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.

“Bucket is so deep”


Does Mr. Bucket actually conceal more than he reveals?

Bleak House is not simply a novel in which mysterious events take place, but a novel in which EVERY event is cloaked in mystery. From the opening pages, we understand that everything is covered in a fog – not just the thick London fog, but a moral fog and darkness that permeates the entire life of the novel, emanating from the Courts and the Aristocracy. There is not just one character that holds a secret – all the characters do. With such a backdrop, one would assume that the character of a detective would aid in clearing the fog – “solving the mystery” – but Mr. Bucket seems to not bring truth to light, but only further conceal it.

The name of the detective himself, perhaps the most clearly metaphorical name in the novel, speaks not only of ‘depth’, but of ‘concealment’. Just as Tulkinghorn is a repository of the secrets of the landed gentry, Bucket conceals in his ‘depths’ the secrets of the City of London itself – and seemingly, all who inhabit it. He goes into those places – Tom-All-Alone’s and the poorer areas of London such as the Shooting Gallery – where Tulkinghorn will not go. Bucket is able to go into these secret places because, unlike a man with Tulkinghorn’s status, he will not be seen. More importantly, he will not be recognized.

If Bucket is a master of concealment, the thing he conceals most effectively is himself. When we first meet him, it is as if he has simply appeared in the room: “standing with an attentive face between himself and the lawyer, at a little distance from the table, a person with a hat and stick in his hand who was not there when he himself came in, and has not since entered by the door or by either of the windows” (355). It is not surprising that the darkness of the ‘inner city’ streets of London at night is where Bucket is most at home, as Dickens based the character on a real detective, Charles Fielding, with whom he took many night patrols along London streets. Add to this the fact that, like a real-life Sherlock Holmes, Dickens had the layout of city of London practically memorized.
Bucket conceals himself, but also his motives. Whenever he ‘questions a suspect’ or hopes to draw information from a source, he does so in the most strangely conversational and non-combative of ways. The most interesting (and simply enjoyable to read) example of this is when he gathers information from one of the Dedlock servants, moving from ‘small talk’ about the servant’s height to direct questioning:

“’You’re so well put together that I shouldn’t have thought it. But the household troops, though considered fine men, are built so straggling. – Walks by night, does she? When it’s moonlight, though?’
O yes. When it’s moonlight! Of course. O, of course! Conversational and acquiescent on both sides” (814).

Even when questioning / gathering information, Bucket not only conceals his motives but his methods. He questions without questioning, making direct statements when he has a suspicion (i.e. “Your name, old gentleman, is Smallweed; that’s what your name is; I know it well”). Again, a great example of this is when he ‘questions’ the servant, providing an alibi for Lady Dedlock’s innocence based on a suspicion:
“’To be sure,’ says Mr. Bucket. ‘That makes a difference. Now I think of it,’ says Mr. Bucket, warming his hands, and looking pleasantly at the blaze, ‘she went out walking, the very night of this business.’
‘To be sure she did! I let her in the garden over the way.’
‘And left her there. Certainly you did. I saw you doing it.’
‘I didn’t see you,’ says Mercury.
‘I was rather in a hurry,’ returns Mr Bucket” (814).

Bucket conceals himself, his motives, and even his solutions. In a trope that will become a staple of the detective genre, Bucket does not reveal the solution until the end. As Agatha Christie will make famous with her own detective, Hercule Poirot, Bucket gathers all suspects into the ‘accusing parlor’ and only reveals the murderess at the very end:
“’The party to be apprehended is now in this house,’ proceeds Mr Bucket, putting up his watch with a steady hand, and with rising spirits, ‘and I’m about to take her into custody in your presence’” (829). Even near the end of the novel, Bucket does not reveal to Esther that she is actually looking at the body of her mother but urges her to ‘think a moment’ (914).

At the end of the novel, it is not even Bucket the detective that can solve the mystery. He is too much a part of the mysterious world and can only further conceal. Ultimately, it takes the “Summer sun” to clear away the fog from Bleak House.

“The Romantic Side of Familiar Things”

At the end of the Preface to Bleak House, Dickens writes a statement that I believe is the key to how we talk about representation and realism in his work: “In Bleak House I have purposely dwelt upon the romantic side of familiar things” (emphasis added). This statement becomes more interesting when taken in the entire context of the preface. For several paragraphs, Dickens has just vehemently defended his narrative choices, arguing that the Jarndyce and Jarndyce is an accurate representation of real cases that have embroiled the Court of Chancery, writing that “everything set forth in these pages concerning the Court of Chancery is substantially true, and within the truth.” The second detail that Dickens defends is the spontaneous combustion of Mr. Krook, which George Lewes had criticized as unrealistic. He writes, “I have no need to observe that I do not willfully or negligently mislead my readers and that before I wrote that description I took pains to investigate the subject,” and then cites a handful of documented examples, including a woman who died in France and an alcoholic man who died in Columbus, Ohio.

