The book, ‘The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, was written by the Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson and published in 1886. Therefore, it predated the Whitechapel murders (1888-91), which are more commonly known as the Jack the Ripper murders. These are worth mentioning in any Jekyll and Hyde essay because, if the murders had been committed before the publication of Stevenson’s novella, they could have been a source for it. The novella certainly reminded people at the time of the series of murders committed in Whitechapel.
Stevenson was not the first author to write about madness. Nikolai Gogol (1809 – 1852), the Russian-Ukrainian novelist, wrote his novel, ‘Diary of a Madman’ in 1832. This was one of the first novels to touch on madness, in this case megalomania. Another famous Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881) wrote his story, ’The Double’, published in the Fatherland Notes in 1846. The author edited and revised it and it was published as a novella in 1866. This is the story of a man dogged by his doppelganger, until he was driven to madness and committed to an asylum.
Clearly readers were fascinated by novels relating to madness and R, L. Stevenson’s book proved very popular. So popular, indeed that the phrase, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ became an integral part of the English language. It refers to people who have personality changes or disorders, although in common parlance it simply means that someone is very changeable and has mood swings.
Schizophrenia, split personality disorder, was first named by Paul Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist in 1910. He coined it from the Greek words, ‘schizo’ (meaning split) and ‘phren’ mind. He had meant that the disorder was all about a disassociation between the thoughts and feelings of a person. However, in modern-day usage schizophrenia means that a person has dual personalities. In the case of Dr, Jekyll these personalities were complete opposites. Dr, Jekyll was the good personality while Mr. Hyde was the evil one. They did not inhabit the same body at the same time. Of course, in cases of schizophrenia a person does not change appearance as is the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the body is shared by the personalities.
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The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is seen and recounted through the eyes of Gabriel John Utterson, a London lawyer.
The book begins with John Utterson, the lawyer, talking to another friend about an incident his friend had witnessed. Edward Hyde had run over a girl in the street and went to the family to offer them recompense for her death. He took a cheque to the family that had been signed by Dr. Jekyll. Utterson is most concerned because recently Dr. Jekyll changed his will in favour of Mr. Hyde, leaving him everything.
Utterson, naturally enough thinks that Jekyll and Hyde are two separate people. He thinks that his friend, Dr. Jekyll, is being blackmailed by the evil Mr. Hyde. He asks Dr. Jekyll about his relationship with Hyde, but Dr. Jekyll basically tells him to mind his own business. Utterson can’t do that and continues to investigate what is happening between the two men.
A year after the death of the girl, another strange thing occurs. Mr Hyde assaults and kills a man with his cane. The police approached Utterson because he knew the murdered man. Utterson takes the police to Mr. Hyde’s home and they find the cane (the murder weapon). It had been a gift from Utterson to Dr. Jekyll. Once again Utterson asks Dr. Jekyll about Mr. Hyde as obviously the police wanted to know his whereabouts. Dr. Jekyll insists that he doesn’t know and can’t help, as Mr Hyde has run away. The doctor produces a goodbye note signed by Mr Hyde, but this arouses Utterson’s suspicions because the handwriting is very similar to that of his friend, Jekyll.
After that, Utterson saw an improvement in his friend’s behaviour, but it was short-lived. Then one of Utterson’s friends dies, but before he does so he gives the lawyer a letter. He told Utterson that he should open it only if Dr. Jekyll disappears or dies.
Dr. Jekyll’s behaviour becomes increasingly strange until he locks himself in his laboratory. Dr. Jekyll’s butler and Utterson finally break down the door, because they hear a voice inside the laboratory that did not sound like Jekyll’s. They discover Mr Hyde, who is wearing Dr. Jekyll’s clothes. He had committed suicide and there was a note beside his body, which Utterson takes home with him.
The first letter, written by his friend, informs Utterson that Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde are, in fact one and the same. It explains that Dr. Jekyll had invented a potion or serum, that changed him into Mr. Hyde.
The second letter explains why Dr. Jekyll concocted and drank the potion. He had wanted to separate his good and bad sides. In the beginning, drinking it had the power to change Hyde back into Dr. Jekyll, wo thought that he could control the changes. However, eventually he changed from the good doctor to the evil Mr. Hyde without drinking the potion. He could no longer control when he changed.
