When the novel opens, Mr. Utterson (a lawyer) and his friend Richard Enfield (a distant kinsman) are out for their customary Sunday srroll in London. People who know both men find it puzzling that the men are friends; seemingly, they have nothing in common. Yet both men look forward to their weekly Sunday walk as if it were “the chief jewel of each week.” Mr. Utterson, the lawyer, is a cold man, very tall and lean, and has a face “never lighted by a smile.” Enfield is much more outgoing and curious about life, and it is on this particular Sunday walk that he raises his cane and indicates a peculiar-looking door. He asks Utterson if he’s ever noticed the door. With a slight change in his voice, Utterson says that he has, and then Enfield continues; the door, he tells Utterson, has “a very odd story.”
Enfield says that at about 3 A.M. on a black winter morning, he was coming home and because the street was deserted, he had a vague sense of discomfort. Suddenly, he saw two figures, a man and a girl about eight years old. They ran into each other, and the man “trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground.” He cannot forget the “hellish” scene.
He tells Utterson that he collared the man, brought him back, and by that time, a crowd had gathered. Like Enfield, they all seemed to instantly loathe the very sight of the sadistic man, who was, in contrast to the others, very calm and very cool. He said simply that he wanted to avoid a scene, and he offered to pay a generous sum to the child’s family. Then he took out a key, opened the strange door, and disappeared behind it. He emerged shortly with ten pounds in gold and a check for ninety pounds. Enfield can’t remember the precise signature on the check, but he does remember that it belonged to a well-known man. He tells his friend that he finds it extremely strange that this satanic man would just suddenly take out a key and open “the strange door” then walk out “with another man’s check” for nearly one hundred pounds. Of course, Enfield says, he immediately thought that the check was forged, but the man agreed to wait until the banks opened, and when a teller was questioned, the check proved to be genuine. Enfield surmises that perhaps blackmail was involved, and ever since that winter morning, he has referred to that house as the “Black Mail House.” He has “studied the place,” and there seems to be no other door, and no one ever comes in or out, except, occasionally, the villainous man who ran down the child.
But Enfield feels strongly that someone else must live there, and yet the houses in that block are built so oddly and so compactly that he cannot ascertain where one house ends and the next house begins.
Utterson, the lawyer, tells his friend Enfield that sometimes it’s best to mind one’s own business, but he does want to know the name of the man who ran down the child. Enfield tells him that “it was a man of the name of Hyde.” Asked to describe Hyde, Enfield finds it difficult because the man had “something wrong with his appearance, something displeasing, something downright detestable.”
Utterson then asks a very lawyer-like question: “You are quite sure that he used a key?” He explains that he already knows the name of the other party involved in Enfield’s story, and he wants Enfield to be as exact as possible. Enfield swears that everything he has said has been true: “The fellow had a key.” And then he adds, “What’s more, he has it still. I saw him use it, not a week ago.”
Utterson sighs, and the two men make a pact never to speak of the horrible incident again, shaking hands to seal their agreement.
The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is perhaps one of the most familiar tales in all of literature. In fact, it is so familiar that many people assume that the tale has been in existence for longer than it actually has been. It is also familiar because the terminology (that is, the names of Jekyll and Hyde) is now a part of our common language and can be found in any dictionary. In fact, many people who have never heard of the name Robert Louis Stevenson can offer a reasonably acceptable meaning for the term “Jekyll and Hyde,” and their explanation would not vary far from those found in selected or random dictionary definitions such as:
1. “One who has quasi-schizophrenic, alternating phases of pleasantness and unpleasantness.”
2. “A person having a split personality, one side of which is good and the other evil.”
3. “This phrase refers to a person who alternates between charming demeanor and extremely unpleasant behavior.”
In fact, the names of Jekyll and Hyde have even been used in alcoholism manuals to describe the behavior of a sober person who is kind and gentle but who unexpectedly changes into a vicious, cruel person when drunk. The contrast in the behavior of a drunk and sober person is therefore commonly referred to as the “Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome.”
All of the general views or above definitions of a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality come almost entirely from the last two Chapters of the novel. Until then, the novel is presented as a closely knit mystery story.
Another concept to keep in mind while reading this novel is that the above definitions and all of the assumptions made about Jekyll and Hyde are postulated on the assumption that man is made up of only two parts — one good and one evil. This is not necessarily Stevenson’s intent, as stated later by Dr. Jekyll, who thought that man’s personality might be composed of many different facets, and that man’s evil nature was only a small portion of his total makeup. Consequently, when the transformation from Jekyll to Hyde occurs, Hyde cannot wear Jekyll’s clothes because they are much too big for him — that is, the evil part of Dr. Jekyll’s total being, depicted through Hyde, is represented as being much smaller than Jekyll.
