A Discourse Analysis of Lombroso's "Criminal Man" in Stevenson’s "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde"

Term Paper, 2014
13 Pages


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Degeneration, Atavism and Lombroso’s Criminal Man

3. Edward Hyde and the Criminal Man
3.1 Atavism and Criminality
3.2 Diseases Creating the Criminal Man
3.3 The Environment of the Criminal Man

4. Defining the Source of Victorian Fear

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

1. Introduction

During the nineteenth century, there was a tremendous development of new sciences. Susanne Scholz argues that on the one side these new disciplines transformed human beings into objects of investigation and they tried to determine the boundaries of the human as well as to establish boundaries between culture and pathology. On the other side this new path of socio-political and sociobiological thinking developed into a fatal continuum, which engendered the growth of cultural anxieties and fascinations accompanied by coping strategies including Social Darwinism (Scholz 3). Charles Darwin’s investigations on the origin of species, which were published in 1859, had a great influence on the Victorian society and they created fear of the status of the human subject (Scholz 4). According to his theories, evolution and civilisation are processes of continuous development and a fight against adverse conditions. If this would be the case, the whole process could also shift backwards and change evolution into degeneration (Scholz 4). Charles Darwin presented a line of development, which inevitably leads from the ape to the atavistic stages of human development, finishing in the peak of the civilised human beings, the English gentleman (Scholz 4). Because of the fear, that among English gentleman, processes of degeneration could transform the civilised humans back to their atavistic roots, there was a great need of new sciences and methods, which could visualise the unknown.

The gothic romance Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson is a great example to show how the fear of degeneration could be portrayed in literature and how these signs could be examined by means of the new developed sciences. Therefore, this seminar paper will focus on a discourse analysis as critical approach in terms of Michel Foucault, to show how the discourses of criminal anthropology and evolutional biology are captured in the novel, in which contexts they are embedded and which functions they could serve. The epistemological interest of this seminar paper is further to see how the specific perception of the Criminal Man introduced by Cesare Lombroso resembles the figure of Edward Hyde and in which way there were attempts to classify the unknown in this novel. In the novel we can find a great number of signs, which describe the visual appearance of its figures. This is enforced by the fact that the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Dr Hyde is literary a case study, which is put into a narrative form. In this sense, the human body becomes a text, complete with signifiers of degeneration that have to be identified. As Stephen Arata recognised the novel in fact asks us to do more than simply register the all to apparent marks of Edward Hyde’s degeneracy (Arata 233). In order to disparate this abundance of signifiers the method of close reading will be used in this seminar paper.

2. Degeneration, Atavism and Lombroso’s Criminal Man

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the notion of degeneration became increasingly powerful and the fear of degeneration developed into a dominant literary theme (Olson 277). Benedict Augustin Morel (1809-1873) was one of the leading researchers investigating the degeneration theory. He defined the concept as follows: “Degenerations are deviations from the normal human type which are transmissible by heredity and which deteriorate progressively towards extinction” (Ackerknecht 55). In England, the debates concerning degeneration seem to have been more diffuse than elsewhere in Europe, but even so, biological theories of decline heavily influenced social critique of that time (Pick 5). In England the contemporary researching biologist, E. Ray Lankester made degeneration to the subject of his book, Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism (1880). He defined degeneration as “[…] a gradual change of the structure in which the organism becomes adapted to less varied and less complex conditions of life […]” (Lankester 32) and he extended the evolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin stating that through the process of natural selection one of three results can be generated in an organism: balance, elaboration or degeneration (Lankester 29). In the debates concerning degeneration, the concept of atavism played a significant role. This concept first appeared in the 1830’s and was followed by a 30-year period in which scientists struggled to make a clear conceptual distinction between (normal) variation on the one hand and anomalies (monstrosities) on the other (Verwey 46). In 1909, J.A. Thomson compared atavism and reversion and stated that “It remains justifiable to use 'atavism' and 'reversion' as synonyms denoting the hereditary re-appearance of characters which were latent in the parents at least, but which were expressed in definite […] ancestors near or remote (Thomson 167).

According to Richard Olson the Victorian society in the late nineteenth century began to fear the spectre of degeneration. It was a word filled with connotations of poverty, criminality and insanity (Olson 277). The fear, that among English gentlemen, processes of degeneration could transform the civilised humanity back to their atavistic roots found particular resonance in a relatively new field of scientific study: criminal anthropology. The imagination that “The criminal is an atavistic being, a relic of a vanished race” (Ferrero 135), made it necessary to explore the criminal nature of human beings and to give a face to atavism in order to prevent possible danger. One of the leading researchers in this new field of study was Cesare Lombroso. Cesare Lombroso was an Italian doctor, physician and criminologist who is considered to be the founding father of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology (Renneville 289). Before his time there have already been a lot of attempts to examine the criminal nature of human beings. These endeavours are mainly connected to Cesare Beccaria who was the founder of the Classical School of Penal Jurisprudence (Ferrero 4). This branch of criminal research claimed that all criminals are endowed with intelligence and feelings like normal individuals and that they consciously commit their crimes due to their unrestrained desire for evil (Ferrero 5). Cesare Lombroso disagreed and advanced his own theory of criminal anthropology. In his opinion, criminal anthropology is part of the Modern School of Jurisprudence, which claims that the anti-social tendencies of criminals are the result of their physical and psychic organisation, which differs essentially from that of normal individuals (5). As a consequence he defined criminal anthropology as: “[…] the Natural History of the Criminal, because it embraces his organic and psychic constitution and social life, just as anthropology does in the case of normal human beings and the different races.” (5)

In this way, Cesare Lombroso transformed criminality into an empirical science with a certain implementation. He defined the practical application and the usage of Criminal Anthropology as:

It is generally used in deciding to which category of crime a particular offender belongs, whether he is a born criminal, a morally insane subject, an occasional criminal, or a criminaloid; but in certain cases the examination may be of value in establishing the innocence of an accused person, or in recognising in an accuser an insane individual whose accusation originates in some delusion and not in a knowledge of the facts (Ferrero 262).

Combined with the established theories concerning degeneration, he could now detect the atavistic nature of criminals. Cesare Lombroso tried to describe the physiognomy of the Criminal Man and formulated his theory about atavism and crime in the following way:

This was not merely an idea, but a revelation. At the sight of that skull, I seemed to see all of a sudden, lighted up as a vast plain under a flaming sky, the problem of the nature of the criminal—an atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals. Thus were explained anatomically the enormous jaws, high cheek-bones, prominent superciliary arches, solitary lines in the palms, extreme size of the orbits, handle-shaped or sessile ears found in criminals, savages, and apes, insensibility to pain, extremely acute sight, tattooing, excessive idleness, love of orgies, and the irresistible craving for evil for its own sake, the desire not only to extinguish life in the victim, but to mutilate the corpse, tear its flesh, and drink its blood (Ferrero XV).


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A Discourse Analysis of Lombroso's "Criminal Man" in Stevenson’s "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde"
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg
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discourse, analysis, lombroso, criminal, man”, stevenson’s, strange, case, jekyll, hyde
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Chris Gebhardt (Author), 2014, A Discourse Analysis of Lombroso's "Criminal Man" in Stevenson’s "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/271917


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