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If earlier Victorian fiction was characterised by conservatism, moral order and clearly delineated social strata, then Fin De Siècle texts often presented an affront to the perceived norm. Challenging class, gender and morality structures, they present us with characters whose identities are polarised, sexually ambiguous and downright base. Influenced by the new wave of psychoanalysis and neurology, and an increasingly technology-led landscape, the gothic novels of the period used the Uncanny as a vehicle with which to explore an increasingly foreign social milieu. The aftershocks of Darwinism's Origin of Species (1859) were still being felt, and European schools of thought were pushing the generation towards the Modernism that embracing subjectivity and moving away from the comforting Romanticism of yesteryear. With this shift came new figures on the social scene, the New Woman and the Decadent, who both presented a threat to gender and behavioural norms, the terrifying 'other' that supernatural fiction could vilify or redeem at will. Both Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey are great examples of Fin De Siècle authors commenting on the social flux and instability of the time by utilising the vehicle of the Uncanny.
Ledger situates the birth of the New Woman in 1883, with the publication of Olive Schriener's The Story of an African Farm. The New Woman represented an anarchic threat to gender boundaries, a threat that manifested itself both in fiction and society, with the Married Woman's Property Act of 1882 demonstrating this gradual shift in power. Feminist critic Elaine Showalter is quick to address this in Sexual Anarchy, the new challenge to homosocial structures that the New Woman presented. And challenging the social norm right by her side was the figure of the Decadent, the Wildean embodiment of absent masculinity. In both Dorian Grey and Jekyll and Hyde, we see the use of an arguably camp gothic genre to challenge male identity. With Dorian, we are confronted with a protagonist who has 'all the passion of the romantic spirit' in him  . Not only does he possess an almost feminine beauty (his 'scarlet' lips and 'gilded' curls), but he seems to attract male companions the way a maiden would  . His ethereal beauty, a blurring of the male and female, immediately transports him into the realm of 'other', a gesture towards the Sublime. He becomes the perfect vehicle with which to introduce the gothic theme, since he was supernatural to start with. Even his relationship with Sibyl is no more than a projection of the romance he harbours in him, indeed becomes a threat to his romantic ponderings ('you have spoiled the romance of my life') , and a catalyst to his moral decline  . But in Jekyll and Hyde, there is an absence of the female altogether. Instead, we have the implicit threat of the New Woman, manifested in the 'desexualised half man'  . It is the new breed of the homosocial male who is 'inherently unstable'  . Stevenson presents us with an all male world, but instead of the embodying the glories of Empire, all he introduces is weakness, amorality and crime.
With this challenge to gender boundaries, comes a greater challenge to the concept of fixed identities. Fin De Siècle texts paved the way for the new Modernist movement, which was preoccupied with moving away from the 'norms' of the era and embracing new developments in science and psychoanalysis. By the end of the century, influential figures like Sigmund Freud and Ernst Mach had popularised discourses about the subjective. At the same time, science was starting to become preoccupied with the study of the mind. 'By the 1890s psychology, psychiatry and neurology had emerged as distinct, if closely related, fields of knowledge'  . With the laboratory as the site for this 'new kind of introspection', Stevenson's obsession with the 'double consciousness' could find its expression  . Whilst Jekyll asserts that Hyde is the 'brute...within', referencing a more conventional ideology of demonic possession, he simultaneously ascribes to the notion that he has two selves within him warring for supremacy  . In his statement, Jekyll admits to being a 'double-dealer', 'no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, then when I labored'  . In this new scientific landscape, where the rational was being combined with the emotional and quasi-philosophical, gothic works like Stevenson's were offering up aesthetic representations of the cultural debate. Very simply, he was using the Uncanny to visually represent the split self. Using his fiction as a mouthpiece, Stevenson has Jekyll declaring 'man is not truly one, but truly two'  . In fact, both Jekyll and Dorian have their own Lacanian moment, confronted with a 'mirror' and at once made aware of their degraded 'other'. For Jekyll, this is when he first looks in the mirror as Edward Hyde. For Dorian, this is when faced with his painting.
