Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: inneverland

Reputation in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

One of the major themes in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relates to the Victorian anxiety over reputation. This can especially be seen in Dr. Jekyll’s reasoning for experimentation and his need for an escape. The following quote clearly reveals Dr. Jekyll feeling the unspoken need to behave in a certain manner: “Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame.”(pg 42) This obviously led to him seeking a type of outlet for his inappropriate desires, however he released a lifetime of pent-up frustrations and “…shook the doors of the prisonhouse of my disposition; and, like the captives of Philippi, that which stood within ran forth.” (pg 45)  Similarly, this occurred when Dr. Jekyll stopped allowing Mr. Hyde to take over for two months and “…I began to be tortured with throes and longings, as of Hyde struggling after freedom; and at last, in an hour of moral weakness, I once again compounded and swallowed the transforming draught.” (pg 49) In examining Dr. Jekyll’s propensity to escape into the character of Mr. Hyde the argument can be made that Mr. Hyde is the literal physical manifestation of hidden Victorian identities and desires because of the strict Victorian societal structure that controlled every aspect of a person’s life. Contrarily, Dr. Jekyll represents the ideal public image of a Victorian citizen with a good reputation.

Active vs. Passive Narration

It is interesting to compare Watson as a narrator of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with the unknown narrator of “Lady Audley’s Secret”. Watson plays a much more active role as both a narrator and as a character, whereas the narrator in “Lady Audley’s Secret” was only there to observe the other characters. “Holmes laid his hand upon my arm. ‘If my friend would undertake it there is no man who is better worth having at your side when you are in a tight place. No one can say so more confidently than I.’” (pg. 48) from “The Hound of the Baskervilles” compared to just an omnipresent rendition of the events as in “Lady Audley’s Secret”. Watson will also be doing his best to be an accurate narrator because he has been sent on a mission for Holmes, so the reader will be able to observe the plot with a narrator that is paying close attention to everything around him. The reader gets detailed descriptions of the landscape and analyses of the other characters as Watson writes and reports back to Holmes. The narrator of “Lady Audley’s Secret” had no part in the action of the book, and also did not seem to follow one character in particular, and in “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, Watson almost revolves around his interactions with Holmes. On page 27, Watson skipped over most of his day because it was not spent with Holmes: “I therefore spent the day at my club, and did not return to Baker Street until evening. It was nearly nine o’clock when I found myself in the sitting-room once more.” It is only once Watson is distanced by more than a few miles from Holmes that the reader is given a more detailed description of what Watson is doing away from Holmes.

Lady Audley vs. Alicia Audley

“‘What a severe creature you are, Alicia!” said my lady, making a little grimace. ‘I suppose you mean to infer by all that, that I’m deceitful. Why, I can’t help smiling at people, and speaking prettily to them. I know I’m no better than the rest of the world, but I can’t help it if i’m pleasanter. It’s constitutional.’” (Lady Audley, page 108)

Lady Audley’s acknowledgment that she is overly friendly on purpose gives the implication that she is trying to project this happy image that she created as much as possible so that people won’t suspect her of keeping a secret. This relates to the binary found in this passage where Lady Audley is trying to outwardly portray the ideal Victorian woman and fulfills the “Angel of the household” stereotype – charming and innocent – all while working to shield her secrets from the rest of the characters. Lady Audley is often contrasted with Alicia Audley, who is active (especially for a Victorian lady) and is constantly described as being in motion with her “bouncing walk”. Another notable Alicia characteristic that differs from Lady Audley is that she is full of passion – as evidenced by her shouting at her cousin Robert. Alicia being pushed out of the domestic sphere when Lucy became Lady Audley adds to the binary of Lady Audley doing everything she can to avoid suspicion. However, Alicia thinks that Lady Audley is too friendly, and does not consider her to be genuine. This assessment relates back to the poem “The Last Duchess”. Both Lady Audley and the Duchess are described as being overly nice and borderline flirtatious. Here, however, it seems that Michael Audley is not suspicious of his wife at all and is instead completely under her thumb. Instead is it the “wild” character Alicia and the animals (the dog and horse) that do not trust Lady Audley.

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