Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Dr. Lanyon – Not Your Average Man of Science

One element that connects many of our texts is the explicit binary between science and the supernatural. This becomes especially apparent if one compares Robert Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stevenson’s Dr. Lanyon – a minor characters in the narrative that still serves an immense purpose in its progression – does not believe in the supernatural. He is the voice of reason in an essentially mystical Victorian London. Dr. Jekyll – like Dr. Lanyon – is a respected and successful doctor but he chose a different path. Unlike his colleague Dr. Lanyon, he experiments with the human soul which Dr. Lanyon dismisses as “unscientific balderdash” (17).  In this regard Lanyon reminds me a lot of the other – often medically or otherwise scientifically – inclined male characters in our class readings. Examples include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dracula’s Dr. Seward. While Holmes’ disbelief in the supernatural is confirmed when the apparently supernatural hound in The Hound of the Baskervilles turns out to be nothing more than an illusion, Dr. Seward and Dr. Lanyon are equally confronted with the actual presence of the supernatural in their Victorian world. Both men are medical doctors who doubt the spiritualism of some of their contemporaries – in this case mainly represented by Stoker’s Van Helsing and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll respectively. The main difference between Seward and Lanyon, however, is how these two men deal with their new knowledge of the supernatural. Dr. Seward learns about the existence of bloodthirsty vampires and without hesitation joins Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker in finding and fighting Count Dracula. In Dr. Lanyon’s letter towards the end of the narrative, we are told that Lanyon is in fact the first person to observe the transformation of Mr. Hyde into Dr. Jekyll. Being present and observing this mystical transformation makes Lanyon’s whole worldview collapse, his “life is shaken to its roots” (102). He tells Utterson that he “sometimes think[s] if we knew all, we should be more glad to get away” (56). Accordingly, Dr. Lanyon prefers to leave a world in which the supernatural exists and suspends science and reason – the main principles that govern his life.

Overall, ‘men of science’ can be found in most of our Victorian readings. Due to the established binary of science and the supernatural, these men’s’ principles are usually tested and pushed to their limits. Yet, the characters react to this revelation in very different ways. Dr. Seward takes action and fights the supernatural vampire, Dr. Lanyon becomes passive and resorts to silence. He chooses not to speak about what he has observed and only tells his friend Utterson about it in a letter that Utterson may read after Lanyon’s death. The reason for these varying reactions to the supernatural might be found in the general setups of the two narratives. In Stoker’s Dracula, Dr. Seward plays a crucial role and can be considered one of the main characters. Stevenson’s Dr. Lanyon, however, is only a minor character that has few appearances in the narrative. Accordingly, he does not become an essential part of the story’s resolution like Dr. Seward in Dracula. Generally, one can say that Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde does not have a resolution at all. After the confessions of Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll, the narrative ends and there is no climactic ending in which the evil supernatural being is hunted down and killed. Thus, Dr. Lanyon reacted to the supernatural in a very different way than Dr. Seward because the two men, despite their similarities, serve very different purposes in two rather differently structured narrative.

 

Works Cited:

Stevenson, Robert. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. C. Scribner’s Sons, New York: 1886. Print.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with your claim about science and the supernatural in these two texts. Another interesting thing to note about science and the supernatural and both these stories, is that science in some way seems to be woven in with evil. In the case of Dracula, Dracula is a man of science yet is a supernatural, evil being himself. In the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll uses science to transform into an evil being. In both texts the reader gets the feeling that there is something about science that can be the means to evil, even if science itself is not evil. Considering this, the endings are very telling. For Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, there is no clear defeat of evil while in Dracula there is. As a result, as you mentioned, both texts ultimately treat the supernatural different.

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