Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Chapter 8: “The Last Night”
Jekyll’s butler Poole visits Utterson one night after dinner. Deeply agitated, he says only that he believes there has been some “foul play” regarding Dr. Jekyll; he quickly brings Utterson to his master’s residence. The night is dark and windy, and the streets are deserted, giving Utterson a premonition of disaster. When he reaches Jekyll’s house, he finds the servants gathered fearfully in the main hall. Poole brings Utterson to the door of Jekyll’s laboratory and calls inside, saying that Utterson has come for a visit. A strange voice responds, sounding nothing like that of Jekyll; the owner of the voice tells Poole that he can receive no visitors.
Poole and Utterson retreat to the kitchen, where Poole insists that the voice they heard emanating from the laboratory does not belong to his master. Utterson wonders why the murderer would remain in the laboratory if he had just killed Jekyll and not simply flee. Poole describes how the mystery voice has sent him on constant errands to chemists; the man in the laboratory seems desperate for some ingredient that no drugstore in London sells. Utterson, still hopeful, asks whether the notes Poole has received are in the doctor’s hand, but Poole then reveals that he has seen the person inside the laboratory, when he came out briefly to search for something, and that the man looked nothing like Jekyll. Utterson suggests that Jekyll may have some disease that changes his voice and deforms his features, making them unrecognizable, but Poole declares that the person he saw was smaller than his master—and looked, in fact, like none other than Mr. Hyde.
Hearing Poole’s words, Utterson resolves that he and Poole should break into the laboratory. He sends two servants around the block the laboratory’s other door, the one that Enfield sees Hyde using at the beginning of the novel. Then, armed with a fireplace poker and an axe, Utterson and Poole return to the inner door. Utterson calls inside, demanding admittance. The voice begs for Utterson to have mercy and to leave him alone. The lawyer, however, recognizes the voice as Hyde’s and orders Poole to smash down the door.
Once inside, the men find Hyde’s body lying on the floor, a crushed vial in his hand. He appears to have poisoned himself. Utterson notes that Hyde is wearing a suit that belongs to Jekyll and that is much too large for him. The men search the entire laboratory, as well as the surgeon’s theater below and the other rooms in the building, but they find neither a trace of Jekyll nor a corpse. They note a large mirror and think it strange to find such an item in a scientific laboratory. Then, on Jekyll’s business table, they find a large envelope addressed to Utterson that contains three items. The first is a will, much like the previous one, except that it replaces Hyde’s name with Utterson’s. The second is a note to Utterson, with the present day’s date on it. Based on this piece of evidence, Utterson surmises that Jekyll is still alive—and he wonders if Hyde really died by suicide or if Jekyll killed him. This note instructs Utterson to go home immediately and read the letter that Lanyon gave him earlier. It adds that if he desires to learn more, Utterson can read the confession of “Your worthy and unhappy friend, Henry Jekyll.” Utterson takes the third item from the envelope—a sealed packet—and promises Poole that he will return that night and send for the police. He then heads back to his office to read Lanyon’s letter and the contents of the sealed packet.
In the classic detective story, this climactic chapter would contain the scene in which the detective, having solved the case, reveals his ingenious solution and fingers the culprit. But, in spite of Utterson’s efforts in investigating the matter of Jekyll and Hyde, he has made no progress in solving the mystery. Indeed, were it not for the existence of Lanyon’s letter and Jekyll’s confession, which make up the last two chapters, it seems likely that the truth about Jekyll and Hyde never would be ascertained.
One cannot blame Utterson for failing to solve the case of Jekyll and Hyde before reading the letters—even the most skilled professional detective could not have deduced the supernatural circumstances surrounding the doctor and his darker half. Nevertheless, Stevenson uses this chapter to emphasize just how far away from the truth Utterson remains, extending almost to the point of absurdity. The servants, led by Poole, remain more in touch with the reality of the situation; they know that something terrible has happened to their master, and so they forsake their duties and huddle together out of fright. Upon seeing them gathered in fear, Utterson reacts with a response characteristic of his all-consuming concern for propriety and the upkeep of appearances. Instead of looking for the cause of the servants’ terror, he is more concerned with maintaining decorum and social hierarchy. “What, what?” he bursts out. “Are you all here? . . . Very irregular, very unseemly; your master would be far from pleased.”
Even at this time of clear crisis, Utterson is unwilling to allow for any breach of propriety and order. As he talks with Poole before the locked door of the laboratory, Utterson is growing desperate to avoid taking action. He offers more and more absurd explanations for what Poole has seen that culminate in his suggestion that Jekyll has a disease that has changed his appearance to the point of unrecognizability. Utterson is willing to accept any explanation, however improbable, before doing anything so indecorous as breaking down a door. Moreover, his unwillingness to break into Jekyll’s laboratory reflects his continued concern for his friend’s repu-tation. As long as he does not break in, he seems to think, Jekyll’s good name will be preserved. In portraying Utterson’s absurd mind-set, Stevenson seems to comment on the larger Victorian mentality and on what one might see as its privileging of order and decorum over truth.
But Utterson’s unwillingness to penetrate the mystery of his friend’s situation is more than the expression of his Victorian desire to avoid scandal. He seems to have a premonition that what awaits him in the laboratory constitutes not merely a breach of order but the toppling of one order by another. His conversation with Poole is a frantic attempt to avoid entering the world of supernatural terrors that Jekyll has loosed.
It is this sense of supernatural terror breaking into everyday reality that places Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde firmly within the tradition of Gothic fiction, which flourished in nineteenth-century Europe—and particularly in Britain, where such Gothic masterpieces as Dracula, The Turn of the Screw, Frankenstein, and Jane Eyre were penned. The term “Gothic” covers a wide variety of stories, but certain recurring themes and motifs define the genre. Gothic tales may contain explicitly supernatural material, as Dracula does, or imply supernatural phenomena without narrating it directly, as Jekyll and Hyde does. They may not allude to supernatural events at all, but simply convey a sense of the uncanny, of dark and disturbing elements that break into the routine of prosaic, everyday life, as Jane Eyre does. Gothic novels often center around secrets—such as Jekyll’s connection to Hyde—or around doppelgångers, a German term referring to people who resemble other characters in strange, disconcerting ways. Frankenstein’s monster is a doppelgånger for Frankenstein, just as Hyde is for Jekyll. Above all, Gothic novels depend upon geography for their power. Nearly every Gothic novel takes place in some strange, eerie locale from which the characters have difficulty escaping, be it Dracula’s castle, the estate of Thornfield in Jane Eyre, or the decaying homes and palaces that appear in the stories of the greatest practitioner of American Gothic fiction, Edgar Allan Poe. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, of course, that uncanny place is the fog-blanketed world of nighttime London.
Although the dialogue in this chapter arguably interrupts the dramatic momentum of the situation, Stevenson nevertheless conjures a mood of dread, primarily through the use of evocative language. For example, as Poole and Utterson stand ready to break down the door, the text declares that “[t]he scud had banked over the moon, and it was now quite dark. The wind, which only broke in puffs and draughts into that deep well of building, tossed the light of the candle to and fro about their steps.” And earlier, as Utterson and Poole travel through the empty streets to reach Jekyll’s home, Stevenson revisits his frequent image of London as a nightmare city, where darkness—both moral and physical—holds sway.
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