Through the Cheval-Glass: The Doppelgänger and Temporal Modernist Terror in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Whitney S. May

Note: Page numbers from the print version are indicated in brackets and should not be considered part of the text of the article.

Abstract: [page 121] This article investigates the function of the doppelgänger in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a figure from the Gothic past resurrected and reengineered to navigate fin de siècle misgivings about the uncertainty of the modern future. The duality inherent to the doppelgänger figure makes it a superb case study of this modern impulse for reinvention, for its uncanniness precludes the modernist impulse to recode past forms in the interest of future invention. Thus reanimated, the doppelgänger in this tale typifies the anxieties of a period that found itself neither distinctly Victorian, nor definitively modern, but rather, as Dr. Jekyll mourns of his own schizophrenic situation, “radically both.” Viewing itself through a transformative modern mirror, Stevenson’s readership found itself face-to-face with a perfectly modern metropolitan monster in Edward Hyde, and even in his destruction, haunted by the social and technological upheaval that he represents.

Keywords: doppelgänger, dualism, modernism, monster, Robert Louis Stevenson

In his lecture notes on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Vladimir Nabokov enjoins us to “completely forget, disremember, obliterate, unlearn,” and “consign to oblivion any notion” of our previous exposure to the text (179). This is a tall order, as Dan Chaon would argue in a recent afterward to the novella, because the tale has become “an icon of horror, a Halloween staple,” and because “for more than a hundred years, it’s been a part of the cultural air around us” (125). In addition to its wealth of direct stage, radio, film, and television adaptations over the decades, the dichotomized image of the jovial-scientist-turned-brutish-monster has filtered into our popular culture so thoroughly that versions of it occupy media from Broadway musicals to comic books. A testament to the text’s [page 122] staying power, it has even recently entered our digital “cultural air,” where the most frequently invoked image is, of course, the transformation of one character into the other. Perhaps because Fredric March’s 1931 performance of the process was so exquisite, it is often invoked online in gif format; Turner Studios animated it so viscerally in 1994 that stills from The Pagemaster crop up as memes.

While the evocative nature of the transformation scene ensures its lasting presence in our “cultural air,” a different, less meme-able moment in the novella bears further scrutiny. In the final scene of the text’s action, when Utterson and Poole at last manage to enter Jekyll’s laboratory and discover Hyde’s body, the two men make to search the laboratory for the doctor, not yet understanding that Hyde’s corpse is also Jekyll’s. However, they cannot help but find themselves distracted from their task by the inexplicable draw of the cheval-glass acquired by Jekyll specifically so that he could regard Hyde’s form after his transformations. A moment passes while they forget their search and look into its depths “with involuntary horror,” finding “their own pale and fearful countenances stooping to look in” (91).

Faced with a horrifying situation, that, as Utterson and Poole understand it before locating Dr. Lanyon’s narrative and Dr. Jekyll’s statement, likely means their respective confidante and employer has been murdered by an insidious degenerate, the men still find themselves supernaturally drawn to the mirror enough to stop searching for Jekyll. Although less dramatic than Dr. Jekyll’s violent transformations into Mr. Hyde, this scene offers greater insight into the true horror that Mr. Hyde personifies: that while pop culture has constructed Hyde as a sort of negative image of Jekyll, he was never one man’s reflection in a mirror. He was the mirror, in that regarding Hyde, within the text and without, constitutes a self-, and socially-reflective process. Hyde is less one man’s id in a simple literary dichotomy, and more a symptom of a greater cultural anxiety that beguiles and haunts Stevenson’s readers.

