Monday, August 10, 2009

The Influence of the Doppelganger in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

It’s well known in German literature that meeting the doppelganger portends a person’s imminent death. Meeting his doppelganger was definitely not a good thing for Dr. Jekyll.

Our first foreshadowing of the etheric double in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886) is seen in the characters of Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield. While Mr. Utterson, an attorney, was “a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse.” Mr. Enfield on the other hand, is a well-known man about town. It is Mr. Enfield is the first one who sees Mr. Hyde’s “odd doorway.” Enfield reflects more of the shadowy side of life as seen in Mr. Hyde, while Mr. Utterson reflects the outgoing personality of Dr. Jekyll.

When we switch to the story as seen through Dr. Jekyll’s eyes, he talks about his dual nature: One side wanting to be a sober citizen, the other wanting to give itself over to a “gaiety of disposition.” These two sides of his personality continually struggle. He creates a formula that at first makes him feel very happy and reckless, but “tenfold more wicked.”

This infers that Jekyll feels that the split has come as a result of repression of his true nature due to social conventions rather than from some evil beast within him that must escape. The more Dr. Jekyll tries to repress his true nature, the more Mr. Hyde becomes violent.

As Webber states in The Doppenganger, Double Visions in German Literature, even though Jekyll and Hyde never actually meet each other, there is a scene in which Jekyll sees his reflection as Hyde in the mirror and is startled. “I stole through the corridors, a stranger in my own house; and coming to my room, I saw for the first time the appearance of Edward Hyde.”

The concoction also, for some reason, makes him short. “The evil side of my nature, to which I had now transferred the stamping efficacy, was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed.” Because that side of his life was so much less developed than the serious part, “Edward Hyde was so much smaller, slighter, and younger than Henry Jekyll.” But evil had left an imprint of deformity and decay.

“In my eyes it bore a livelier image of the spirit, it seemed more express and single, than the imperfect and divided countenance I had been hitherto accustomed to call mine.”

In this case, it’s the repression of the Victorian era that has caused Dr. Jekyll to manufacture his own doppelganger in order to express the uncontrolled side of his personality. Unfortunately in those times, that was punishable by death.

Works Cited:

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Webber, Andrew J, The Doppenganger, Double Visions in German Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996


  1. "Punishable by death"... or was it the FEAR of censorship and death that led to the perversion? I'm not sure. Overall, though, you do a really good review here of the way desire had to go underground in Victorian culture.

  2. Your text is very interesting, it cleared a lot of things to me. I had heard about doppelganger, but I never had read so deeply about this. Your analysis of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel is very interesting, a critic of the repressed Victorian Era. Very good!