Imagine what would happen if everything you believed to be true was suddenly challenged. How would you feel if the solid rock bottom of your religious and cultural beliefs turned into a slippery slope of doubt? Such was the dilemma the Victorians faced with the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species.
The questioning of man's origin in the form of evolution and survival of the fittest brought an uneasy feeling as to man's place within the hierarchy of the universe. Darwin's theory that mankind was evolved from apes and not created by a divine being shocked civilized society. The comparisons between civilized and uncivilized behavior linked through evolution is a predominant theme throughout Victorian literature.
Through the writings of this era, we can see the preoccupation with the cultural conflict between evolution and creationism. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson introduces us to the concept that the beast within us all lies very close to the surface. He explores the dual personality and the constant battle waged within oneself between civilized and uncivilized behavior. In his full statement of the case, Dr. Jekyll states, "But I had voluntarily stripped myself of all those balancing instincts by which even the worst of us continues to walk with some degree of steadiness among temptations; and in my case, to be tempted, however slightly, was to fall." (49) Although Dr. Jeykll was disdainful of Hr. Hyde's thoughts and actions, he recognized within himself that he enjoyed the freedom and the thrills that Mr. Hyde's uncivilized behavior brought. He enjoyed ...
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...ainty. Both Haggard and Stevenson linked the theory to their stories in an attempt to show us the fine line between civilized and uncivilized, man or beast. This anxiety and uncertainty was reflected in most of the literature of the time and would continue to be reflected in literature of the future. And then Darwin comes along with The Descent of Man!
Works Cited and Consulted:
Cohen, Morton N. Rider Haggard: His life & works. NY: Walker & Company, 1960.
Haggard, Henry Rider. She. New York: Oxford University Press, 1887, 1991.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
First Vintage Classics Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.
Veeder, William. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after One Hundred Years. Eds.
William Veeder and Gordon Hirsch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
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