Hyde is an entirely modern monster appropriate for an audience poised on the threshold of literary and philosophical modernism. Henry Jekyll—like his creator Stevenson and like Stevenson’s late Victorian readership—considers the scientific and [page 123] social future through a mirror of modernity, and enters into a complex internal conflict, an intricate psychomachia, between himself and the frightening uncertainty that he finds within it. Stevenson’s audience, through Jekyll, is met with its own distorted reflection, a dramatization of the phenomenon that horror scholar Fred Botting refers to as the “systematic entanglement in a modernity that invents the human figure as itself doubly constructed” (9). What’s more, the fluidity of Jekyll’s doppelgänger relationship with Hyde, in the one’s ability always to impinge upon the subjectivity of the other, characterizes the ability of the past to obtrude upon the future for an audience already deeply concerned about the threat of atavism. Stevenson’s novella must therefore be examined, as Nabokov urges, outside the restrictive scope of its popularized format in order to get to the heart of its early modernist concerns. Scrutinized thus, the novella becomes an exquisite example of fin de siècle Gothic, in which Jekyll and Hyde’s relationship characterizes an early modernist impulse to stabilize temporal anxiety by neutralizing the Gothic monster resurrected to embody it.

Fin de Siècle Gothic: The Monstrous Middle

Žižek suggests that the best way to understand any historical moment is to “focus not on the explicit features that define its social and ideological edifices” but rather “on the disavowed ghosts that haunt it, dwelling in a mysterious region of nonexistent entities which none the less persist, continue to exert their efficacy” (3). One such figure that haunted Western literature of the nineteenth century was the doppelgänger, an insidious version of a primary character whose objective was to subsume the identity of its victim. Indeed, the doppelgänger was a staple of Britain’s Romantic literary tradition.1 Straddling the centuries as it did, Stevenson’s novella debuts in Mr. Hyde a modernized form of this Gothic figure, a doppelgänger with clear connections to modern metropolitanism and its discontents.

Examples of literary modernism from the late Victorian period feature the impulse to look both backward to the past and forward to the future simultaneously, so that, as Stephen Kern writes of the [page 124] modern public in The Culture of Time and Space, “this generation looked to [its past] for stability in the face of rapid technological, cultural, and social change” (36). Such a perspective, like modernism itself, was always in flux, and involved the late Victorian/early modern public examining the artefacts of its past with the overall goal of revising them for the thrilling, if terrifying, future. In the words of Richard Walker in Labyrinths of Deceit: Culture, Modernity, and Identity in the Nineteenth Century, late Victorian Gothic “performs a metaphoric function, opening up a series of interpretative possibilities when reading the monstrous, particularly as the notion of monstrosity itself taps into anxieties that are themselves fluid, determined as they are by dominant social, cultural, political and scientific modes of thought at a particular moment” (71). Thus, read as part of a modernist text, Hyde is less a Gothic villain than a modern monster; or, more accurately, he is a Gothic villain reconstructed as a modern monster to occupy the monstrous middle-ground between eras.

Hyde’s very conception is facilitated by Dr. Jekyll’s passionate desire to scientifically identify, and further to quantify, the dualism that he believes is inherent to the human condition, an experiment to test his hypothesis “that man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson 104). Jekyll obsesses over his own duality, as evidenced by his confidence in the tale’s closing confession that he felt before creating Mr. Hyde: “no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I labored, in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow or suffering” (104). Allegedly in the interest of experimentation, Jekyll uses vaguely futuristic sciences in order to conjure Hyde; however, what motivates him is a categorically Romantic preoccupation with dualism, a theme so often explored by way of Gothic doubles. Jekyll is therefore inherently trapped between these warring tensions, between futuristic methods and the antiquated ideological interests that they mobilize. The result, Walker argues, is “the beginning of the collapse of an integrated and cohesive identity” that “starts to take place as binaries begin to break down” (79).

Jekyll’s fixation on dualism reads at first as one anchored by moral, optimistic intentions for the betterment of his fellow men. If each half of the personality, he tells himself, “could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was [page 125] unbearable” (105). Such a preoccupation with the oscillatory potential of the self reveals Jekyll’s awareness of the instability of personal identity, of its capacity for fluidity, and hints at collapse soon to come. Peter Garrett notes this framework with interest in his Gothic Reflections: Narrative Force in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, suggesting that “such a radically disunified model of the self displaces traditional dualities and seems to anticipate postmodern deconstruction of the unitary subject” (107). Such themes would appeal to Nabokov, himself a postmodernist, and perhaps account for his vehement rejection of the polarized, pop-culture reading of the story. In the novella, Dr. Jekyll’s deconstruction of his sense of self renders his identity fluid rather than completely divided, as it tends to be depicted in many revisions, with disastrous consequences.

