Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Narrative Perspective

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a mystery novel. Therefore, the structure of a mystery novel dictates that the reader’s viewpoint must be limited, especially in the beginning, and then slowly move outwards until the entire picture is revealed. DJMR follows this quite closely, allowing us (the reader) to only see what Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer, also sees. The way that Stevenson chooses to do this, however, breaks with traditions by combining the third and first person perspectives and directly interacting with the audience through the text.

At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to Mr. Utterson, the viewpoint character, through an external description. By external, I mean that we are introduced to him as another character might be. We are still able to see his thoughts and follow his perspective, but Utterson is his own person separate from the reader. Likewise, we are introduced to the story of Jekyll and Hyde as Utterson is directly told by his friend, Mr. Enfield. These take the form of dialogue, temporarily switching viewpoints to the first person. These bouts of dialogue, however, can run for several pages at a time. The story of how Enfield saw Hyde beat a child in the streets runs for two full pages without stopping, only breaking whenever Utterson interrupts him. In this way, Stevenson embeds the first person within a larger third person perspective. We receive information at the same time as Utterson, but we are not fully brought into his thought processes. In this way, Utterson is limited in how he may be realized as a character, but it also allows for the reader to implant themselves emotionally onto Utterson. Such as when he goes to visit Jekyll at his home, upon which he is brought into the laboratory. We are told rather directly that it “was the first time the lawyer had been received in that part of his friend’s quarters”. A small detail, but quite telling. It is a statement lacking sentimentality, a strait-forward explanation of facts. However Utterson feels about this fact is left for the reader to interpret based on their previous understanding of the character and, more importantly, how they might feel if they were put in the same position. In this way the story keeps us at arm’s length, not allowing for the reader to become emotionally attached to the main character.

Stevenson makes attempts to interact with the reader directly throughout the first part of the novel. These come in the form of asides, which are written in parenthesis amidst both dialogue and narrative. The asides are directly linked with the topic being discussed, and are often an anticipated response to how the reader or speaker is feeling. This is introduced in Mr. Enfield’s speech about Hyde in chapter 1. Sevenson adds “what makes it worse” in parenthesis amidst Enfield’s raging about Hyde’s terrible behavior. It is framed as if Enfield were saying it to Utterson but in the choice of parenthesis denotes that Stevenson himself is speaking. This is characteristic of stage performance, where the audience is often treated as an acknowledged part of the show and therefore asides are tolerated. In novels (and novellas) however, an acknowledgement of the reader is rarely seen. Such an interruption therefore grabs our attention, allowing Stevenson to direct or mislead us as he sees fit.

The Beginning of Jack Maggs

We have only just entered the world of Jack Maggs, and so have much to see in terms of progression or character. The beginning is rather similar to its original tale, Great Expectations, in that it drops us in what is effectively both the beginning and the middle of Jack’s story. It is the beginning in that it is the first time we see him, but his worldview and relationships are developed to the degree that makes it clear he has lived quite an interesting life before his return to London. Beyond that, the tone of Jack Maggs is much more mysterious and generally darker than Great Expectations. This is partially because anything that happens here is generally through the direct will of Jack, whereas Pip often found himself an unwilling participant in the other people’s machinations. We as the reader are also not completely sure whether or not to trust yet the movies of the protagonist. Honestly, whenever he appeared at Mary’s door in the middle of the night I could not decide immediately whether he was going to speak with or murder her right there. The same could be said of when he approached house 27. Jack’s intentions were not immediately revealed to us, making it impossible for us to either condemn or understand his actions. We are not immediately allowed into Jack’s thoughts, as if Jack himself must first learn whether or not to trust us with the contents. The third person omniscient narrator does not allow us much in way of understanding the minds of each characters, so we must judge them upon their actions. This could almost be seen as a form of irony, knowing the sticky predicament Jack is in with the English government. So far his record is not looking too good. IT will be interesting, however, to see whichever way Carey decides to take the story of Maggs and Pip.

