Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde presents a landscape that can be read as a geography of the human mind. The two separate dwellingplaces of Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego , Mr. Hyde, can be analyzed in psychoanalytical terms as representing the conscious and the unconscious. The suppressed desires of the unconscious, which are related to a discourse of homosexuality underwriting the novel, return to haunt and ultimately destroy the mind of Dr. Jekyll.
This paper will examine how the city functions as a mirror of the human mind. It takes a more general approach at first, analyzing different descriptions of the city throughout the novel. As a second step to establish the evidence in order to support the thesis, it will be necessary to take a closer look at the specific geography of Dr. Jekyll’s psyche, arguing that the separate dwelling places of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde represent the conscious and the unconscious in terms of Freudian psychoanalysis. Finally, the paper will examine how this reading allows for an interpretation of Dr. Jekyll’s hidden desires as being related to homosexuality.
Other interpretations concerning these vices are possible and not mutually exclusive with the one pursued in this paper, as, for example, a reading of Jekyll’s mental and physical descent as due to alcoholism and drug abuse. However, a broader analysis taking into account these additional interpretations would be beyond the scope of this paper. It will therefore focuse on the evidence that supports the idea of a homosexual discourse in the novel.
The descriptions of London in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde suggest parallels to the human mind that make a reading of the novel in psychoanalytic terms plausible. When Mr. Utterson investigates the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, he decides to take the police to Mr. Hyde’s house in Soho - the precise description of that house will become important again later. This passage, with its atmosphere of gloom and darkness, is well worth noting:
It was by this time about nine in the morning, and the first fog of the season. A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing theses embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr. Utterson beheld a marvellous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths. The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slattternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful reinvasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyers eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare. The thoughts of his mind, besides, were of the gloomiest dye; and when he glanced at the companion of his drive, he was conscious of some touch of that terror of the law and the law’s officers, which may at times assail the most honest (Stevenson, 15-16).
While Stevenson’s use of color in this passage is quite fascinating, an extensive examination of this theme would be beyond the scope of this paper1. What is interesting, however, is the fact that the general atmosphere of the city, the darkness and weird brown tints that pervade the air and the streets, is linked directly to Mr. Utterson’s thoughts, which are “of the gloomiest dye” - a first indication that the geography and atmosphere of the city can be seen as a mirror of the human mind. Stevenson’s use of language in this passage creates a feeling of depression, even of perturbation - the wind is “charging and routing […] embattled vapours”. Just as Mr. Utterson’s thoughts are deeply disturbed by his premonitions about what he might discover about his friend’s relation to the evil Mr. Hyde, so is the city a space not only of melancholy, but severe anxiety and fear. The city in its gloominess mirrors a mind deeply disturbed by a “nightmare” (Stevenson, 16).
The idea of the city as a landscape of the human mind can also be found in another passage. Interestingly, the darkness and depression characterizing the quarter of Soho in the passage before now extend to the surroundings of Mr. Utterson’s house as well - it appears that the gloominess surrounding Mr. Hyde has spread:
The fog still slept on the wing above the drowned city, where the lamps glimmered like carbuncles; and through the muffle and smother of these fallen clouds, the procession of the town’s life was still rolling in through the great arteries with a sound as of a mighty wind (Stevenson, 20).
1 Note especially the various attributes containing the color brown - such as “chocolate-coloured”, “rich lurid brown”, “brown as umber”, and adjectives like “muddy”, also implying brownness. The coloring strongly suggests implications of opium - compare, for instance, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s description of a London opium den in the Sherlock Holmes short story The Man with the Twisted Lip : “[…] by the light of a flickering oil-lamp above the door I found the latch and made my way into a long, low room, thick and heavy with the brown opium smoke […]” (Conan Doyle, 274). This idea receives additional support from other passages in the novel, related to Dr. Jekyll’s magic potion, where Stevenson’s use of color also indicates drug abuse - in that case, alcoholism. There, the color green can be seen as possibly referring to absinthe (Stevenson, 40).