In essence, Dr. Jekyll conjures his doppelgänger with an unstable cocktail of various chemicals and salts. For this reason especially, Mr. Hyde is consistently associated with science in the tale, and more specifically with the laboratory in which his activating drug is first concocted. Our very first glimpse of Hyde comes from Mr. Enfield’s account of his apparently calm, late-night trampling of a little girl in the street, after which Hyde disappears through a door located in “a certain sinister block of building” (39), to collect compensation for the girl’s outraged family. We later learn that this door is the entrance into Jekyll’s disordered laboratory, used exclusively by Hyde. In fact, when the tale’s primary narrator, Mr. Utterson, later questions Jekyll’s butler, Mr. Poole, about Hyde’s movements through Jekyll’s house, Poole insists emphatically that Hyde never dines there, that Jekyll’s staff sees “very little of him on this side of the house,” for Hyde “mostly comes and goes by the laboratory” (54). Later, when Poole communicates his concern about Jekyll’s ill-fated disappearance, he suspects Hyde’s involvement when he glimpses a strange figure enter the house, “for who else,” he asks Utterson, “could have got in by the laboratory door” (86)? Who else, indeed, might infiltrate the domestic sphere by way of a spatial representation of science, but a figure who characterizes anxiety about what scientific progress might hold in the coming century?

In Jekyll’s final confession, we learn that this laboratory, and [page 126] the liberating emergence of Hyde that it represents for the doctor, had become Jekyll’s haven. After a day spent “plod[ding] in the public eye with a load of genial respectability,” Jekyll confides, he could “spring headlong into the sea of liberty” as Hyde (110). Afterward, he continues, “Let me but escape into my laboratory door, give me but a second or two to mix and swallow the draught that I had always standing ready; and whatever he had done, Edward Hyde would pass away like a stain of breath upon a mirror” (110). No matter what he does as Hyde, Jekyll dissociates himself from the crime by escaping into the laboratory and taking the drug to reverse the transformation. If Hyde animates a monstrousness that Jekyll believes central to his identity, it is worth noting that that monstrousness is continuously accessed—and, crucially, reversed—by the same means: by entering into a space associated with science and with Hyde. Their connection is fluid, and as impermanent as the fog of breath upon a mirror.

Much of Hyde’s formalistic pliability relies on this incursion of Jekyll and Hyde on one another. Nabokov focuses on this inconstancy, and also locates its symbolic representation in the layout of Jekyll’s home, reading certain areas as symbolic of Jekyll and others of Hyde, but emphasizing the interconnectedness of both. He famously posits a connection between the convoluted architecture of Jekyll’s house and the complex nature of the Jekyll-Hyde dynamic. The exact layout of the doctor’s house, he claims, “is curiously distorted and concealed,” so that “in the composite Jekyll building with its mellow and grand front hall there are corridors leading to Hyde, to the old surgery theatre” (Nabokov 188). Although entirely separate figures of the upstanding Jekyll and the impish Mr. Hyde prevailed during the twentieth century’s many reproductions of the tale, this confused image of overlapping eaves and shared hallways, where “it’s hard to say where one ends and another begins” (Stevenson 43), is a far more accurate illustration of the Jekyll-Hyde relationship, and further illustrates the fluidity of its nature.

The dynamic between doctor and doppelgänger is therefore far from dichotomous. While Jekyll views Hyde, like the drug that summons him, as “neither diabolical nor divine,” he admits that both “[shake] the doors of the prisonhouse of [his] disposition” (109). The chemistry behind Hyde permanently destabilizes Jekyll’s [page 127] identity, leaving him shifting fluidly between both aspects of his character. The confounded result, a representative overlap of Gothic past and modern future in Hyde, offers a critical investigation of fin de siècle Victorian apprehensions about the dissolving effects of modernity on selfhood. Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane’s argument in Modernism, 1890-1930 supports this theme by suggesting that the earliest modern texts contained a focus on just this sort of fragmentation, “on the breaking up and the progressive disintegration of those meticulously constructed ‘systems’ and ‘types’ and ‘absolutes’ that lived on from the earlier years of the century,” as well as “on the destruction of the belief in large general laws to which all life and conduct could be claimed to be the subject”(64).