Wealth and Obsession

In Great Expectations, the main character Pip goes through a series of events that take him from a place of ignorance in regards to social class and very quickly reveals to him how social structures work in his world, and how low he stands in relation to others. His first encounter is with the eccentric Miss Havisham, from whom he originally learns to view himself as being inadequate and of a lower caliber. After meeting with her he views himself and those around him with a more pointed eye, being particularly critical of his brother-in-law and mentor, Joe. The knowledge of class, social structure, and wealth never seems to make Pip happy. His interactions with Miss Havisham and Estelle leave him feeling inadequate and, in Estelle’s case, with a deep sense of longing. His interactions thereafter do nothing to push him towards happiness, instead they seem to pull him away from it. In the last scene of the first volume, Pip feels himself wishing to return home, if only for one more night. Likewise, we the reader feel that he is being pulled away from something intrinsically tied to his personhood — his sense of home. Pip himself laments that he “should be afraid of where he comes from”. This future self seems to understand that wealth and character are not one and the same, a lesson younger Pip has yet to learn.
Even when he gets to London, a city he perceives as being the center of class and high society, his hopes are dashed after seeing the condition of his living situation. He learns very quickly thus that the place that he has come to is just as bad as the place he left. His only companion is that of a layman turned gentleman and his son, Mr. Pocket and Herbert Pocket. From an objective third person perspective his mentor may not be that far above him in rank due to his lack of fortune, however his character immediately renders him as being superior to those of the higher caliber that we meet before and afterwards through their incessant kindness towards Pip. Pip, however, sees them through the eyes of wealth and power, remarking to himself even that “Herbert Pocket would never be very successful or rich”. His harsh criticism emphasizes Pip’s obsession with wealth and status. This is his journey— to learn about wealth and then grow to understand how money and the obsession with obtaining it can lead to ruin.

Class in Great Expectations

In the first volume of Great Expectations, the narrator Pip wants desperately to become a member of the English elite. He, however, is an orphan boy born to commoner parents. His older sister and brother in law take him in, raising him as their own. He makes marks on their lower status, wishing “Joe had been more genteelly brought up”. Frankly this wish sounds selfish, as he only wishes this so that his own status may be elevated. What is interesting, however, is this desire to leave behind his commoner roots emerges first whenever Pip first goes to visit Miss Havisham at her estate. He marks himself as being dirty to meet with upper-class individuals, with his “course hands and [his] common boots”. In the chapters leading up to this engagement we never see Pip question his mode of dressing or his level of education, but being exposed to a higher lifestyle seems to awaken within him a desire for higher achievement.
    What is interesting is that this idea of upper and lower classes does not directly correlate with traditional lines between bad and good. In fact, both camps seem to house their own personal style of terrible, with his abusive sister at one end and the absolutely bonkers Miss Havisham at the other. Where Pip feels most comfortable is with his brother-in-law, Joe. Joe is illiterate and is about the lowest character in terms of social class. His kindness and salt-of-the-earth practical intelligence steers Pip towards moral rightness and yet does so without the malice of Pip’s sister or the judgmental airs of the Havishams.

