Mr. Utterson

Who is Gabriel Utterson? Or, better yet, who is he meant to represent?

In the beginning of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we are treated to the narrative point of view of Mr. Gabriel Utterson. He is the lawyer of the eponymous Dr. Jekyll, and is the central protagonist of this novella. Everything that we see is from his point of view. In fact, Stevenson starts his novella by giving us a description of Utterson himself.

“Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable” (Stevenson).

In the second section, “The Search for Mr. Hyde,” Stevenson also includes a short segment about how he had a Sunday tradition that follows:

“It was his custom…when this meal was over, to sit close by the fire, a volume on his reading desk, until the clock of the neighboring church rang out the hour of twelve, when he would go to bed” (Stevenson).

The structured routine of his monotonous life and the physical details that Stevenson uses to describe him give us a slight understanding of the type of person that he is: Mr. Utterson is, quite literally, utterly unexciting. His physical features are bland, and his habits and hobbies are depicted as just simple. In our modern context, this would be a rather boring character.

While this is one reading of his character, another look suggests that Utterson has a bit more to his personality than we believed. He has a good heart and a compassion for others, which is shown in the beginning of the novella where the narrator states that “it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men” (Stevenson). As a lawyer, it is his job to respond and defend those who are accused of crimes. In most lawyers, that would result in cynicism, but in Utterson, it’s compassion.

So we have a sensible, kind, and overall simple man who guides and leads this novella. The question is why?

Could he be a contrast to the socially and physically alluring Dr. Jekyll? If we look at how Stevenson describes Jekyll himself as having a “large handsome face” and a “blackness about his eyes.” These details clearly fly in the face of Utterson’s initial treatment of a bland countenance. A certain “blackness about his eyes” gives the reader hints to Jekyll’s inner darkness and reveals that there is something inside of him that Utterson does not have. If his thoughts and impulses are left unchecked, in the form of Hyde specifically, it could lead to disaster. Jekyll does not have the same control or the same stability that Utterson has.

If he could be a foil for Henry Jekyll, then he can also be a foil for the reader as well. Utterson’s plain introduction but ultimate care for the story that unfolds reads very much like the reader who has picked up the novella. Anyone can place themselves in his shoes and see this sort of “de-evolution” of the Victorian man (Jekyll) firsthand. Here, Utterson becomes a literal everyman in order to account for every man. If we say that he is the reader themselves, then his curiosity towards Hyde and his fondness for Jekyll make sense. In all, Stevenson loves playing with the dichotomy of the two characters. While Utterson doesn’t display a dark side to his life, he is drawn towards it just as we are.

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