This assertion also highlights Jekyll’s duplicity, despite the doctor’s insistence that he is “in no sense a hypocrite” (104). Jekyll’s initially humanitarian claim that the division of the self would better the human condition at large proves dishonest when he continues that, with the separation of man’s good and evil halves, “the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin” (105). What at first appears as a philanthropic desire to use science to improve the seemingly primitive dual situation of man turns out to have a more selfish motivation: separating his own, conflicting personalities would allow the good doctor the anonymity to oppose the social constraints placed upon him by his Victorian contemporaries and to commit the crimes he desires while suffering no consequences himself. He could indulge in public and private pleasures with impunity, thereby exempting himself from the traditional mores of Victorian society.

The private pleasures in which Hyde indulges on Jekyll’s behalf involve ambiguous violence. Not long after we learn from Mr. Enfield that Hyde has attacked a little girl, a maid observes his vicious murder of Sir Danvers Carew, again in the city streets, “in a great flame of anger” (60). These attacks—one calm and unaffected and the other brutal and carried out “like a madman” (60)—differ in temperament but share a marked lack of any discernible motivation. And while Hyde is confronted after his first attack, and makes the appropriate recompense to the child’s family, Mr. [page 128] Utterson notes with unease that after murdering Sir Carew, Hyde “had disappeared out of the ken of the police as though he had never existed” (71), vanishing in his unique, breath-upon-a-mirror way into the air. Mr. Utterson suspects with unease that this is due to the fact that “Hyde had numbered few familiars […] his family could nowhere be traced; he had never been photographed; and the few who could describe him differed widely” (64). Despite various witnesses to his crimes and his own very singular appearance, Hyde’s anonymity allows him to seemingly melt into the London crowds and avoid detection. That any criminal could achieve this is in and of itself a distinctly modern concern, as industrialization and the boisterous economic shifts of the nineteenth century precipitated rapid urbanization. At the turn of the century, engaging with the metropolis was itself an exercise in dualism, as Deborah L. Parsons notes in Streetwalking the Metropolis: “Walking the city is at once an encounter with modernity and with the past, with the new and unknown but also with haunting ghosts” (10). Hyde’s ability to navigate the thriving metropolis around him characterizes the temporal interplay between past and future that charges the Jekyll/Hyde relationship. Walker suggests that the social horror of Hyde “lies not so much in the fact that the urban criminal can disappear within the crowded metropolis, but that the identity of the individual can be lost or at least troubled within the structures, institutions and symptoms of modernity” (76). Hyde becomes, in this sense, a nightmare figure of the burgeoning modern metropolis: he is untraceable, uncontainable, and unknowable. In his resistance to meaningful description, Hyde upsets the boundaries between subject and object. What’s more, the absence of any recognizable identity of his own makes him a metropolitan monster, a characterization of anonymous street crime, and a fascinating prediction of the real-life urban predator that would emerge a few years later in the form of Jack the Ripper.

The Uncanny: Recognizing the Unrecognizable

Despite Hyde’s unsettling appearance in the novella, and despite his undeniable monstrousness, the fact remains that Jekyll welcomes his double’s arrival, and privately marvels at his existence. Hyde, personifying the frightening precariousness of [page 129] modernity, invites from Jekyll feelings of apprehension, certainly, but also of begrudging welcome. Jekyll’s closing confession helpfully catalogues his feelings after taking the first dose of his drug. It details his first transformation into Hyde, in which he revealingly describes “something strange in [his] sensations” immediately after drinking the chemical cocktail, “something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet” (106). Once again we see Hyde associated with novelty and the modern; however, in contrast to the conventionally restrictive image of Hyde as a straightforward monster, and of modernity as strictly frightening, Jekyll views him with some degree of reverence.