Flipping “The Other” in Wide Sargasso Sea

Parts 1 and 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea are spent in the Caribbean Islands, primarily Jamaica and later Trinidad. From here we sit and view the englishmen and women of Bronte’s novel as Rhys does. Only in the final part of the book do we visit Rhys’s England. By this point we find ourselves attached to the Caribbean as Rhys and Antionette are, leaving us longing to return to the lush and wild lands across the sea.
We are introduced to Jamaica through the eyes of a very young, very lonely Antionette. Her family and community at large seem to range from ignoring her to openly despising her, following her home whilst throwing jeering names and punishing her with rocks and isolation. We are not openly explained as to why, beyond her mistake of being born to the ‘wrong’ crowd, as it were. So, alone and lonely, she turned to the wilderness for comfort, seemingly her only comfort. Still, the place was not entirely kind to her. Shortly after losing her only companion, Tia, over a disagreement and a stolen dress, she goes deep into the forest. There she encounters the dangerous parts of nature — snakes, poisonous ants, even the very grass itself seems to reach out and cut at her. Her only response? “It’s better than people”(Part 1, page 16). From this rather ugly introduction we grow to love the natural world as she does, understanding it as being more alive than some of the human characters. There is also the community of Jamaica and it’s relationship to the environment. Despite being a ‘civilized’ society, the people of the Caribbean retain a deep spiritual root to the natural spirits, best seen here in the reaction to the death of the parrot that belonged to Antoinette’s mother. The parrot burns to death in a fire meant to kill Antoinette and her family, which was lit by the collective township. The township closes in on them with great voracity until they all witness the parrot try to escape and fall into the flames. After this rather brutal death scene, the violence of the townsmen seem to dissipate. They are overcome with the spiritual significance of this act of violence and we the audience feel the heaviness. We understand their suffering, mainly Antoinette’s, not as onlookers but as one of the community.
After this deep and introspective dive into caribbean culture, part two comes as a jarring shift in perspective. We shift from Antionette to ‘the man’ who we can assume to be Rochester from Bronte’s novel. Here he is a younger man, the second son of well to do englishman. He marries (now adult) Antionette and the two go off together to Trinidad for their honeymoon. From there on we truck along as he grumbles and grouses about both the tiniest and largest of details. This is especially true for his wife, whom he admits “[he] did not love. [he] was thirsty for her, but that is not love. [He] felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to [him], a stranger who did not think or feel as [he] did” (Part 2, page 55). The ironic part is that now he is the outsider in a land that does not understand him. Often we see him physically overwhelmed by the physical surroundings, calling the water itself “‘extreme green”(Part 2, page 41), referring to the entire area as having “an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness”(Part 2, Page 53). As he admires and desires Antoinette, so does he view her lands with the same possessive eye. Yet we can not go with him on this, because we know Antoinette. We know her better than we know  this man whom we are expected to follow. We relate when she makes references to her life that he does not care to understand. He is now the “other”, from a far away land that we know little about save from characters’ stories. This other, however, is one to be feared — they are the conquerors in this scenario, and we the subjugated, fetishized natives. We know Antoinette’s fate from the beginning, her sad beginnings only making her inevitable captivity even harder to bear. We carry it with us as the reader throughout the story until it reaches it’s tragic conclusion. This is not the tale of a people fending off a mysterious threat, this is a tragedy about the fate of those who do not belong. By placing us alongside Antoinette, we see the horror of subjugation and we feel the helplessness that define’s her life. Antoinette and her people become people, which may sound like a small thing but is most certainly not. Rhys forces us to re-humanize those whom we would rather leave as beasts.

Jane Eyre and the Hearth

    In Jane Eyre, Jane spends most of her time in three homes. She begins her life in Gateshead, then moves to Lowood, then finally to Thornfield. it is not until Thornfield, however, that she finds a place that she can consider as her home. Through Jane’s eyes we experience the differing places that she lives. At each place it is her relationships with the inhabitants that colors her opinion. At Gateshead, her hatred of Mrs. Reed and her abuse at the hands of her son, John Reed, color her experience of the place. She does not consider it home, even when returning to it when called to Mrs. Reed’s side. Likewise, she has no real attachment to Lowood save for her attachments to Helen Burns and Miss Temple. After the first dies and the second gets married, Jane “[tires] of the routine of eight years in one afternoon”(Chapter 10). Her people, her formulated family units become her home. Physical spaces admittedly hold little value to her, as “no magnet drew [her] to a given point, increasing in its strength of attraction the nearer [she] came”(Chapter 22)
    This carries over into her attachment to Thornfield. Thornfield is the only place that Jane ever refers to as ‘home’ in the novel. Yet she spends little time regarding its physical features. She again remarks on the people who she lives with. She grows attached to Adele and Mrs. Fairfax, hating to leave them even for a short time. Then, of course, there is Mr. Rochester, the man whom Jane falls deeply in love with. When it is suggested that Jane be placed into a new place of employment after Rochester marries, she weeps, reasoning that “[she sees] the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death”(Chapter 22). Those are some pretty intense attachments. Just before this she reasons why she feels this way: because she has been able to live her best life at thornfield. No one has treated her unkindly or made her feel lesser(besides Ms. Ingram). Between the lines here we see that her reasonings are embedded in the people and their treatment of her.
    A good contrast to this is the place she holds in the moors at the latter part of the book. Here she is undoubtably her most free. She is allowed her own residence completely unencumbered by anyone, employer or no. She earns her living as a teacher, she has relations with her cousins. However, the lack of intimacy she experiences here does not allow for the same warmth that she experienced at Thornfield. She misses Rochester and the home, and so eventually returns. Her freedom, then, holds little sway of importance over her need for belonging. Overall, it is Jane’s longing for the experience of home that pushes her journey, and therefore the plot, forward to its eventual conclusion. Thankfully we see Jane come to this place of home and hearth.

