Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: Gabi

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.

Colonization and Attraction in Dracula

Evidently, Dracula responds to a fear of reverse colonization in the United Kingdom. He represents the threat of foreigners invading England and wreaking havoc upon English people and ways of life. Dracula is free to reign over Transylvanians, yet it is only when he threatens the motherland of England that the courageous Brits muster up the strength to defeat him. Though Dracula had existed in Transylvania for centuries, only when he begins to threaten Great Britain with his wrath does he become a legitimate threat, one that is worth taking action against. Moreso, the emphasis on Dracula’s foreignness represents England’s preoccupation and fascination with all things exotic. Upon viewing Dracula’s castle, Mina notes how “there was something wild and uncanny about the place,” perhaps suggesting that Transylvania is an unruly place that must be subjugated by the English in order to be controlled (439). Additionally, all the vampires have a seductive, alluring quality that confounds the other characters. His strangely beautiful and attractive appearance seems to pose a threat to the other male characters. Despite Lucy’s three suitors, it seems that Dracula got the best of her in the end, turning her into a vampire and effectively killing her. Only by destroying Dracula are they able to save Mina from becoming like him, too. English colonialism is very much present in these ideas; the only way to protect English ideals are through conquering and destroying Dracula and the other vampires. In the end, Lucy resembles him in that she shares a similar foreign beauty that is almost repulsive to the British men. She becomes voluptuous, like the other foreign female vampires. In a way, Lucy becomes like those exotic women – seductive and desirable, yet repulsive. Dracula, an unwanted foreigner has taken and corrupted the delicate, innocent English woman and turned her into a lustful, child consuming monster that rejects any and all notions of western femininity.  Only after killing Lucy are they able to restore Lucy to how “we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity” (264). Thus, the vampires represent an obvious bias against foreigners – that they will invade the country, stealing and corrupting their women, thus devastating English culture and ideals.

Dracula and Madness

Ideas of sanity and insanity are both clear cut and obscure throughout Dracula. We have blatant forms of insanity – such as the clearly crazed Renfield – yet we also have other characters who exhibit more obscure signs of madness, such as Lucy and Jonathan. Lucy is put under constant surveillance, as she often sleepwalks throughout the night. Moreso, even when awake she can be found in a trance, as if enchanted by Dracula’s influence. When Lucy spots Dracula on her walk with Mina, she notes “‘his red eyes again! They are just the same’” (126). Mina reflects that Lucy went into a “half-dreamy state, with an odd look on her face” (126). Merely seeing Dracula is enough to cast Lucy into a daze. Somehow he manages to disturb the inner workings of the brain, perhaps in order to get his victims to do his biddings for him. Lucy, for example, is so entranced by Dracula that she leaves her bedroom in the freezing cold to meet him outside, where he consequently sucks her blood.

Similarly, Jonathan goes insane following his time spent with Dracula. While it may be fair to attribute his hospitalization to the disturbed, terror inducing torture he endured in Dracula’s abode, his severe reaction seems to suggest something more than that. After escaping Dracula’s castle, he is hospitalized for brain fever. It seems that Dracula inspires madness in his victims. The mere sight of him is enough to catapult an entire crew of men off of their own ship. Upon seeing Dracula, one of the last men aboard the Demeter emerges from the hold “a raging madman, with his eyes rolling and his face convulsed with fear” (113). After a few moments, “his horror turned to despair and… he sprang on the bulwark and deliberately threw himself into the sea” (113). A single interaction with Dracula is enough to send each man overboard, as each man opts for suicide over enduring the rest of the trip with Dracula. In general, it seems that Dracula’s presence sends characters into a state of self-destructive madness.