Vitally important to this reading of Hyde as a manifestation of modern anxieties is Jekyll’s complicated reception of his double. Divided after the drug, Jekyll and Hyde each have a distinct persona. However, they are also still deeply entangled, so that while Hyde assumes physical control of their body, which alters to accommodate his autonomy, Jekyll is still able to view Hyde’s image in the laboratory mirror. Both are conscious as the same being, as both senses of self are still perceptively present. They are enmeshed in, to borrow from Marshall Berman’s description of modernity, “a unity of disunity” (15). Intriguingly, though Hyde’s assumption of their shared body is more often than not portrayed as a grotesque and horrible condition in the twentieth- and twentieth-first-century adaptations of the novella, Jekyll’s sensations upon encountering Hyde in the original text were far from horrified. Indeed, Jekyll confesses that upon viewing Hyde for the first time, he “was conscious of no repugnance, rather a leap of welcome” (108). In dividing his identity, Jekyll loses his original sense of self, becoming the other being, or the manifestation of himself outside the physical control of his own body. Yet, on first seeing Hyde’s image in the mirror, Jekyll admits, “This, too, was myself. It seemed natural and human. In my eyes it bore a livelier image of the spirit, it seemed more express and single, than the imperfect and divided countenance I had been hitherto accustomed to call mine” (Stevenson 108).

Jekyll’s first encounter with his double associates Hyde with the supernatural familiarity inherent to the uncanny, which Freud would much later define as “that class of the frightening which [page 130] leads back to what is known of old and long familiar” (825). This recognition is fundamentally a temporal phenomenon. What Jekyll registers as familiar in Hyde is, more than an association with himself, Jekyll’s psychological connection between Hyde and Jekyll’s past understanding of himself up to that point. If Hyde is familiar to Jekyll, it is because Jekyll reads Hyde as connected somehow to his past. In this sense, the subjective confusion that arises as a result of the uncanny occurs because two outwardly separate personalities not only occupy the same space of their shared physical body, but also demonstrate a continuous irruption of past and present that renders the future unknowable. This temporal obfuscation is further supported by Freud’s later assertion in “The Uncanny” that “many people experience the feeling [of the uncanny] in the highest degree in relation to death and dead bodies, to the return of the dead, to spirits and ghosts” (833). Jekyll recognizes himself in Hyde’s reflection, and in the temporal instability that Hyde characterizes. However, the image is, to revisit Botting, “doubly constructed” (9) by the mirror of modernity, reflected back as “an unessential, negatively characterized subject” (112).

The effects of Hyde’s presence go beyond his personal relationship with Jekyll, though, as Hyde illustrates a collective, temporal tension. Hyde displays an unsettling ability to invoke Hyde-like qualities in the characters he encounters. From the very first description of Hyde in Mr. Enfield’s story of the injured little girl, Hyde’s immediate and potent effects on those around him are apparent: Enfield remarks that he “had taken a loathing to [Hyde] on first sight” (40). In addition, he notes that the child’s family had reacted negatively to him as well, and that the other witness, an apothecary, would “turn sick and white with desire to kill him” (40) each time he glanced at Hyde. In retrospect, Enfield tells Utterson, “There is something wrong with [Hyde’s] appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why” (43).

In fact, Hyde’s ability to trigger such powerful dislike goes beyond his physical presence: it operates discursively. After merely hearing of Hyde from Enfield, Utterson finds himself afflicted with “a singularly strong, almost an inordinate, curiosity to behold the features of the real Mr Hyde” (49). After much time spent [page 131] attempting to seek out the elusive Hyde, Utterson finally glimpses him entering his side door, “and the look of him, even at that distance, went somehow strongly against the watcher’s inclination” (50). Utterson catches up to Hyde and carefully memorizes his face, surprised at the level of “hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear” (50) that the man brings out in him. Intriguingly, he is puzzled by his own reaction to Hyde. “There must be something else,” he wonders aloud. “There is something more, if I could find a name for it” (52). Hyde has a mysteriously profound effect on everyone who encounters him, and a remarkable ability to engage the subjects around him, producing a broader doubled relationship, to rival his own with Jekyll, that is constructed entirely out of the observations, if not the concrete descriptions, of others. According to Alex Clunas, the effect is that Hyde “can only be represented in the discourse of others (in the third person and in Lanyon’s and Jekyll’s accounts). He is never the subject of his own discourse. His resentment, therefore, is directed at the discourse that represses and imprisons him” (183). If descriptions of Hyde might restrict him, then inspiring subjective confusion in the people he encounters equips him to neutralize discursive attempts at entrapment.

