Places: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1886

Type of work: Novella

Type of plot: Gothic

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, TheGreat Britain’s capital and leading city is the general setting for the novella. The story depends for its effect on a suitably gothic atmosphere, and its portrayal of London is one of the great triumphs of the work. However, in the view of many scholars, Stevenson’s London is based more on his native Edinburgh, Scotland, than on the actual London of his time.

The story’s London is full of ominously empty streets and glaring lamps; it is silvered by ghostly moonlight or drowned in impenetrable fog. Its streets echo with sinister footsteps, and it is a place of questionable neighborhoods, strange houses, and dubious doors. Fog penetrates the very interiors of houses; biting winds whip sparse trees against railings, and even in the daylight, fog and mist can create ghostly and frightening phantasmagorias. In this story, London is mostly a city of the night, a place in whose darkness or under whose lurid lamps a child can be trampled or a dignified old man be murdered. Stevenson creates the overwhelming sense that just beyond the warm hearths and respectable characters’ sitting rooms there lurks a dark and dangerous place.

Jekyll’s house

Jekyll’s house. London residence of Dr. Henry Jekyll. Like Jekyll himself, his house is possessed of a dual and bifurcated nature. Indeed, almost every detail of the house reflects symbolically his character and situation. Jekyll’s “official” house has a respectable and handsome facade, a door that is opened by an old and decent servant, and an interior that is expressive of wealth, comfort, and security. This house, or the public part of his house, is a perfect expression of the front that the eminently respectable Dr. Jekyll presents to the world.

In his investigations, the lawyer Gabriel John Utterson learns that what he has taken to be Jekyll’s house is actually only one part of a larger residence. The respectable house that Utterson first knows is connected through a back door and a small yard to a mysterious and sinister part of the house that is at once attached to, and separate from, its imposing opposite side. Every aspect of this dark side of the residence reveals something about Jekyll’s own other side. It is a dingy, secretive, disorderly place that contains a laboratory (once a dissecting room) and a kind of inner sanctum which is referred to as the “doctor’s cabinet.”

It is also worth noting that the small yard that connects the two sides of Jekyll’s residence was once a garden but is so no longer. Finally, the dark side of Jekyll’s house has its own front side and door that seem at first unconnected to the other side of the house; they are blank, ugly, sordid, and ominous. It is through the entrance on this side of the house that Mr. Hyde comes and goes. In coming to understand the strange two-sidedness of Dr. Jekyll’s house, Utterson approaches and foreshadows an understanding of Jekyll himself.

Utterson’s house

Utterson’s house. London home of Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer. This house is comfortable, safe, respectable, and sterile. It is a place from which everything unconventional, imaginative, or odd has been expelled. It reflects Utterson’s dry bachelor ways and his masculine professionalism. Utterson’s house is the embodiment of Victorian respectability that Jekyll worships in his Jekyll form but rebels against in his Hyde form.

Lanyon’s house

Lanyon’s house. Home of Dr. Hastie Lanyon, Jekyll’s friend and medical colleague, in London’s Cavendish Square. This fashionable house reflects Lanyon’s stature as a physician and his general success. In this comfortable and hospitable home, Lanyon sees to his growing medical practice and entertains his friends. Like Utterson’s house and one side of Jekyll’s home, Lanyon’s residence is a symbol of a repressive but brittle respectability. When Lanyon witnesses Hyde’s transformation back to Jekyll within his own home, the sight utterly destroys all that he and his house represent.

Hyde’s house

Hyde’s house. Squalid residence of Mr. Hyde in London’s dismal Soho district. When Utterson finds the house, he experiences it and its neighborhood as a kind of dingy nightmare. The house is a dark and wicked place, but it reveals a few hints of Hyde’s connection to Jekyll.

BibliographyEigner, Edwin M. Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. Relates The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the tradition of the nineteenth century prose romance. As evidence, Eigner considers the novella’s narrative structure, the theme of pursuit, and the struggle of the hero against self.Geduld, Harry M., ed. The Definitive “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Companion. New York: Garland, 1983. An anthology offering a wide spectrum of approaches from commentary to parodies and sequels. Appendices list the main editions; recordings; staged, filmed, and televised versions; and published and unpublished adaptions.Jefford, Andrew. “Dr. Jekyll and Professor Nabokov: Reading a Reading.” In Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Andrew Noble. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Evaluates the main points of writer and teacher Vladimir Nabokov’s eccentric reading of the work. Provides a brief summary of Nabokov’s lecture.Maixner, Paul, ed. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In Robert Louis Stevenson: The Critical Heritage. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. This selection of opinions from Stevenson’s contemporaries, while often superficial and out of date, is of historical interest. Includes a rejoinder by Stevenson to his critics.Swearingen, Roger G. The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson: A Guide. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1980. Supplies details regarding publication and Stevenson’s sources of inspiration. Draws on letters, memoirs, and interviews to discuss the circumstances surrounding the writing of the work.
Categories: Places