Thus, man is not necessarily equal parts of good and evil; instead, the evil portion will often express itself more forcefully and powerfully than do the other aspects. However, for the sake of discussion, and since Dr. Jekyll himself admitted that he could detect only two sides of himself, we will most often refer to Hyde as Jekyll’s evil “double.”
The entire nineteenth century was often concerned with the concept of man’s double self, often referred to as a Doppelganger, a term taken from German literary criticism. This nineteenth-century genre began with a story about a type of double, when Dr. Frankenstein created his monster in 1818 (and due to popularizations of this story, most people think that Frankenstein is the name of the monster instead of the scientist), and later, Sigmund Freud and others before Stevenson, wrote about man’s contrasting natures — it was, however, Stevenson’s story of Jekyll and Hyde that has so completely held the attention of readers throughout the decades. And as noted, the popularizations of a story will often distort parts of that story. For example, Stevenson intended the main character’s name to be pronounced Je (the French word for “I”) Kill (Je-Kill=I kill), meaning that the doctor wanted to isolate the evil portion of himself, appropriately named “Hyde,” meaning low and vulgar hide or flesh which must hide from civilization. The character’s name in the movies, however, was pronounced with the accent on the first syllable and it has remained so.
The double is also represented in even simpler ways in this novel. For example, Utterson and his kinsman, Richard Enfield, are so completely different from each other that people who know them are totally puzzled by their frequent walks together. Yet, as with the double, man is often drawn to someone totally opposite from himself.
Utterson, we discover, possesses those qualities that make him the perfectly reliable literary narrator. He is intellectual, objective, and tolerant; he is also reluctant to judge and is inclined to help people rather than to condemn them. And even though he is undemonstrative, he has won the deep trust of many important friends who confide in him and appoint him the executor of their estates. Consequently, Utterson makes the very best type of narrator since he is privy to the secrets of powerful men but is also discreet enough not to violate any trust.
In contrast, it is Enfield’s vivacity, directness, and curiosity about life which involves us in the story as he narrates with gusto and enthusiasm his first horrible encounter with Edward Hyde. Thus, the reader’s introduction to Hyde is through a “well-known man about town” who delights in entertaining people with strange and unusual stories. After this Chapter, however, Enfield, as a narrator, is disposed of, and we will rely upon a more solid, restrained narrator such as Utterson.
The ultimate purpose of this novel (or tale) will be to demonstrate Dr. Jekyll’s view of Hyde; yet this, as noted, is only the last portion of the novel. Before then, Stevenson will use several narrators and devices to present a number of opinions about Hyde. But, by using Enfield as the initial narrator, we get our first opinion about Hyde through Enfield, “the well-known man about town,” and in describing his first encounter with Hyde, Enfield also gives us the views of all of the others gathered about when Hyde tramples the young girl underfoot. If we remember that Enfield is the type of person who prides himself on being a connoisseur of the beautiful, it might at first seem natural that he would over-exaggerate his own personal loathing for Hyde, especially since Enfield cannot specify any single deformity or any single distortion in Hyde’s physique; rather, Enfield has simply a general sense of nausea and extreme distaste, so extreme that he senses that there is something unnatural about Hyde: “There was something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked.” But if we do not completely trust Enfield’s sensibilities, then there are the reactions of the crowd of people which gathers at the scene and remains there to make sure that Hyde does not escape. For example, the women, upon looking at Hyde, suddenly seem to be “as wild as Harpies,” and then the apothecary who is “as emotional as a bagpipe” turns sick upon seeing Hyde and has a strong desire to kill the man. Others, including the child’s family, all possess this intense loathing for Hyde, accompanied with a desire to kill him.
This first Chapter, then, presents not only Enfield’s view of Hyde, but also the views of several others and, consequently, the reader is entranced about a person who can evoke such horrible responses in such differing types of people. And we should also note that Dr. Jekyll is not even mentioned — in fact, this part of London is built so strangely that it is not until quite some time later that we are able to discern that the particular door which evoked Enfield’s narration is, in reality, the back door to Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory. The novel begins, therefore, as a type of mystery story, in spite of the fact that there is probably no modern reader who can come to the novel without a previous knowledge that Hyde is really a part of Dr. Jekyll; but for the original audience, each of the subsequent Chapters involved an attempt to discover the identity of Hyde and how he was blackmailing, or framing, or using Dr. Jekyll in some evil and probably obscene, horrible way.