As time passes, Jekyll finds himself more and more indulgent of Hyde’s insidious behavior. Rationalizing the situation as apart from ordinary laws, he grants Hyde a growing amount of freedom to do as he wishes, contenting himself instead to “make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde” in his waking hours (111). Jekyll takes great pleasure in operating outside the laws of his society by way of Hyde’s inherent anonymity and powers of transformation, but he is also committed to undoing Hyde’s damage after the fact. Although fascinated by and fatally indulgent of Hyde’s activities, Jekyll elects to clean up the monster’s messes. He remains both enthralled and horrified by his doppelgänger, and by the ambiguousness that he represents. Such a chaotic tension revisits Hegel’s dialectic, as described by Jürgen Habermas’s account of the modern consciousness as one that “continually stages a dialectical play between secrecy and public scandal; it is addicted to a fascination with that horror which accompanies the act of profaning, and yet is always in flight from [page 132] the trivial results of profanation” (5). Despite his mixed emotions toward Hyde, Jekyll soon realizes that his rapid oscillation between respecting and rejecting normality has given Hyde the means to grow stronger, and he finds himself increasingly dependent on the antidote in order to overcome Hyde and take back his physical shape. He admits, “That part of me which I had the power of projecting, had lately been much exercised and nourished; it had seemed to me of late as though the body of Edward Hyde had grown in stature, as though (when I wore that form) I were conscious of a more generous tide of blood” (113).

Jekyll does irreparable damage to his own identity by traveling so completely between his and Hyde’s personalities rather than attempting to find harmony in both. He soon discovers that he “was slowly losing hold of [his] original” sense of self “and becoming slowly incorporated with [his] second” one (114). This has disastrous consequences for his health, as Jekyll quickly becomes “a creature eaten up and emptied by fever, languidly weak both in body and mind, and solely occupied by one thought: the horror of [his] other self” (122). “The powers of Hyde,” the doctor’s confession reads, “seemed to have grown with the sickliness of Jekyll” (122). As Hyde gains more and more of Jekyll’s strength, he stands to usurp the doctor’s identity completely; the threat of the new century similarly stands to destabilize all that is familiar.

Beyond the Mirror

The only option left to Jekyll is to destroy his double by destroying himself. Even then, he laments the necessity, as he deeply admires Hyde’s love of life. He admits that when he remembers “the abjection and passion of this attachment,” and when he knows how Hyde “fears [Jekyll’s] power to cut him off by suicide,” he finds it in his heart to pity his double (123). In a final act of desperation, Jekyll writes out his confession before poisoning himself, effectively eliminating his other self in the process. “This, as much as anything else, is Henry Jekyll’s tragedy,” Saposnik concludes in his essay on the Jekyll-Hyde dynamic; “by seeing Hyde as another being rather than as part of himself, he is forced to deny the most significant result of his experiment and [page 133] indeed of his entire story, the inescapable conclusion that man must dwell in uncomfortable but necessary harmony with his multiple selves” (724).