I am curious about why Dickens decided to defend these two elements of his narrative above all else. Was it simply because others criticized these parts of his story as unrealistic? Why not defend other, more fantastic parts of the narrative, like the character of Miss Flite and her garret of caged birds? And why, indeed, worry about “truth” in a work of fiction at all?

But, judging by the way he defends his story, Dickens is indeed concerned that his story be “substantially true, and within the truth”– or, at least, that readers perceive it that way. He writes that he doesn’t willfully mislead us, the readers, while at the same time writing over 800 pages of events that didn’t really happen. We know they didn’t happen, Dickens knows they didn’t really happen, but for those 800 pages, we like to play along in our imaginations and pretend they did. In the end, however, the novel form itself is one big deception. So what kind of representational truth is Dickens hoping to achieve?

One obvious answer, judging by Dickens’ research of deaths similar to Krook’s, is that he wanted to limit his story to the realm of things that possibly could happen, or things that are like events that really did happen. Of course, we will never meet Esther Summerson walking down the street (even if time travel to Victorian England were possible), but as we read her narrative, we buy into the fiction and believe that she really could exist, and that we could meet her, if only we could step through the looking-glass. This is the beauty and magic of fiction, that for a moment allows us to buy into Esther’s character, to believe what she tells us, and to gain a new way of looking at the world.

This brings us back to Dickens’ closing statement: “the romantic side of familiar things.” One of the tactics that his fiction employs is defamiliarization: the act of presenting situations like our own in a completely different context, to break down our pre-formed conclusions and encourage us to rethink our established ideas. In the pages of Bleak House, we may laugh at Harold Skimpole or the ridiculous Mr. Guppy, but then we return to our world to find people who, in certain moments, remind us of Harold Skimpole or Mr. Guppy (or, worse yet, discover that we ourselves share some of their unfortunate characteristics!). Dickens’ reader may come away with a critical suspicion of the real Court of Chancery, or a wariness of the overwhelming allure of an uncertain fortune. Though the novel events are romantic– exaggerated, even– the events in our world are not, which (perhaps) prevents us from seeing them as clearly as Dickens would like us to. Thus, while the truth Dickens tries to present is not exactly representational, it allows us to better interpret and represent our own world within the space of our minds.

Generality in Theory and Specificity in Fiction

In her chapter “Going Along with Others: Adam Smith and the Realists,” Rae Greiner explores the idea of realism in fiction as an effect that the novel has upon the reader. She argues that “realism in the nineteenth-century British novel … is best understood as ‘sympathetic realism,’ not simply because the novels promote or are about sympathy … but because they employ forms designed to enact sympathetic habits of mind in readers” (15). She understands sympathy to be not purely emotive, but cognitive, with emotional response brought about by cognitive assent to and entrance into the mental state of another. She suggests that realist fiction is the best platform for sympathy, for “fiction alone grants ‘nobodies’ … specificity that distinguishes them from the (fictional) generality out of which they emerge” (47). That is, only in the context of fiction is the other able to gain selfhood in the mind of the reader, for in fiction alone does the individual other become distinct from the general, typical other.

It is interesting to consider Greiner’s theory of sympathetic realism in relation to Harriet Martineau’s sociological observations in How to Observe Morals and Manners in comparison with her novel Deerbrook. Does this idea of a notion of the selfhood of the other as gained only through fiction hold true in Martineau’s works?

My first response, based upon my own reaction to the works and upon the conversation that we had in class way-back-when we were reading Martineau at the beginning of the semester is an emphatic yes. Martineau’s sociological treatise is interesting and provides the reader with valid points as to how to charitably observe and judge the actions of others. However, this treatise neither presents us with others to view as selfs, nor encourages us to view others in that way. Instead, it assists us in the task of scientifically categorizing and labeling others in order to further our own agenda—even if we are to do so in the most charitable way possible.