Jane Eyre and the Macabre

It’s difficult to pin down Jane Eyre. I mean that both in reference to the character and to the book itself. Jane Eyre (the person) straddles the line of servant and victorian noble, while Jane Eyre (the book) straddles genres. It’s part Gothic, part Romance, part fictional autobiography. The book can not seem to decide what it wants to be, just like the main character. Clever, Brontë, I see what you did there.
Now, it is very apparent how the romantic and autobiographic elements play into the narrative. The entirety of the novel is written as an autobiographical tale from Jane’s perspective and a large part of the novel is dedicated to her romance with Mr. Rochester. Personally, however, I am much more interested in how Brontë incorporated the gothic elements into her story. Partially because it is still to early in the year for me to funnel my macabre fascination into halloween decorating, but mostly because I have just recently completed Wuthering Heights, written by none other than Charlotte Bronte’s own sister, Emily. I have had an ongoing fascination regarding why Jane Eyre became so popular while Wuthering Heights withered in comparison. The two were written and released very close together and many people believed at the beginning that they had been written by the same person. Now, this topic is a very complicated one and so deserves it’s own full discussion, but I do think it had something to do with the differing in application of gothic elements. Wuthering Heights, of course, was much more heavy-handed in it’s use of all things dark and spooky, but I argue that Charlotte is the more creative of the two in regards to how she incorporates it into other elements of the narrative.
Charlotte Bonte is fantastic at using imagery to set a mood. She brings you in and makes you sit in the tension of the world she has painted. Part of this is the limited first person perspective — we are learning at the same time as Jane, and so whenever she feels uneasy, we also feel the tension. The most obvious example is the scene at the end of chapter twenty where Jane is left with an injured Mason as the mysterious figure that attacked him is just next door. Jane is left with what seems only a single lit candle. She describes the room as a terrified person would, seeing Mason himself as “eyes now shut,  now opening, now wandering through the room, now fixed on me, and ever glazed with the dulness of horror”. Now, I know from that description that I would not want those eyes looking anywhere near me. She continues about the room, turning particular care onto the image of Christ and the twelve apostles. She goes about, describing some in detail and others not, as the light flickers in and away from their faces, describing Judas’s face in particular as “[growing] out of the panel and seemed gathering life and threatening a revelation of the arch-traitor — of Satan himself — in his subordinate’s form”. Now, I highly doubt that Judas is literally about to jump out and get her, but the thing making noise in the next room just might. She is terrified, and so we the audience are also terrified. It is very effective.
I really enjoy how Charlotte uses the gothic is to subtly undercut romantic ideals. For example: Rochester, the main male love interest, meets the heroine as he rides in on a horse. Pretty classic romance there, except that his entrance does not excite nor entice the ever wary Jane. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the first image she (and we) get is that of his dog — a great spectre of a beast that she at first mistakes as an evil spirit. When Rochester does appear shortly thereafter, it is his voice and not his appearance that reaches her first. Then the valiant steed proceeds to buck its rider onto the ground, breaking Rochester’s leg in the process. The scene up to this point is rather eerie — we don’t know what to make of Rochester or his hellhound, but we can assume that he holds some importance on account of his grandiose entrance. Then he hits the ground and the spell is immediately broken. The scene thereafter is actually pretty mundane: the conversation they have is based firmly at the task at hand, although the manner in which he speaks to Jane is very telling of his character. This pretty much sums up Rochester’s interactions with Jane — equal parts mysterious and mundane. The fact that he can so seamlessly transition between normal and near psychotic behavior so quickly and easily left me uneasy, and I have spent much of the novel wondering if Rochester was going to pull a page out of The Shining and attempt to hack our heroine to bits for discovering his secret in the attic. I know he won’t, simply because Jane must still be alive to write this ‘autobiography’ later in life, but the idea still leaves my stomach turning every time he enters the scene.