Hyde’s existence is born out of Jekyll’s desire to prove the duality of identity. His presence complicates those around him, awakening passions both hostile and reverent by forcing those he meets to recognize their own anxieties about the coming century’s potential for instability. What’s more, Hyde as a doppelgänger provides Stevenson’s audience with an image that, albeit monstrous, is still significantly, recognizably human enough to be grappled with. Botting writes that “doubleness clings to modernity: if it invents the liberties, it also produces an array of disciplinary mechanisms; if it seeks to enlighten, it also conjures up realms of darkness to penetrate and illuminate; if it realizes a spirit of human progress, it also imagines spectres of regression” (9). The Gothic doppelgänger figure is reinvented in Stevenson’s tale in order to characterize, interact with, and ultimately neutralize the fears that he represents about the transformative and yet destabilizing powers of the modern future for Stevenson’s late Victorian audience. Jekyll therefore must die in the final conflict with his double because despite his attempts all along to exorcise what he perceived as his demon by splitting it from himself entirely, Jekyll remains too enmeshed in Hyde to complete the act. The powerful influence of the future, however frightening, enthralls Jekyll completely, binding him to it in identity and form, to the effect that neither Jekyll nor Hyde, neither Gothic past nor modern future, can exist without the other.

Hyde’s beguiling yet disturbing influence, however, does not end with his destruction. Though Jekyll kills both himself and his shadowy reflection, he cannot successfully eliminate the mirror that facilitates Hyde’s appearance. Recall, after all, that Jekyll equates Hyde’s arrivals and departures to “a stain of breath upon a mirror” (110), a transitory presence overlaying distortion on but never altering a permanent surface. The mirror signals transformational potential to Jekyll, and while Hyde’s physical form complements that model with its fluidity, the mirror itself is fixed. The modern future invites the same specular imagining in Stevenson’s readership, rendering the mirror-image, the doppelgänger, an [page 134] exquisite means to illustrate the horrors of temporal ambiguity. To the detriment of Jekyll’s form, Hyde’s becomes increasingly stabilized as the novel progresses, his malleability restricted and ultimately eliminated in an effort to redress the anxieties that he symbolizes. But the mirror itself, and the misgivings that give it power, remain to haunt those who encounter it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than when Utterson and Poole find their search of Jekyll’s laboratory interrupted by the presence of the entrancing cheval-glass. “This glass has seen some strange things, sir,” Poole whispers as the two approach it warily (91). Surveying the mirror at length, Utterson finds himself startled by the intrigue and horror with which it fills him, and quietly agrees with the butler. “And surely,” he replies, held in the mirror’s power despite Hyde’s death, “none stranger than itself” (91). Despite Hyde’s apparent destruction, his legacy lingers in the mirror itself, haunting the ages that encounter it long after “the stain of breath upon the mirror” only appears to fade.


1. Some examples include E. T. A. Hoffman’s convoluted The Devil’s Elixirs (1815) and his short story “The Sandman” (1816), works from both Shelleys (Frankenstein from Mary in 1818 and Prometheus Unbound from Percy in 1820), and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confession of a Justified Sinner (1824), to name but a few from Europe.

Works Cited

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Botting, Fred. Limits of Horror: Technology, Bodies, Gothic. Manchester UP, 2010.

Bradbury, Malcolm and James McFarlane. Modernism, 1890-1930. Penguin Books, 1991.

Chaon, Dan. Afterword. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, Signet Classic, 2003, pp. 125-35.

Clunas, Alex. “Comely External Utterance: Reading Space in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The Journal of Narrative Technique, no. 3, 1994, pp. 173-189.

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, W. W. Norton, 2010, pp. 824-840. [page 135]

Garrett, Peter. Gothic Reflections: Narrative Force in Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Cornell UP, 2003.

Habermas, Jürgen. “Modernity Versus Postmodernity.” New German Critique, no. 22, 1981, pp. 3-14.

Kern, Stephen. The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918. Harvard UP, 1983.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lectures on Literature. Harcourt, Inc., 1980.

Parsons, Deborah L. Streetwalking the Metropolis: Women, the City, and Modernity. Oxford UP, 2000.

Saposnik, Irving. “The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 11, no. 4, 1971, pp. 715-31.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Signet Classic, 2003.

Walker, Richard. Labyrinths of Deceit: Culture, Modernity, and Identity in the Nineteenth Century. Liverpool UP, 2008.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Fragile Absolute, Or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?. Verso, 2008.

MLA citation (print):

May, Whitney S. "Through the Cheval-Glass: The Doppelgänger and Temporal Modernist Terror in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Supernatural Studies, no. 5, no. 1, 2018, pp. 121-135.