Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Robert Louis Stevenson

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Style 1 key example

Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The style of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relies heavily on thorough descriptions and vivid imagery. Lanyon’s description of Hyde is indicative of the highly specific, visual style of this piece: 

This person (who had thus, from the first moment of his entrance, struck in me what I could only describe as a disgustful curiosity) was dressed in a fashion that would have made an ordinary person laughable: his clothes, that is to say, although they were of a rich and sober fabric, were enormously too large for him in every measurement-the trousers hanging on his legs and rolled up to keep them from the ground, the waist of the coat below his haunches [...].

Much of the imagery in the novella focuses on sound and visual images. Here, as in many of the passages narrated by a particular character, the details skew away from the fanciful and towards the specific and practical. Lanyon says Hyde’s clothes are “too large for him in every measurement,” and he breaks down each way in which they are ill-fitting (in the legs, in the waist, in the collar). In the same paragraph, he describes Hyde as small, muscular, with an odd “debility of constitution” (akin to the “deformity” everyone describes seeing in Hyde). The description above relies, like most of the novella, on long declarative sentences with several qualifying or parenthetical clauses. With the exception of the spiritual “deformity,” the description is naturalistic, believable, and thorough, and has a kind of official, legalistic tone, not unlike a witness testimony to a crime. 

While the text employs the occasional allusion to classical or biblical texts, it generally refers back to the touchstones and standards of Stevenson’s environment. Above, Lanyon says Jekyll is dressed “in a fashion that would have made an ordinary person laughable.” He is speaking only in reference to what would have made an ordinary Victorian, middle-class Londoner look strange. The novella is peppered with references to different districts and locations in London (Cavendish Square, Portland Street, Regent’s Park), and its often informal dialogue relies on regional slang and colloquialisms  (“Queer Street,” “Sawbones,” “Dr. Fell”).  These realistic details function to provide some balance to the supernatural elements of the text by grounding them in a very distinct world. These details, together with the mostly matter-of-fact diction of the novella, help Stevenson deliver a grounded account of an extraordinary occurrence.