Chapters 4–5
Chapter 4 illustrates the extent of Hyde’s capacity for evil. Whereas we might earlier take Hyde for nothing more than an unscrupulous opportunist, manipulating Jekyll, the mindlessly vicious nature of the man becomes clear with the violent murder of Sir Danvers Carew. Hyde is violent at random, with no apparent motive, and with little concern for his own safety—as his willingness to beat a man to death in the middle of a public street demonstrates. His complete disappearance after the murder, along with his utter lack of family, friends, and people who can identify him, suggests that he possesses some kind of otherworldly origin.
In Chapter 5, as in the rest of the novel, Utterson staunchly remains the proper Victorian gentleman, despite the disturbing nature of the events that he investigates. Even as he plays the detective, his principal desire remains the avoidance of scandal rather than the discovery of truth. Thus, even when he suspects Jekyll of covering up for a murderer, he reports nothing of it to anyone, preferring to set the matter aside in the hopes of preserving his client’s reputation. Utterson’s insistence on propriety and the maintenance of appearances deeply hinders his ability to learn the truth about Jekyll and Hyde. Moreover, this insistence reflects a shortcoming in the Victorian society that the lawyer represents. Stevenson suggests that society focuses so exclusively on outward appearances and respectability that it remains blind to the fact that human beings also possess a darker side, replete with malevolent instincts and irrational passions. Society, like Utterson, cannot see that a seemingly upstanding person can also possess an evil potential hidden within.
Yet, despite Utterson’s straitlaced and unimaginative perspective on the mystery, the eerie aura of the situation reaches such intensity as to effect even this reserved gentleman. Earlier, Utterson has dreams in which London is transformed into a nightmare landscape through which Hyde stalks, committing violence against innocents. The image of the city as a place of hidden terrors recurs, but this time Utterson is awake and driving with the police to Hyde’s rooms in the early morning. A fog has gripped London, and it swirls and eddies through the gloomy neighborhoods, making them seem “like a district of some city in a nightmare.” As in all of his portrayals of London, Stevenson lavishes his descriptive skill on the passage, rendering the depicted landscape as a nest of hidden wickedness. Here, he describes the “great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven … here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown … and here … a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths.” It is important to note, however, that Stevenson attributes these poetic descriptions to Utterson. The words may seem out of character for the rather unimaginative lawyer, but one could also interpret them as testifying to the power of Hyde’s horror. Perhaps the disturbing nature of Hyde’s behavior and his residence bring out a darker side in Utterson himself, one in touch with the supernatural terrors lurking behind the facade of the everyday world.
The above passage offers an excellent example of Stevenson’s ability to use evocative language to establish a sense of the uncanny in a narrative that is otherwise dry and forthright. Much of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written in a brisk, businesslike, and factual way, like a police report on a strange affair rather than a novel. This tone derives from the personality of Mr. Utterson but also seems to arise from the text itself. The original title, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and chapter headings such as “Incident of the Letter” and “Incident at the Window” contribute to this reserved, dispassionate tone, as if detectives themselves have been titling each report for a ledger. But in passages like the one above, Stevenson injects rich, evocative descriptions into the narrative. This richer language performs a duty that Stevenson’s placid characterization of Utterson does not; more important, it creates a link between the language of the text and the actions of the characters. The author thus not only hints at a darker side within Utterson but also at a darker side within the text itself, which typically keeps up appearances as a logical and linear narrative but periodically sinks into decadent flourishes. Utterson and the text, then, become metaphors for humanity in general, and for society at large, both of which may appear logically oriented and straightforward but, in fact, contain darker undercurrents.
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