Monday, August 10, 2009

how did I miss this?

So I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I thought I "got it." Then I read Showalter's essay, and realized I had missed the entire point of the story.

For some reason, homosexuality, even in the repressed Victorian era, never occurred to me. Looking back, I'm not sure how, as the moment the light bulb went on, it seemed that the theme appeared on every page.

But the really interesting fact is that it entirely changed my impression of both Jekyll and Hyde. Hyde was described as animal, or demonic, something dark and out of our world. In modern terms, it's not how you would describe a homosexual man. Instead, I was thinking more along the lines of a sociopath. Someone violent simply for violence's sake, someone willing to injure and kill without a thought.

But after reading Showalter's article, I went back and re-read Jekyll's confessional letter. He describes himself as "the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high" (pg. 34) and "I concealed my pleasures" and "hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame." Later, he writes, I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I laboured, in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering."

In the re-reading, in understanding that the shame and urges Jekyll refers to are those of homosexuality rather than some random, mindless violent urges I previous assumed, changes entirely how I feel about both Jekyll and Hyde. It also gives a clearer image of Hyde, and more meaning to the frequently repeated concept of him appearing deformed without any obvious deformation. It makes me think less of him as monstrous, and more as someone misunderstood and feared.

That isn't to say that Hyde wasn't evil (he did, as far as I can tell, unless I'm really misunderstanding even more of the story!) murder Carew. Though now I wonder how Hyde's telling of that story might differ, and what might have been said or occurred between the two men.

I think both men, with this view in mind, are infinitely more sympathetic. The shame Jekyll refers to seems all-encompassing, something which he could hardly stand to live with. His experiments, while ultimately his downfall, seem more necessary and understandable.

At first, when reading, I felt like Jekyll was a victim of himself, mostly. That he should have never given in and let Hyde "emerge." Upon re-reading, however, it seems much more like Jekyll was a victim of society itself, of the Victorian repression and their views of homosexuality.


  1. Haleigh, like you, I didn't see the homosexual elements until after I read the Showalter excerpt. I did, however, think Hyde spawned from the repressed sexual nature Jekyll had been hiding (after all, what were the Victorians better at than strictly defining gender and sex roles?). I wonder whether the repression and splitting of personalities made Hyde worse than he'd have been if Jekyll had remained an integrated personality who indulged guiltlessly in healthy activity. Or could Jekyll have been capable of murder? It's probably moot since his own confession makes it clear that society's perception of him meant more than his own health and happiness.

    Anyway, it's interesting how Showalter points out so much of the text as being Victorian secret-gay-handshake. If I'd read her article before I read the story, I probably would have picked up on that more. As it is, I think I'm inclined to think Jekyll had a more wide-ranging (and taboo) sexual appetite.

  2. Kerri-Leigh -- I think you're right that there was something more going on that just being gay. Clearly gay people don't go around stomping on children and murdering old men :) But I think you may be right that had Jekyll been able to integrate the two personalities, rather than split them so definitively into good and evil, Hyde may have been quite a different character.

  3. Perhaps you're both right -- and the conclusion to draw is that the culture forbids such integration when homoerotic impulses are involved in a patriarchal culture. Is this a cautionary tale about male bonding, or against it?

    Good blogging here. I love it when criticism like this makes that light bulb go off. It's a lot like the payoff of a really well written story. I would never go so far as to say Showalter has the 'right' explanation of the story, but rather one persuasive interpretation among many possible ones.