The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde occupies a special place in Robert Louis Stevenson’s work. It unites moral and philosophical depth, a unique writing style, detective plot, fiction, mysticism, and other features. Mary Reilly, written by Valerie Martin, is a novel inspired by Stevenson’s book, and it presents a look at the same events from a different point of view of Henry Jekyll’s maid. Different perspectives on the situation contribute to a better understanding of Victorian society, its norms, and values. At the same time, the attitude towards societal norms in the narratives of the books is contrasting. Stevenson tells the story through Utterson’s point of view because it is a relationship rooted in societal norms and rituals, while Martin chooses Mary Reilly because it is a relationship that breaks from societal norms.
The primary difference between the two books is the male and female views on what is happening. In Stevenson’s novel, the narrator and the main characters are men, and women are represented as weak and passive. For example, one of them is a little girl who runs into Mr. Hyde on the road, and he tramples over her, not paying attention to her screams. Another woman, an unnamed servant, witnesses the murder of Sir Danvers Carew by Edward Hyde, and falls unconscious from what she sees.
In Martin’s book, the witness servant gets the name Mary Reilly and becomes a protagonist. Her diaries reveal personal experiences and feelings and, to some extent, reflect Dr. Jekyll’s internal struggles. The author demonstrates that women can also suppress individual traits that are considered unacceptable. However, the external image of Mary is close to the traditional Victorian heroines – she is kind, faithful, and caring.
Women have no remarkable influence on the plot of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, only complementing it with several details illustrating the nature of the story’s central villain. Women, unlike men, led a more secluded lifestyle and should not have such emotions as anger or intolerance (Gender Roles of Victorian Era para. 5-6). By excluding women from the story, the writer focused on the struggle of good and evil in men and society as it presented in that era. Martin, in turn, included women in this struggle to expand the scope and demonstrate the influence of societal norms on the whole society.
Both books raise the issue of repression, social pressure on people, and its consequences. However, the way the characters cope with it contrasts significantly. Narration on behalf of Mr. Gabriel Utterson understandably conveys the ideals, norms, and rituals of society. Following the era’s requirements, the narrator is incredibly attentive to his manners and maintains decency. He is also distinguished by restraint, mild curiosity, the motives for his actions are friendship with Dr. Jekyll. For example, he was very interested in learning what was written in a letter from another Jekyll’s friend, Dr. Hastie Lanyon, about Jekyll and Hyde. However, “professional honour and faith to his dead friend were stringent obligations; and the packet slept in the inmost corner of his private safe” (Stevenson 42). All these qualities are the driving force of the plot. Utterson’s friendship makes him find out the truth, but the development of events occurs at a moderate pace, as it is unacceptable to show excessive curiosity and emotionality.
Mary’s story reveals the attitude towards women of the era and the social norms of behavior established for them. As previously noted, moderation and tolerance must be key qualities of Victorian women. While Mary is more educated than most maids, able to write and read perfectly, she has no chance of getting out of the limits of her social class. For example, when doctor Jekyll finds out that Mary reads his book, she is forced to say, “I thought it was a most interesting book, sir, and so well writ that I was distracted from me duties and caused you to be displeased, so now I don’t think so well of it” (Martin 10). The episode demonstrates that as a servant, she has to know her place and show respect.
Although women were more constrained by social norms, incredible pressure was exerted on both genders. The lack of balance between the sides of the personality, the suppression of qualities that are considered immoral and indecent lead to unpleasant consequences for the human psyche. For example, Dr. Jekyll hides destructive features: “I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame” (Stevenson 73). As a result, he begins to feel the duality of his personality: “I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life” (Stevenson 73). The desire to show suppressed sides in any way leads him to the creation of Edward Hyde.
Since most emotions and their manifestation were under the social ban, Mary also hides them inside. Her past, full of injuries due to the alcoholic father, severely impacts the woman’s whole life. Moreover, her future and present are limited by the possibilities of a maid. Nevertheless, she understands her master and notes that the concealment of emotions is characteristic of her and Jekyll: “we are both souls who know this sadness and darkness inside” (Martin 20). Mary differs because she accepts all these aspects in herself, reporting that “I’ve nothing to hide” (Martin 9). This approach contrasts significantly with Dr. Jekyll’s behavior and feelings. However, despite the different positions, Jekyll is interested in communicating with Mary, and she is in him.
The features inherent in the narrators, Utterson and Mary, determine their relationship with the central character of the story – Dr. Jekyll and the effect produced by the books. Society’s norms and rituals constrain Utterson, and the narrative from his point of view further emphasizes a strong suppression of emotionality. Mary’s story, the demonstration of her dark sides, as well as their warm relationship with Jekyll, on the contrary, do not correspond to society’s frameworks. The writer, in this way, significantly complements the story and understanding of its characters.
Thus, the book Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde presents the story of the consequences of too severe social restrictions inherent in the Victorian era on the human psyche. As a result, the struggle between different sides of the personality represented as good, and evil appeared. Mary Reilly, the book inspired by the Stevenson’s one, complements the story with the female perspective and a look at society and its limiting norms. Stevenson is focused on men in society and their internal conflict in his book. Moreover, his narrator complies with the established rules of conduct, which emphasizes the struggle. Martin introduced the female protagonist, and her darkness and her acceptance of it destroy social norms. Moreover, although Mary seeks to occupy a place defined by society for her, the woman’s personal qualities distinguish her, which also challenges the established Victorian order.
“Gender Roles of Victorian Era for Men and Women.” Victorian Era, Web.
Martin, Valerie. Mary Reilly. Vintage Contemporaries, 1990.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Planet eBook, Web.