The Victorian Era, as we discussed, was a time of emerging developments in scientific knowledge. Involved in this was a growing fascination with the duality of the brain. The left brain, as Victorian Science deemed, was an independent entity bound by logic, whereas the right hemisphere of the brain was an independent emotional organ. Men were seen as having more emphasized left brains while women had more pronounced left brains. Furthermore, institutionally insane individuals were thought to have overwhelmingly powerful right brains. This novel interestingly explores the idea that the brain is, in fact, split into two separate entities and that they take control of each other unbeknownst to the individual.

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” presents a fascinating and horrific depiction of Dissociative Identity Disorder, aka split personality disorder. The short novel seems to function as an extension or expansion on the notions of physiognomy and phrenology mentioned in other works we have read. The phenomenon in which one’s brain abruptly flips switches is something that I can not fully comprehend. Though, Robert Louis Stevenson does a nice job of mirroring this mental lapse in written form. In the chapter, “The Carew Murder Case,” the opening paragraph describes the maid’s state of mind before she witnesses the event, describing how she “never had felt more at peace with all men or thought more kindly of the world.” The maid proceeds to describe Carew, recalling how “the moon shone on his face as he spoke, and the girl was pleased to watch it, it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition.” This kind depiction of the setting and characters in the first roughly 60 percent of the paragraph is met viciously with her eyes wandering to the other man in the encounter: Mr. Hyde. The maid describes how Mr. Hyde listens to the man with a sickly impatience before brandishing his cane and “[clubbing] him to the earth…with ape-like fury.” The rapid change in language done by Stevenson comes about so abruptly, yet smoothly. In the blink of an eye, the reader has teleported into a new state of being. We have not yet experienced the transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde or vice versa in real time; he simply appears as one of his personalities. However, through Stevenson’s writing, we see the horrors of mental illness and the dangerous fall out of balance of the human psyche.

One thought on “Brainstorming”

  1. I appreciate the acknowledgment you brought to the inseparable legacy of dissociative identity disorder and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as connected concepts. The work indeed relies on the terror of the split self both in a moral and conscious sense, as Dr. Jekyll must grapple with Mr. Hyde’s increasing control over him. The implications of these two senses combining is something I am curious about: how does mental illness in this work have moral connotations?

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