Dualism in the Victorian Age

In Victorian literature , there is an exploration and practice of the idea of duality. Duality, humorously and simply stated, is the split of one into two, while still existing as one. One text which delves into this duality idea is the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert L. Stevenson. This text is a social commentary on the duality of British society going on at the time it was written.

People in Britain, mainly London, experienced a shift at the start of the Victorian age, much like any other “age” begins, but this shift was a forward-powering shift. All energy (pun intended?) was focused on industrialization, machines, and cities. More and more people were finding it necessary to ditch the farm and head to the big town (reverse Green Acres, some would call it). With a boom in people came a surge in poverty and non-poverty population. This was one of the main dualities of London—they were all London people, but different by social class.

The well-to-do “Londoneers” had an image and reputation to keep up, being the aristocrats. There was a need for a social façade to be put up to impress others, while the true, more real selves were hidden and exclusive. This role-playing and dualism was primarily for men of London. This is probably why Stevenson chose a male character and mostly male characters for Jekyll and Hyde, for women changing roles would’ve made no sense; women (family women) didn’t have the time or resources to be able to go live another life outside of their own. I mention that it is the family women because there were approximately 80,000 prostitutes in London during the Victorian period (Antoinetta Struzziero) so it’s easily discerned where many “secretly sinful” men were spending their time! With regards to Jekyll/Hyde, our character(s) shift(s) from fine, upstanding man (much like the men of London to an indefinably unhandsome man who indulges in criminal behavior. Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll’s evil alter ego who must be suppressed with chemicals and potions. There is a sense of loss of control, much like the society in London.

The heart of what dualism is really getting at or exploring is the metaphor of light and dark, which is, in essence right and wrong. Men of London were searching for justification of their sinful behavior. Jekyll and Hyde attacked the idea of the light and dark (virgin/whore) image of society, challenging men not only of their real physical lives, but also society’s two-facedness.

The question Stevenson must be asking to British society is: through all of the evil and dark nature routinely coming from men of London, could one day we become too callous to this behavior and end up not being able to suppress it any longer—thus making evil nature, which was suppressed before, the norm?

– Riede Faires

 

Works Cited

Antoinetta Struzziero, Maria. “The Victorian Age.” Dualism and Dualities n.pag. Liceo Scientifico Statale “V. De Caprariis”. Web. 22 Nov 2013. <http://www.scientificoatripalda.it/dualism/theVictorianAge1.php&gt;.

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