Havelock Ellis's The Criminal (1890) greatly influenced the criminal anthropological landscape of Fin de Siècle Britain. It proposed the theory that criminals could be classified according to their physical features, that certain malformations or facial features could betray the moral absences within. Jenny Bourne Taylor highlights Jekyll and Hyde as a perfect example of these 'signs of criminal reversion' that were to alert people to the criminal mind  . In both these works, this was the perfect vehicle with which to marry the supernatural motif with a pseudo-scientific one. In both Jekyll and Hyde and Dorian Grey, the gothic transformation of both men into gnarled and unattractive creatures comes hand in hand with their increased criminal activity. Unable to describe Hyde, Mr Enfield is only conscious of 'a strong feeling of deformity' in the man, a statement reiterated by the 'impression of deformity' that Utterson experiences when he sees him  . In fact, it is this 'unexpressed deformity' of Hyde's that convinces people, far before they are able to get to the bottom of the mystery, that he is a criminal, guilty before proven so  . He is a shrunken version of Dr Jekyll, unable to fill his clothes, with 'evil...written broadly and plainly' on his face, an insignia of misdeeds  .
By the end of the century, Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species (1859) had played its part in contributing to the apocalyptic mood of the era. Not only undermining the system of religious belief, it also prompted unfounded fears about the degeneration of the 'species', spearheaded by E Ray Lankester's 1880 publications 'Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism'. In this work, Lankester offers the notion that instead of humans adapting for Survival of the Fittest, they could adapt to the base and simple elements of life and environment. Fin De Siècle fictions became concerned with moral degradation and corruption of the race, the transformation of the citadel into a furnace of crime and, most feared of all, indistinct social boundaries. Both Dorian Grey and Jekyll and Hyde confront the figure of the man/monster, a symbol of the easy fall from respectability to dissolution. Dorian Grey morphs from promising and charming innocent, to the degraded man of the opium dens, dwarfed by his cruelty, vanity and amorality. He describes his own downfall as a 'monstrous moment of pride and passion', as if but a temporary 'moment' of inhumanity was responsible for the sequence of events  . Unfortunately, like Jekyll, the momentary monster only becomes ever more present in his life, until the remnants of both good men are wholly overtaken by their evil alter egos.
By using the motif of the rotting painting to address Dorian's moral decline, Wilde is touching on this apocalyptic zeitgeist that feared the breakdown of previously held value systems. Furthermore, the speed at which the painting ages and decays, ironically faster than Dorian would have aged in the first place, highlights the fear that not only was society heading for destruction, it was speeding there. This is also portrayed in the differing landscapes we find Dorian in. From Basil's serene and nature-filled studio, with its 'rich odour of roses' and 'heavy scent of the lilac', we move to the base environs of the opium dens, 'dens of horror where the memory of old sins could be destroyed by the madness of sins that were new'  . Led by his very own Mephistopheles (Henry) Dorian soon becomes fixated with these haunts. The drinking and the loose women offer a picture of Fin De Siècle moral decline. The mulattos and foreigners are also a clear sign of 'other' that contributes to the deviant atmosphere. But it is also this new culture of reality altering drugs that paves the way to The Uncanny, in both Wilde and Stevenson's texts. Dorian's 'hideous hunger for opium' causes him to embrace the 'ugliness that had once been hateful to him' and become monstrous  . Dr Jekyll's 'impure' supply of drugs are responsible for unleashing 'the brute...within'  . But whilst these drugs also offer the hope of temporary redemption for Jekyll, Dorian's decline is fast and unsalvageable, perhaps hinting at the fact that, unlike the formerly respectable Dr Jekyll, Dorian Grey was always fatally flawed. In Fin De Siècle fiction, it seems Beauty and Romanticism were first to the chopping board.
With this lack of morality in both works, comes an absence of religion. Hyde is described as demonic throughout, 'like Satan' and a 'fiend'  . Meanwhile Dorian is making his own Faustian pact for the sake of eternal beauty: 'I would give my soul for that'  . Jekyll becomes 'hardly human' (16), whilst Dorian becomes immortal ('you are made to be worshipped')  . And what better way to address Fin De Siècle cultural hysteria than in the bodies of two men who die monsters, but were never really 'men' to begin with.