He attempted to stop the changes, but nothing he tried worked. He knew that sooner or later the evil Mr. Hyde would completely take over and his good side would be obliterated. He would have to live the rest of his life as Mr. Hyde. Finally, when he managed to change into Dr. Jekyll, he wrote the letter to Utterson and committed suicide, because he was disgusted by his violent acts.
Dr. Jekyll is not schizophrenic. People with schizophrenia do not physically change into someone else.
According to H. J. Eysenck's Encyclopaedia of Psychology, it was Emil Kraepelin (1856 – 1926), a German psychiatrist, who founded modern scientific psychiatry. He thought that people with psychiatric problems had genetic and/or biological problems. He studied under different German neuroanatomists and also under Wilhelm Wundt, the renowned experimental psychologist. He was the person who first presented a classification of mental illnesses. He distinguished between manic-depressive psychosis and schizophrenia, then called dementia praecox. He believed that manic-depressive problems and depression could be treated but believed that schizophrenia could not be. It was 1887 when he first separated schizophrenia from other types of psychosis. However, schizophrenia was known long before the late 19th century.
In ancient times people thought of mental illness as a punishment meted out by God, or by the gods, if we consider the cases of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Egyptian Ebers papyrus, which dates back to 1550 BC, describes an illness that is very like schizophrenia, so it has been plaguing us humans for millennia.
In the Old Testament of the bible, in the Book of Samuel, we read that King Saul was ‘mad’ because he neglected his religious duties and observances. God was angry and punished him with madness. David’s harp-playing could soothe the troubled king which leads us to believe that the ancients believed that ‘madness,’ or psychotic illnesses could be treated.
It was Hippocrates (460-377 BC), considered to be the Father of Medicine, who believed that psychosis or madness, was caused by the four bodily humours (consisting of black and yellow bile, along with phlegm and blood) becoming unbalanced. He theorised that these humours affected the body, mind and our emotions. He believed that cures could be affected by blood-letting, purgatives, and special diets. Although we may scoff at his ideas today, at least they were more forward thinking than a belief that mental illness was God’s punishment for wrongdoing.
Socrates (470-399 BC), didn’t see madness as a curse in contrast to other philosophers and doctors. Rather he saw it as a blessing, or a gift from the gods. The Romans Asclepiades, and the Cicero had opposing views to Socrates, they believed that ‘black bile’ was not the problem. They thought that it was the negative emotions such as fear, grief and rage were the causes of depression or melancholia. However, in the 2nd century AD, people and physicians, particularly Celsus (c. 25 BC – c. 50 AD), reverted to the belief that madness was indeed the punishment of the gods.
In Europe in the middle ages, it was religion that became central to the search for a cure for madness. There were asylums for the mentally ill, notably that of Bethlehem in London. Some monasteries became centres for the treatment of ‘lunatics’.
Of course, in the early years of the Renaissance, heretics and witches were burned at the stake and these may have been innocent people who were mentally disturbed.
Eventually beliefs began to change and there was more tolerance to the mentally ill. In the 18th century, the French doctor, Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) began advocating humane approaches for treating mental illnesses. His ‘Medico-Philosophical Treatise on Mental Alienation or Mania’ was a notable landmark.
Of course, it was the noted Viennese psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who was mainly responsible for influencing the way psychiatry developed.
Now we have geneticists and brain imagery scanning, as well as effective medications to help those who suffer with mental illnesses. Of course, in Stevenson’s day psychiatry had not been developed.
The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a Gothic novel, with its atmosphere of horror and mystery. This genre was popular in English (and American literature) in the 18thand early 19th centuries.
Examples of Gothic novels
These are listed in no particular order, but they are, arguably, the most well-known Gothic novels.
Now that you have read these suggestions on how to write your Jekyll and Hyde essay, hopefully you feel more confident about actually writing it. You could, if you wanted to, compare ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ with another, or other Gothic novels and also perhaps compare Stevenson’s witting with that of another, or other authors. As long as you focus on this book, and remember that this is an essay, you can write whatever you think is pertinent to the topic.
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