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How does Stevenson create mystery and suspense throughout Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

how does Stevenson create mystery and suspense throughout Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

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Published in 1886, the context in which Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is set is one of fear. Victorian society was undergoing significant transformation, and there was a prevailing public anxiety around the rapidly advancing fields of science and medicine (Ridenhour, 2013, p.132). In particular, the “evolution hysteria” (Rose, 1996, p.126) that resulted out of the spread of Darwinism had given rise to considerable unease with regard to the origins of humans and our relationship to animals, social angst from which Stevenson draws to heighten the suspense of his novel. Throughout, Stevenson repeatedly refers to Hyde in animalistic terms, profiting on public tensions through the uncanny figure of Hyde, a sinister figure who intentionally diminishes the separation of man and beast, personifying “the animal within” (Stevenson, 2016, p.62). Stevenson uses the setting of his novel to great effect. This was also a time of great poverty, with many crimes, particularly those with marginalised victims, going unpunished: “Stevenson parallels the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde with a class narrative” (Smith, 2004, p.78). Victorian streets were seen as dark and unsafe, and thus the perfect setting for a novel which explores the duality of the human psyche and the inherent capacity in us all to do evil. Stevenson uses language to transform the streets of London into a “nocturnal city” (2016, p.11), a dreaded place of much distrust where the author’s prefiguration of Jack the Ripper is free to “glide more stealthily through sleeping houses … and at every street corner crush a child and leave her screaming” (2016, p.11).


Ridenhour, J. (2013) In Darkest London: The Gothic Cityscape in Victorian Literature. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield.
Rose, B.A. (1996) Jekyll and Hyde Adapted: Dramatizations of Cultural Anxiety. Westport, Greenwood Publishing Group.
Smith, A. (2004) Victorian Demons: Medicine, Masculinity, and the Gothic at the Fin-de-siècle. Manchester, Manchester University Press.
Stevenson, R.L. (2016) The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories. New York, Race Point Publishing.