Dr. Jekyll and Miss Thang

The BBC has developed a new version of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Louise Welsh has written an interesting, insightful essay on the story's continuing allure. Partly it has to do with the way Stevenson suggests Hyde's "unspeakable practices, unnatural acts" without ever actually, well, speaking about them. Not directly.

Stevenson was acutely aware of Victorian hypocrisy -- considering his own rejection of his Scottish Calvinist upbringing for bohemianism (and ultimately, the South Pacific). An early poem of his sardonically mocks "fine, religious, decent folk," prefering instead "the publican and the harlot." Inevitably, though, Ms. Welsh writes, "critics mused on what vice inspired Jekyll to create Hyde to sin for him in proxy. A queer reading of the text is tempting" -- particularly when, despite Hollywood and Broadway's love of putting harlots in the story (along with a threatened damsel -- usually Dr. Jekyll's fiancee), Stevenson included no women in it other than an untempting housekeeper. And one of Hyde's more brutal crimes occurs when an elderly gentleman whispers in his ear late at night by the river "with a very pretty manner of politeness." Hyde clubs him to death.

Such a gay reading, however, has been neatly, and I think, rewardingly anticipated by Graham Robb in his brilliant 2003 book, Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century:

"Sexuality is not a skeleton key to the work of Andersen, Melville or Kafka. The sense of shame and strange excitement comes from the process of concealment rather than from the object that is being concealed. This is one of the problems faced by any sexually partisan form of criticism. Some writers, like Henry James, avoided the subject so completely that gay readings of their work have to operate on such deep or abstract levels that they could be applied to almost any writer. Others, like Robert Louis Stevenson in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), used homosexual references to create an atmosphere of unspeakable and mysterious depravity, but without intending the character to be seen as homosexual."

June 11, 2007 10:06 PM | | Comments (1)



Sorry but I do not buy this reading. Please read where we first meet Hyde: after midnight, in evening clothes, surrounded by a crowd of angry neighbors because he refuses to pay a 12 year old girl the gold coin he promised her. Now what business is a 12 yr old girl doing after midnight? Uh-hun, the oldest trade in the world. Pre-teen prostitution. That's why no wives are seen. And notice all the menfolk are constantly drinking wine. For fun, now go read Conrad's opening on the Thames in "Heart of Darknesss." Same business community leaders. Uh-huh.


Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on June 11, 2007 10:06 PM.

Inhumane Resource Center was the previous entry in this blog.

Taking cuts is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.