Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Chapter 9: “Dr. Lanyon’s Narrative”
He put the glass to his lips, and drank at one gulp. . . . there before my eyes . . . there stood Henry Jekyll!
This chapter constitutes a word-for-word transcription of the letter Lanyon intends Utterson to open after Lanyon’s and Jekyll’s deaths. Lanyon writes that after Jekyll’s last dinner party, he received a strange letter from Jekyll. The letter asked Lanyon to go to Jekyll’s home and, with the help of Poole, break into the upper room—or “cabinet”—of Jekyll’s laboratory. The letter instructed Lanyon then to remove a specific drawer and all its contents from the laboratory, return with this drawer to his own home, and wait for a man who would come to claim it precisely at midnight. The letter seemed to Lanyon to have been written in a mood of desperation. It offered no explanation for the orders it gave but promised Lanyon that if he did as it bade, he would soon understand everything.
Lanyon duly went to Jekyll’s home, where Poole and a locksmith met him. The locksmith broke into the lab, and Lanyon returned home with the drawer. Within the drawer, Lanyon found several vials, one containing what seemed to be salt and another holding a peculiar red liquid. The drawer also contained a notebook recording what seemed to be years of experiments, with little notations such as “double” or “total failure!!!” scattered amid a long list of dates. However, the notebooks offered no hints as to what the experiments involved. Lanyon waited for his visitor, increasingly certain that Jekyll must be insane. As promised, at the stroke of midnight, a small, evil-looking man appeared, dressed in clothes much too large for him. It was, of course, Mr. Hyde, but Lanyon, never having seen the man before, did not recognize him. Hyde seemed nervous and excited. He avoided polite conversation, interested only in the contents of the drawer. Lanyon directed him to it, and Hyde then asked for a graduated glass. In it, he mixed the ingredients from the drawer to form a purple liquid, which then became green. Hyde paused and asked Lanyon whether he should leave and take the glass with him, or whether he should stay and drink it in front of Lanyon, allowing the doctor to witness something that he claimed would “stagger the unbelief of Satan.” Lanyon, irritated, declared that he had already become so involved in the matter that he wanted to see the end of it.
Taking up the glass, Hyde told Lanyon that his skepticism of “transcendental medicine” would now be disproved. Before Lanyon’s eyes, the deformed man drank the glass in one gulp and then seemed to swell, his body expanding, his face melting and shifting, until, shockingly, Hyde was gone and Dr. Jekyll stood in his place. Lanyon here ends his letter, stating that what Jekyll told him afterward is too shocking to repeat and that the horror of the event has so wrecked his constitution that he will soon die.
This chapter finally makes explicit the nature of Dr. Jekyll’s relationship to his darker half, Mr. Hyde—the men are one and the same person. Lanyon’s narrative offers a smaller mystery within the larger mystery of the novel: the doctor is presented with a puzzling set of instructions from his friend Jekyll without any explanation of what the instructions mean. We know more than Lanyon, of course, and instantly realize that the small man who strikes Lanyon with a “disgustful curiosity” can be none other than Hyde. But even this knowledge does not diminish the shocking effect of the climax of the novel, the moment when we finally witness the interchange between the two identities. Through the astonished eyes of Lanyon, Stevenson offers a vivid description, using detailed language and imagery to lend immediacy to supernatural events.
Yet it is worth noting that for all the details that the doctor’s account includes, this chapter offers very little explanation of what Lanyon sees. We learn that Hyde and Jekyll are the same person and that the two personas can morph into one another with the help of a mysterious potion. We remain largely in the dark, however, as to how or why this situation came about. Lanyon states that Jekyll told him everything after the transformation was complete, but he refrains from telling Utterson, declaring that “[w]hat he told me in the next hour I cannot bring my mind to set on paper.”
As with previous silences in the novel, this silence owes to a character’s refusal to confront truths that upset his worldview. As we have seen in previous chapters, Jekyll has delved into mystical investigations of the nature of man, whereas Lanyon has adhered strictly to rational, materialist science. Indeed, in some sense, Lanyon cannot conceive of the world that Jekyll has entered; thus, when he is forced to confront this world as manifested in Hyde’s transformation, he retreats deep within himself, spurning this phenomenon that shatters his worldview. The impact of the shock is such that it causes Lanyon, a scientist committed to pursuing knowledge, to declare in Chapter 6, “I sometimes think if we knew all, we should be more glad to get away.” Lanyon has decided that some knowledge is not worth the cost of obtaining or possessing it. Like Utterson and Enfield, he prefers silence to the exposure of dark truths. The task of exposing these truths must fall to Henry Jekyll himself, in the final chapter of the novel. As the only character to have embraced the darker side of the world, Jekyll remains the only one willing to speak of it.
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