For example, Martineau writes of how “popular songs are both the cause and effect of general morals” (83). She goes on to explain how this is the case, and why it is therefore important for the observer to pay careful attention to these songs “as an index of popular morals” (83). While these instructions are good in their way, and while they do to a certain extent encourage an impartial view of the situation, they do not help the reader to see the other as a specific self. Instead, they encourage the reader to read other human beings as they would scientific data, categorizing them under a set of undefined criteria based upon the reader’s personal experience of the world. Thus, in Martineau’s nonfiction, we see not people, but data; individual others become nobodies and are consumed into the generality.

In contrast, in Deerbrook Martineau aims to help the reader to enter into the experience of the other, thereby encouraging the recognition of the specificity and selfhood of the other that Grainer suggests is attained only in fiction.

One of the most striking examples of this is in Maria Young, the invalid governess who doesn’t on the surface appear to get the happy ending that her merits warrant. Though we may be tempted to classify her under the general, stereotypical category of “unlucky single woman who is destined to become bitter and unhappy after her former lover marries her best friend,” Maria’s final conversation with Margaret suggests otherwise. Maria explains to Margaret, “you are no fair judge of my lot. … If you could, for one day and night, feel with my feelings, and see through my eyes … you would know, from henceforth, that there are glimpses of heaven for me in solitude, as for you in love” (599). In this passage, supported by the several instances of Maria’s heavenly solitude that are provided throughout the book, the reader is encouraged to see Maria as removed from the generality in her actual peace with the lot that she has been granted. Though throughout the book these instances may seem unrealistic and idealized, in this final passage the reader is given one last encouragement to read Maria as actually unique within the category of invalid single women. Maria becomes through this work of fiction a nobody who ahs been granted “specificity that distinguishes [her] from the (fictional) generality out of which [she has] emerge[d]” (Greiner 47).

Thus, Martineau’s works support Greiner’s theory of sympathetic realism as ultimately aimed at arousing in the reader an emotional sympathy with the reader through cognitive entrance into their experience of the world; it is indeed through fiction that one is best able to cognitively enter into the emotional state of another and thereby to view that other as another specific self.


Works Cited

Greiner, Rae. “Going Along with Others: Adam Smith and the Realists.” Sympathetic Realism in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2012. 15-49. Blackboard. Web. 2 April 2015.

Martineau, Harriet. Deerbrook. 1839. New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.

—. How to Observe Morals and Manners. 1838. N.p.: ReadaClassic.com, 2010

A Story without a Hero?

If I could give a simple answer to the question “how do you feel now that you have read what is considered to be one of the greatest Victorian novels ever written?”, my response would be – a little disappointed. The history of how the novel came into being is the struggle between the Romantic and the Real. In Middlemarch, Eliot sets herself up firmly on the side of Realism – yet, the novel’s ending still feels, in some ways, contrived. In Eliot’s desire to move as far as possible away from ‘Happily Ever After’, has she sacrificed good narrative practices? Perhaps even worse, has she, in her desire to so write against the traditional Romantic narrative, placed her characters in situations which forces them to take a step down (which they all do in some sense)?

Of course, it is more important for Fred, Dorothea, and Lydgate that they are with the ones they love, not that they are wealthy. But again, the step down is so decisive, in addition to the fact that it impacts the primary characters all in nearly the same way, I cannot help but feel that it is a little contrived. Then there is this – in the third to the last chapter, after an epigraph that contains a lengthy passage from Pilgrim’s Progress, where a group of worldly-wise judges condemns Christian’s friend Faithful, Eliot states that it “is a rare and blessed lot which some greatest men have not attained, to know ourselves guiltless before a condemning crowd – to be sure that what we are denounced for is solely the good in us” (823). I cannot help but feel that the introduction to this chapter bears a heavy reference to Eliot’s own life, and that the putting on of a non-traditional Romantic ending for not just one, but all of her primary characters serves in some way to vindicate her own non-traditional relationship.

If the story did have a hero, it may actually be Fred Vincy – who breaks from tradition for the woman he loves. Lydgate is forced to give up his traditional ‘Happily Ever After’, and Dorothea, though not wealthy, only gives up what is hateful to her. Fred, on the other hand, must work to win his new station, though it is a step below what his family initially provided for. It is Fred’s future that Eliot gives the most detailed account of at the novel’s end, and we see Fred, in his new station, having a solid upward trajectory. Lydgate goes down, and Dorothea stays constant. What then is heroism in Middlemarch? Does it exist in Eliot’s world view? If so, it is not revolutionary or salvific. Some of the greatest turns in the novel result from Bulstrode’s scandalous past – hardly a knight in shining armor. Yet, at the end, each of these main characters sacrifice something for the person they love. If there is heroism in Middlemarch, it may not be salvific, but sacrificial.