Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Physiognomy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In the short novel the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the idea of physiognomy is used to show that Mr. Hyde is not a trustworthy person. Physiognomy is the idea that a person’s outer appearance could reveal something explicit about a person’s character. After Mr. Utterson asks Mr. Hyde to reveal his face the narrator describes Mr. Hyde as, “pale and dwarfish; he gave the impression of deformity without any namable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had born himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness… all of these were points against him” (Stevenson 10). The description of Mr. Hyde is very interesting because of how it focuses on his appearance as evidence for him being evil. Mr. Hyde is described as “dwarfish” and possibly having a mild disability. However, the language of the passage causes the reader to wonder if maybe Mr. Hyde is possibly insane. The use of the word “impression” shows that part of what makes Mr. Utterson think Mr. Hyde is deformed comes not only from his appearance but also from his actions. Mr. Hyde’s “displeasing smile” also could be the result of his physical appearance or how he chooses to present himself to the world. The description of Mr. Hyde also reminded me of a woman since he is said to be small, and timid. All of these words reveal that because of how Mr. Hyde looks and carries himself, he is perceived as abnormal.

2 Comments

  1. The transformation of Mr. Hyde in the form of physiognomy is precisely how I perceived him, someone not to be taken at face value. His construct is to be the opposite of what in my mind at least, how a human should conform to what is considered normal. You bring up many similar points to what I had in my mind while reading the novel. Your comment on how he carries or presents himself being similar to that of a woman is something I had not thought of but now see a correlation too.

  2. I found your analysis interesting because I also believe that Mr.Hyde is implied to be disabled. I see this not only in his physical features but also in his social behaviors as well when he avoids. Utterman describes Hyde as a “troglodyte”, or a hermit, after his interaction with Hyde. I looked into it further and found that the attitudes towards disabled people hardened in the 19th century as asylums and institutions became more prevalent. People believed it was a waste to take care of the disabled in their own homes. Institutionalization became the default to the point where,
    “At the beginning of the 19th century, a few hundred people were living in nine small charitable asylums. By 1900, more than 100,000 ‘idiots and lunatics’ were in 120 county pauper asylums. A further 10,000 were in workhouses.” (https://historicengland.org.uk/research/inclusive-heritage/disability-history/1832-1914/#)

    Since disabled people were cut off from society at this point in history and painted as others, seeing them living in so-called “normal” society must have been disdained as a result. I think Mr.Hyde is a representation of the public sentiment toward disabled people at the time, in which people who were different, especially outwardly, should be out of sight in common society.

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