Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde -or- Civilizations Die from Suicide

Victorian Civility -or- Misanthropy

It could be argued that one dream stands close to the dark archetypal centre of the English Victorian literary canon, and it represents an indictment of the collective repressive poetic psychodynamics of the Victorian's culture industies which vacillated between philanthropy and misanthropy. Ultimately framed as a confession, the literary tale of Robert Lewis Stephenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was a work that found its poetic paternity in a dream that Stephenson reported he had. The "fine bogey tale" dream poetically fructified the divided and transformed archetypal bogeyman characters of Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde.

The Metamorphoses of human nature has been a durable literary device that dates back to the beginnings of Western civilization. The Victorian tragic conflict that is personified in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can be viewed from a Freudian perspective (other perspectives are possible) as a poetic narcissistic personality split of narrative and behavioural impulses between the cultural ego and the primitive id. If repression of memory is a collective and individual defensive means to avoid dealing with unpleasantries, then Mr Hyde is the archetypal personification of the return of the repressed. Hyde and Jekyll are at each others throat in this ego-id struggle for ego dominance over the conscious personality.

Stephenson's character Dr Jekyll using "scientific" experiments succeeds by inventing a drug that inverts the Darwinian evolution of personality. This literary plot device has been used for science fiction tales ever since. In the original TV series Star Trek: The Enemy Within, Captain Kirk's personality is divided (see TV trailer) into two very different persons by a transporter malfunction. We find in the film Altered States, William Hurt as Professor Edward Jessup (the film is based on the real life sensory deprivation experiments of John Lilly) a scientist experimenting on himself to explore states of consciousness. Jessup's mind experiences numerous biological transformations in his de-evolutionary journey.

Christopher Lane Hatred and Civility: The Antisocial Life in Victorian England suggests that the Victorian era's novels, plays, poetry, journalism, sermons, philosophical and medical essays need to be unmasked and exposed for their... "acute misanthropy and schadenfreude (joy in another's sorrow)." This hidden dark side that is the Victorian repression of impulses reveals the limitless poetic power of misanthropy, schadenfreude and malice. Lane believes that below the superficial veneer and masks of the Victorian's civility and their obsessive cleanliness, self-discipline, hard work, morality, and manners there lurked the poetic European preoccupation with venting their spleen of hatred. In modern film, the character Dr Hannibal Lector Silence of the Lambs fits the horrorifying description in that, it has been poetically said that Lector is a cannibal hiding behind the Chianti.

Lane points out that the ending of Stephenson's novel asks the audience (reader) to imagine the hidden "perennial war" of our dual nature that afflicts all of us to some degree. Lane also suggests that this perennial war may provide an explanation for the basis of the culture wars. The end for Dr Jekyll comes in classic Jean Jacques Rousseau Confessions style, Jekyll decides that suicide is the only way out, yet he leaves his confession. Jekyll's written confession reveals that he and Hyde were indeed one and the same person. But in the end the last poetic words are spoken by Jekyll's alter ego and nemesis Hyde.

As if, providing us with an ironic collective misanthropic epitaph of this perennial inner war; "Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Dr. Jekyll to an end." By commiting suicide, Hyde ironically foreshadows the historian Arnold Toynbee's words; "Civilizations die from suicide not murder."

Postscript: Victorian Cultural Schisms -or- British Modernism

By the end of the 19th century, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (published 1886) had revealed the British Empire's schizotypal culture and collective psychopathological state of Dream Vision for those living in Victorian society. Echoing Nietzschian philosophy, Hyde became viewed by many as a natural man, free of the repressive civilizing influences and psychological schisms caused by organized religion, societal fears and insecurities. At the same time, political reforms in England, began to rock the psychological and literary foundations of their society. These calls for social reform spilled over into Europe. The ambivalent impulses and dramatic conflict of philanthropy and misanthropy, love and hate, were slowly coming to a boil in the collective European mythological unconscious. European geopolitical imperialism reinforced by militarism, were driving global motives for cultural dominance and subordination. The discontents with such civilizations was voiced in a Dream Vision by William Morris, News from Nowhere (published 1890) grafting the romantic tradition with Marxism. As well, Edward Bellamy's Dream Vision Looking Backwards: 2000-1887 was a book with a different perspective for social change. The book also inspired a utopian political movement.

These Dream Vision's mark a historical turning point for political, artistic, scientific and social movements away from Victorianism and towards a new social order based on the epochal thoughts, imaginings and dreams of modernism. The antecedent 19th century Dream Vision problem of the collective misanthropic venting of the spleen finally boiled over, becoming evidenced in World War I. A war, that Carl Jung (read IIDR interpretation Memories, Dreams and Reflections) had prophesized. If he could collect the dreams of Europeans living at the time (before World War I), a blind man with a cane would most likely see what collective nightmares were coming. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was intended to be read as a literary allegory, in this sense, did the final poetic words of Mr Hyde, bear witness and seal the fate of Dr Jekyll's British Empire?

D. H.Lawrence in his novel Kangaroo provided us with his perspective of when the end came; "It was in 1915 that the old world ended. In the winter 1915-1916 the spirit of old London collapsed; the city, in some way, perished, perished from being the heart of the world, and became a vortex of broken passions, lusts, hopes, fears and horrors." One might add broken dreams. Many began to ask whether the long prophesized last days of Western man was at hand? Before Lawrence published Kangaroo, pegging the time of the demise of the British Empire, in 1918 Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West entertained an international audience with its prophesy that the Western world had seen its best days which now were quickly receding into a distant memory. The future was with the Eastern world and the rise of the yellow race.

Further literary reading;

Carol T Christ and John O. Jordan (eds), Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination

Herbert F. Tucker (ed.), A Companion to Victorian Literature and Culture 

David Owen English Philanthropy: 1660-1960

Clive James Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margins of My Time

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.