Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The True Horror of Jekyll and Hyde

The setting of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde marks a shocking transition between the comfortable London setting first introduced, to a nightmarish realm brought on by Mr. Hyde. Though Jekyll and Hyde mirrors the creepy gothic settings of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles, this dramatic shift in mood is truly scary, as it shows how the familiar is altered to create the horrific. Supernatural themes are evident from the descriptions of fog, mist, and vacant London streets. Following the murder of Danvers Carew, Mr. Utterson notes how “the dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful reinvasion of darkness, seemed in the lawyer’s eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare” (16). Mr. Hyde has changed London into some sort of twisted realm by introducing his cruelty and wickedness to the scene.

All three novels describe dark, chilling settings, but only in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is there such a change between the original, lighthearted setting, to the colder, more gothic setting described later on. Essentially, London changes from a place of safety to one of darkness and emptiness. While Dracula displays a similarly mysterious and spooky setting, it seems that it has existed as such since the beginning of time; no recent development changed Transylvania into a gothic, mysterious land – it has always existed as such. Though Transylvania is undeniably creepy, with its “dark, rolling clouds overhead, and in the air the heavy, oppressive sense of thunder,” this setting is significantly less striking than the change that occurs in London after the murder of Danvers Carew (14). While Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield had previously noted how “the shop fronts [of London] stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen,” Danvers Carew’s murder seems to have completely altered London, as if his death set a gloom over the entire city (2). This transition, from the comfortable and familiar to the disturbing and strange, provokes an unsettling feeling in readers, and is perhaps what makes Jekyll and Hyde seem even more frightening than Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles, despite its lack of a supernatural monster.


  1. I did not notice how different the description of London are until you pointed it out. I think the description of London in a more gritty and dark way that we have seen before might be attributed to the idea of bringing the fears closer and closer to home for the Victorian reader. I also think this depiction is related to the progressive pollution and filth of London. Stevenson gives an actually realistic portrayal of London at the time because at the time, “It had choking, sooty fogs; the Thames River was thick with human sewage; and the streets were covered with mud.” (‘Dirty Old London’: A History Of The Victorians’ Infamous Filth. NPR) Rather than somewhere like Transylvania, which was characterized as terrifying, Stevenson utilizes the realities of London to paint and almost more eerie setting.

  2. The observation you made, regarding London’s transformation from one of a place of safety and security to a “twisted realm,” brings up an interesting aspect of the Jekyll and Hyde idea. The main concept I took away from this novel is that people put up a variety of different fronts when going about their lives in society, but underneath these fronts lies their real way of being. Sometimes all it takes is one slip up to reveal the real person that lies beneath the front. In the case of London, the fog, mist, and vacant streets may have always been a part of the city, but the introduction of a murder to this area now makes these attributes creepy and disturbing. This is because we now know that the fog, mist, and vacant streets hide something sinister and that now makes these attributes scary.

  3. Within the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Hound of the Baskervilles, what appears to be uncanny and supernatural actually turns out to have a rational explanation. The mysterious and scary settings convey the emotions within both the stories. The fog within both texts demonstrates the lack of clarity surrounding the plots. It seems that the creepiness of the setting contributes to the overall sentiments of the stories.

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