Gothic Hounds

“He​ ​was​ ​honestly​ ​convinced​ ​that​ ​a​ ​dreadful​ ​fate​ ​overhung​ ​his​ ​family,​ ​and​ ​certainly​ ​the​ ​records 
which​ ​he​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to​ ​give​ ​of​ ​his​ ​ancestors​ ​were​ ​not​ ​encouraging.​ ​The​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​some​ ​ghastly 
presence​ ​constantly​ ​haunted​ ​him”​ ​(19) 
This​ ​quote​ ​shows​ ​a​ ​direct​ ​connection​ ​between​ ​​The Hound of the Baskervilles​ ​​and​ ​the​ ​gothic 
genre,​ ​through​ ​its​ ​reference​ ​to​ ​the​ ​supernatural​ ​and​ ​Sir​ ​Charles​ ​Baskerville’s​ ​overwhelming 
dread.​ ​Sir​ ​Charles​ ​Baskerville​ ​is,​ ​in​ ​his​ ​final​ ​months,​ ​depicted​ ​in​ ​great​ ​stress​ ​due​ ​to​ ​the​ ​belief 
that​ ​“some​ ​ghastly​ ​presence”​ ​-​ ​namely​ ​the​ ​hellhound​ ​-​ ​was​ ​lurking​ ​around​ ​him​ ​and​ ​intended​ ​to 
kill​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​feared​ ​a​ ​gruesome​ ​demise,​ ​in​ ​continuance​ ​with​ ​his​ ​family’s​ ​past​ ​history.​ ​Sir​ ​Charles 
Baskerville’s​ ​constant​ ​anxieties​ ​also​ ​connects​ ​this​ ​passage​ ​with​ ​the​ ​crisis​ ​trope​ ​of​ ​gothic 
literature;​ ​he​ ​was​ ​“constantly​ ​haunted”​ ​and​ ​clearly​ ​tortured​ ​by​ ​these​ ​fears​ ​to​ ​such​ ​a​ ​degree​ ​that 
his​ ​anxiety​ ​“was​ ​having​ ​a​ ​serious​ ​effect​ ​upon​ ​his​ ​health,”​ ​and​ ​ultimately​ ​lead​ ​to​ ​a​ ​heart​ ​attack 
(20).​ ​His​ ​dread​ ​of​ ​the​ ​supernatural​ ​provides​ ​a​ ​connection​ ​between​ ​the​ ​novel​ ​and​ ​the​ ​gothic 
Nonetheless,​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​predetermination​ ​is​ ​not​ ​a​ ​common​ ​theme​ ​of​ ​gothic​ ​novels;​ ​here,​ ​Sir 
Charles​ ​is​ ​convinced​ ​that​ ​he​ ​is​ ​predetermined​ ​to​ ​die​ ​in​ ​a​ ​gruesome​ ​way,​ ​due​ ​to​ ​his​ ​family’s 
lineage.​ ​While​ ​this​ ​concept​ ​does​ ​not​ ​necessarily​ ​play​ ​a​ ​large​ ​role​ ​in​ ​gothic​ ​novels,​ ​it​ ​may,​ ​in​ ​​The Hound of the Baskervilles,​ ​allow​ ​for​ ​an​ ​interesting​ ​plot​ ​device,​ ​as​ ​characters​ ​attempt​ ​to​ ​avoid​ ​a 
fate​ ​that​ ​readers​ ​know​ ​they​ ​are​ ​ultimately​ ​destined​ ​for.​ ​Perhaps​ ​Sir​ ​Henry​ ​will,​ ​like​ ​Oedipus, 
attempt​ ​to​ ​cheat​ ​his​ ​destiny,​ ​yet​ ​ultimately​ ​fail,​ ​causing​ ​his​ ​further​ ​trauma​ ​and​ ​pain.​ ​Maybe​ ​Sir 
Arthur​ ​Conan​ ​Doyle​ ​will​ ​use​ ​a​ ​similar​ ​plot​ ​approach​ ​in​ ​​The Hound of the Baskervilles.

What does Lucy have to lose?

“‘Do you remember, Phoebe. . . that French story we read – the story of a beautiful woman who committed some crime – I forget what – in the zenith of her power and loveliness, when all Paris drank to her every night, and when the people ran away from the carriage of the king to flock about hers, and get a peep at her face?’” (Braddon 109)

This passage emphasizes the juxtaposition between beauty and sins, how a woman of such loveliness, with such grand fortune could sink so low. As she recounts the story to Phoebe, Lady Audley emphasizes the woman’s fame, her beauty, and belovedness over the actual crime she committed. She never actually states the woman’s crime, as if her popularity was more important than her wrongdoings. Lucy seems to justify malevolence with beauty and fame; she pities this woman, expressing more sympathy for her loss of followership than concern over her sin.  This tale mirrors her own life story, as she conveys herself as this fresh, youthful, fairy-like woman, while she seems to be hiding a much darker interior.

Nonetheless,  this story seems to reflect Lady Audley’s fears of growing old and losing the support of those around her. Eventually, when her beauty has faded, Lucy will not hold the same power over her followers. As Lucy asks Phoebe, “‘What is to become of me when I grow old?’” she expresses a fear of losing the adoration of her followers after her beauty has faded (Braddon 109); she fears a loss of power, that she will no longer be able to enchant and seduce a crowd with her looks, and that they will inevitably turn on her. The question arises: what is Lady Audley concerned that they will discover? Or, more succinctly, what is Lady Audley’s secret?

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