Nelly and the Falcon

 At the end of chapter seventeen, Nelly walks into the house after speaking with Bodkin to find everyone in a tizzy about a loosed falcon in the living room. We don’t know much else — who brought it in or how it otherwise got into its current predicament. There is not even a description of the falcon itself. We only see the family’s and then Nelly’s reaction to its presence. Almost immediately I connected this hawk with Nelly herself and the relationships she holds with the rest of the family.
    Nelly herself thinks on the hawk later, after the debacle has concluded. She thinks on it in relation to the family she serves, believing it “a good figure for any of the three of them”. As a reader, however, I am drawn make comparisons between the loosed bird and the main character. She, of course, does not indulge my thought spirals, using the whole event to reach the (rather obvious) conclusion “’I am not like them’”. Honestly, Nelly, we figured that out about ten chapters ago, but okay! Glad that you are on board with us. Just after this declaration, however, Case drops hints that Nelly understands her predicament on a deeper level. She phrases herself as having “bruised [her] wings on those ancient beams a few times”, but believes now that se has learned better from it. It is the same lesson that her mother has been trying to drill into her skull since she was four — she is not like the Earnshaws, to any mess that they make for themselves is therefore not hers to clean. The lesson that she actually learns, however, is that she is their tamed bird to keep and give attention to at their own enjoyment. No matter how much the Earnshaws mistreat and manipulate her, she no longer has the ability to tear herself away.
    This is depressing, partially because I really enjoy Nelly as a character. She is brave, sensible, reliable, and genuinely cares for others. I often find myself pulled aside from the book by my own thoughts and fantasies about her escape from Wuthering Heights. I imagined that she would flitter away to work with her mother or in some other town, find herself a loving (and preferably rich (and definitely not Hindley)) husband, and create a home and hearth of her own. Then I remember this is Wuthering Heights, and no one here gets a happy ending. She could achieve so much of only she would leave the residents of Wuthering Heights to drown in their own cesspool. But she can’t, and this is her fatal flaw. The moment she falls for Hindley she becomes another captured victim of the mire. Her wings will never carry her farther than her feet, nor will she experience life outside of the small cage she has constructed.
    The most depressing aspect of Nelly’s ‘caging’ is that she has willfully constructed and stayed inside her provincial gave despite multiple efforts by others to make her leave. This most notably comes in the form of her mother, ironically the same person who originally deposited her there in the first place. When Nelly is a child, her mother repeatedly warms Nelly against placing herself as an equal to the Earnshaws This is an effort on her part to keep Nelly from becoming too emotionally attached for proper work. As an adult, she outright asks Nelly to abandon the Earnshaw house and come work with her. All in all, she is trying to keep Nelly from putting her own stake in with the Earnshaws. Chapter four is entirely consumed with a story from Nelly’s mother warning against the dangers of wishing. This, unfortunately, is the very hole that Nelly falls into — she wishes to marry Hindley against all practicalities, she wishes that Hindley and his father will get along, she wishes that Hindley could be a more responsible adult and master, and one by one her wishes fall to the wayside, harming nor helping anyone but Nelly herself.
    In effect, Nelly lives up to the words of Hindley, becoming “a permanent fixture” in spite of everything that should lead her to be the contrary. For such a sensible character, it is her soft heart that eventually causes her downfall.

