External Influences on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Writings

External Influences on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Writings

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External Influences on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Writings
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson was a familiar title to me and prior to reading it I believed I was well versed about the story. I knew that Dr. Jekyll was an intelligent man who experimented with the idea of creating a more powerful version of him that would release
his deepest inhibitions. In addition, I believed that the people of the town were not fully aware of Mr. Hyde, only that there was a monster running about the city creating havoc. The townspeople would not be directly affected by Mr. Hyde and I most certainly never thought that Mr. Hyde was capable of murder. Furthermore, it was my thought that when people referred to another person as being like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that they could switch from being kind one minute to being irrational and short tempered the next. I never believe
the cliché to be in reference toward one’s physical aggression or anger. Finally, prior to reading the novel I believed that the novel was am indication to the times and the medical maladies that were present at the time that Stevenson wrote it.
Upon my completion of the book, I learned that while in some aspects I had the right idea on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the novel was much more insightful that I had ever imagined. Not only was Dr. Jekyll an intelligent man but he was very popular around his town as well as reputable in his society. Others
assumed he was an average man who was being blackmailed by Mr. Hyde for some misdeed that he had committed in his earlier years and that was their only connection.

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Furthermore, the townspeople were unaware of the happenings of Dr. Jekyll’s experiments and the consequences of drinking the concoction
that transformed him into Mr. Hyde. Perhaps the most shocking difference between what I perceived to be true and what the novel revealed was the fact that split personality disorder was not even a thought at the time this novel was published. There had been no prior research as to why a person may act in
two different ways, so in a way Stevenson may have uncovered a common problem in society and given it recognition in a hidden message through the novel. Overall, the novel was similar as to how I previously believed it to be, but Stevenson made it more relatable to human life rather than incredibly science-fiction as I had thought it to be. Even though “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” may have been
Stevenson’s attempt to allude to a medical disorder of Dr. Jekylls, Stevenson’s intriguing youth and external influences during his time period made him one of the most timeless authors in history.
The idea that Stevenson may have been to allude to the idea that medical malady of Dr. Jeykll’s is one of the most common rationales as to why Dr. Jekyll did what he did. There are a number of medical explanations as to Dr. Jeykll’s behaviors such as double consciousness, moral insanity, and a number of
other plausible ideas. During the 19th century it was considered taboo to be suggesting or mentioning sexual
happenings in society and even medical excuses for people’s actions was still questionable. On the other hand, people at the time would be much more susceptible to the idea of a medical excuse for one’s behaviors rather than the supernatural explanation of Mr. Hyde’s existence. Double consciousness is the idea that a man is not fully in control of himself and there is an awareness of those secondary
desires deep within (Stevenson 146). In that, many people of the time were heavily involve in the use of “spirits” or alcohol in order to release their own inhibitions much like Dr. Jekyll used Hyde to release his own inhibitions. The inhibition that a person struggles with is their internal battle between good and evil in them but as Stevenson exaggerates, Dr. Jekyll physically separates his good side from his evil side (Stevenson 21). Moral insanity during the mid-19th century became a new field of study that was used to diagnose unusual behaviors in people rather than their mental illnesses (Stevenson 147). When a person would begin to act as
Dr. Jekyll did toward the end of the novel and locking himself in his laboratory may have been reason enough to declare him morally insane.
The era that “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was published was perhaps the most opportune time for this sort of ground-breaking horror novel to be introduced into society. For instance, even as a child Stevenson was introduced to the world of horror by his caretaker Alison Cunningham who told him horror stories of the Presbyterian Scot Martyrs and their horrific murders (Teuber). Condescendingly the ideas of Christianity were drilled into his brain by his family as he was read the Psalms every Sunday. At this time in history, religion generally played an important role in people’s lives, for instance, the North American colonists broke apart from England on the basis of religious freedoms. Stevenson did not conform to these norms and at times would allude to his atheistic views and beliefs (Teuber).
Not only was one’s upbringing important, but the era was vital toward the success and intrigue from the novel. This was a time in history before the invention of graphic movies where people could literally see a severed head. At this time in history, much of the horror in novels was left up to the individual and their imagination. One form of entertainment that kept people intrigued though was the theatre which Mr.
Utterson particularly enjoyed but had not experienced in quite some time (Stevenson 3). This may have led Mr. Utterson to his obsession with Mr. Hyde and his wild imagination as to the connection between Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll. Without the theatre to feed his imagination he was left to think for himself and create whatever mystery his mind could create. This was a common way for hysteria to come about, much like in the late 17th century the Salem Witch Trials were brought about by people who read too much into unusual occurrences.
Countless numbers of people were murdered because people could not find an explanation that satisfied their intellectual hunger for a logical answer. Mr. Utterson could not comprehend the fact that Mr. Hyde was not a separate person with a vendetta to punish Dr. Jekyll; rather Dr. Jekyll was expressing himself in a supernatural way. This led to Mr. Utterson’s involvement in the case until he was physically shown evidence of what had actually occurred. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was a novel that I particularly enjoyed and an experience that I could grow from. The realization that people can create their own world
of mass hysteria or chaos is a theme that is all too common in today’s world which only emphasizes Stevenson’s timeless writing abilities. In addition, it was fascinating that as far back as the early 19th century medical maladies such as split personality disorder had already been considered and discusses
in a society where medicine was still rather primal. While there was no medical terminology for the disorder, it was apparent in their society and an issue that is still afflicting thousands of people throughout the world. These examples along with countless others are just a glimpse as to why Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is timeless despite taking its influence from the 19th century.

Works Cited
Stevenson, Robert L. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde and Other Tales of Terror. London: The Penguin Group, 2002.
Teuber, Andreas. "Robert Louis Stevenson Biography." Andreas
Teuber. 16 June 2000. Brandeis University. 9 May 2008
.
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