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September 7, 2013

Essay on European Society in 19th Century

European 19th Century Society
“Man is not truly one, but truly two.” This statement of Dr Jekyll echoes the inner pondering and psychology of human beings in general but also encompass the hypocritical essence of the European nineteenth century society.  Robert Louis Stevenson in his novella titled “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” introduces the character of Jekyll in order to mirror the multi-faceted aspects of Victorian society.  This highlights the ingrained sexism and the undeniable grip of lopsided class system. Moreover, the story unleashes the friction between science and religion that was taking hold in almost dystopian civilization drawing on the Victorian literary ideals that compelled the writers to depict the social fabric in a peculiar way.  Sigmund Freud was an influential figure of modern psychology. His ideas and theories have left a far-reaching impact on the western thought.  He represents the age of anxiety of the changing world.  He is the father of modern day psychology, he believed in the power of the unconscious mind that past experiences affect our behavior. The same applies to both an individual and the society at large.  
One facet of the European society highlighted in Stevenson’s work is the sexism embedded into the minds of the Victorians. The most important one is that there is only a fleeting mention of female characters in the book throughout the novel. Quite glaringly, the idea is that this was an extremely patriarchal society and women were considered too weak to shape up the important events in the society. Their role was merely reduced to the household.
The language employed in the novel, specifically on page 55, where Hyde is shown as “weeping like a woman,” depicts precisely how women are only seen as frail human beings that would have cranial capacity only to pass out or cry whenever any emotionally disturbing event occurred. This is also evident on page 30, in the wake of Sir Danver’s murder, “At the horror of these sights and sounds, the maidservant fainted,” – a very stereotypical Victorian ideal of a frail woman who is unable to make intelligent choices and decisions.[1]
The book also sheds light on the conflict between science and religion which was a predominant concern for the Victorian people. On the one hand, religion is seen as something secondary. For example, Poole’s first phrase of choice to show his solemnity was “I give you my bible word,” and on page 26, Lanyon is dubbed as calling Jekyll’s works “scientific heresies”. Many Victorians debunked science as being an aesthetic idea. The fact remains that these two opposing ideas were exploited by the Victorians to counter each revealing their obsession with this heated topic of the time.
The novella also points out the effects Science had on the common public. There is a constant reference of Darwin’s theory of evolution. For example, following the murder of Hyde is shown as possessing “ape - like fury,” perhaps an idea of reverse evolution into our more primitive form.[2]
The structure of parts of the book also mirrors a more scientific approach to situations which could before have been dealt with superstition and the words of bible. On pages 41 and 63, this is explained by sections of text that take each event methodically, as if they were notes from an experiment.
Chemistry is also seen as an emerging science. This is the reason why Jekyll makes the most of chemistry in order to transform Hyde. At this point Stevenson also seems to endorse the feasibility of such an idea since this subject had hitherto remained unexplored. Perhaps, if he were to write ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ today, the means of transformation might have been genetic science.
The book’s portrayal of science evinces drug and alcohol abuse at dire levels. Utterson sees “a gin palace,” and women passing out for their “morning glass,” which glaringly reflects that the cheap gin available destroyed the lives of many, in much the same way as the drugs that is only hinted at in the book. On page 66, Lanyon mentions the “convulsive action” of Hyde’s jaws, which, in modern days, is recognized as a symptom of cocaine abuse.
In those times, the scientific innovation was taking over the Victorian thought process to become a commonplace in the lives of people. The conflict between these two poles is represented precisely on page 49, where they are in a position where Jekyll turning in to Hyde symbolises the advance of science - a cause for fear. Poole then turns hastily back to the comfortable reassurance of religion, with the words “God grant there be nothing wrong.”
“All human beings are commingled out of good and evil.” The Victorians expected a lot from the content and plot of their literature since they did not believe in the aimless ramblings of words. They tended to shun direct images of depravity, and rather only referred to what would have been dubbed as graphic scenes in the novel. They sought to base their book on a positive note where loyalty and courage was rewarded and evil, corruption punished. 
It seems that the way Stevenson heightened the shock value of the crime was to contrast it earlier by describing, at length, the tranquility of the night and goodness of Sir Danvers, and by later mentioning that “a purse and gold watch were found upon the victim,” illustrating that the attack had no motive other than to kill.
The novella also draws on the complexity of class system prevalent in Europe in the nineteenth century. This caused a lot of problems affecting almost every citizen of the time.  The upper classes in the book are depicted as being decent and respectable, and living in grand abodes with rewarding professions. Jekyll, for instance - a doctor, and Utterson, a lawyer, treats each other well with a host of servants at their bidding. The lower classes are shown in a different light though.  They are shown be unemployed or involved in prostitution. They either live in tiny quarters within their masters houses, or amongst “slatternly passageways,” in the “dismal quarter of Soho,” which Utterson himself calls conditions from a “nightmare.” This was an age of transformation from religious to scientific values. [3]
Prior to the murder, Sir Danvers, being the most prominent character holding highest position in the class system is described as  a  “beautiful gentleman with white hair,” an image of goodness and purity. The lower class characters, appearing so little, only ever really appear as background imagery, a vehicle through which Stevenson could move the plot forward, or working under the instruction of their upper class employers. Poole is the only lower class character who is developed at all and seemingly only because, as a butler to a large household, he is somehow closer to his masters, and has control over the other servants.[4]
This implies that the upper classes in society were required to make the decision making process possible and to shape the events in the society. On the other hand, the lower classes were expected to run errands or live ineffectual lives.
In the book, this is established by the stringent rules of addressing members of another class. If a servant were to address their employer, such as on page 48, they would be sure to either say “Mr,” or “Sir,” in the sentence. In the implausible event that a member of the upper class would dignify them with a name, they would use the surname, since using the Christian name would be tantamount to showing affection.[5]
In Jekyll’s narrative, Stevenson explores the duality of the psychology of man. He explains how it is human nature to be hypocritical, and indeed his entire novella depicts a picture of a society characterized by inherent contradictions. Europe in nineteenth century claimed to be the most progressive one but ironically women were suppressed.


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