Hindley of the Post Modern

In the early chapters of Nelly Dean, we are introduced to the character of Hindley, the oldest living son of the Earnshaws and therefore the heir to all they own. This, obviously, is the same Hindley from Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights. To call him the same person, however, would be quite the stretch. In Nelly Dean, the character of Hindley is expanded in ways that were originally left to the reader’s imaginings.
A large difference is that we experience Hindley before Heathcliff interrupts the family dynamic. We witnessed this in Wuthering Heights, but only briefly. Here we see a Hindley that is much more open, imaginative, with a wild streak very similar to his sister. When reading these passages, the most burning question in my mind is thus: why does Alison Case feel the need to explain and expand Hindley, who in the original text is a pernicious and violent man, into a character that we can empathize with in this way? The most obvious answer is that she wants us to better understand why Hindley behaves the way he does. But why do we need to understand Hindley or his phycological nuances? To me, this is an example of the social differences from the gothic-romantic nineteenth century to the post-modern twenty-first. Post modern media, books and otherwise, often attempt to persuade the reader in the favor of unlikable characters by explaining their behaviors as being the result of childhood trauma or mistreatment. Hindley, with his insecure attachment to his father, the loss of his older brother, and the invasion of another, younger child into his home (who very clearly is his father’s favorite, despite not actually being his child) fits into this category quite nicely. There is also evidence that Hindley could be diagnosed with ADHD, with his extreme energy, violent tendencies, and inability to “keep his mind to a schoolroom task for five minutes together”(Chapter 5). It makes sense that Bronte did not expand on these ideas because, frankly, people during that time did not generally understand the nuanced nature of the human psyche. It wasn’t until much later in the eighteenth century that the study of psychology rose to scientific respectability.
Alison Case, however, absolutely had these developments available to her, having lived and written in the twenty-first century. In short, the Hindley that we see here is one built for the modern reader. We as modern readers and writers like to analyze how a character came to be as they are, and if they happen to be deeply-troubled and a bit traumatized, all the better. Trauma and PTSD have become a narrative short-hand for characters with a troubled mind. So it makes sense to create characters or in this case, recreate. This Hindley, therefore could be considered a completely different character, written for a post-modern interpretation.

Wuthering Heights: A Return to Eros

Wuthering Heights, for all of it’s strange and twisted machinations, is often labeled as a love story. To a degree, this is true, a significant portion of the plot does center around a romance between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw-Linton. However, the book bears little resemblance to contemporary romance fiction. It would be better and more accurate to group it closer to the greek understanding of love, Eros.
Now, a little context. The greeks had four distinct words for describing love: storge, philia, agape, and eros. Each of these four described a distinct type of love. Eros described what we would call romantic love or attraction. The other three described platonic versions of love, such as love of family or friends. To be clear, the greeks did not view Eros as being a very positive or beneficial state of being. It was viewed as a form of theia mania, in english ‘madness given by the gods’. The affiliated greek god, also conveniently named Eros, spread this type of love by shooting people with special arrows given by his mother, Aphrodite. Eros (the feeling, not the god) came upon a man as a direct attack by the gods onto his psyche, driving him mad with obsession. That’s pretty intense. It was also common that relationships borne from these conditions met with tragic ends, often because of the white-hot intensity of emotions involved.
It’s not hard to see how Wuthering Heights fits in with this narrative (especially that last bit). It is easy to argue how love drives some characters to act in ways that they would not otherwise. We see this from the very beginning of the novel, before we fully understand what Heathcliff’s relationship to Catherine had developed. He begs Catherine, long dead at this point, to come in and haunt him and his house, calling her “[his] heart’s darling” (Chapter 3). Such strong professions from a man who spent much of the novel trying to take vengeance upon Catherine and her kin. Their relationship, horribly corrupt and filled with toxic and manipulative behavior, is most definitely passionate enough to fall under the label of mania. No matter how far one strays from the other, a string between them seems to pull them back towards one another. Theirs is not the only one in the story, not by a long shot. Most of the relationships in the novel are on some level dysfunctional. Even sweet Edgar Linton, easily the best character from a moral standpoint, has a rather possessive relationship with Catherine. After being struck by Catherine, Nelly describes him as “[possessing] the power to depart as much as a cat possesses the power to leave a mouse half killed, or a bird half eaten”(Chapter 8). Take note of the predatory aspect of Bronte’s language here. This predator-prey dynamic leaves the reader with an ominous foreshadowing to an unhealthy co-dependendant relationship, just as a cat is dependent on mouse and bird for sustenance.
If I am being honest, to see Wuthering Heights labeled as a romance is a bit disconcerting. The relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine, though passionate, is as far from the modern concept of romance as Lolita is from proper parenting techniques. Viewed through the lens of greek understanding, however, and the intense and manic behaviors appear to almost be inevitable.