“Jekyll and Hyde”: The Murder of Sir Danvers Carew

The murder of Sir Danvers Carew in Chapter 4 of Jekyll and Hyde is symbolically significant, particularly when compared with the attack on the young girl described in Chapter 1. Instead of a vulnerable, working-class, nameless female victim, in Chapter 4 Hyde selects (or just happens upon?) a man with power, influence, and wealth. Now that a MP has been murdered, there is a scandal and a police investigation; despite the similarities in the two crimes (emphasised by Stevenson’s repetition of the same or similar words in the descriptions of the two attacks), the attention that is paid to the second act of brutality speaks volumes about how Victorian society valued social class, money, and masculinity.

This is how the maid, watching the attack on Carew from an upstairs window, described the murder (I will come to the matter of narrative perspective later):

“Mr. Hyde broke out of all bounds, and clubbed him to the earth. And next
moment, with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot, and hailing
down a storm of blows.“

It is notable that the maid recognises Hyde and knows his name as he had once “visited her master”, and so we gain an increased awareness of his social activities in the area of Soho. This is not an idle detail, as Stevenson is at pains throughout this short novella to point out that many (most?) upper-class men of the time were embroiled in nefarious behaviour at night-time, whilst maintaining a façade of respectability during the day (compare, for example, Mr Enfield). Additionally, by referring to him as “Mr”, the maid confers on Hyde a certain level of gentility at odds with the brutality of his behaviour, reminding the reader that the greatest anxiety in the novel is not that London is being lost to a criminal underclass, but rather that evil resides within the hearts and minds of its upper-class inhabitants. This is underscored by the power inherent in the verb “broke”, as Hyde – a representation of man’s subconscious, repressed desires – liberates himself from the habitual boundaries of everyday behaviour. As Jekyll recognises later, “my devil had long been caged, and came out roaring” (an allusion, perhaps, to 1 Peter 5:8); the more strictly one’s desires are repressed, the more violently they will emerge. The repeated plosive sounds of this almost monosyllabic sentence echoes the vehemence of the attack, whilst the subsequent sequence of phrases linked by the conjunction “and” builds the urgency of the situation. Balancing this, there is a sense that Hyde enjoys the attack as the “tramples” his victim, just as he “trampled” the young girl in chapter one; he does not necessarily aim to murder, but to relish the pain that he causes to others.

If the subtext regarding the true nature of upper-class men wasn’t enough, Stevenson deftly layers this revelation with other anxieties of the time: namely, that of atavism (if mankind can evolve, as so recently demonstrated by nineteenth-century scientists, then can it regress?). Not only does the verb “clubbed” communicate a complete lack of empathy and an absolute loss of control, but it also evokes ideas of early man, whilst the simile “ape-like” is clearly an allusion to evolutionary theory. Then Stevenson shifts to meteorological imagery, again underscoring the connection between Hyde’s animalistic brutality, the dire consequences of breaking social boundaries, and his uncontrolled desire for destruction. Yet, whilst the verb “hailing” and the metaphor of the “storm” suggests Hyde’s delinquency, on a more profound level it allows Stevenson to articulate the terrible truth that this behaviour is worryingly natural and not the behaviour of some supernatural or unnatural “damned Juggernaut”.

Of course, we must also remember that there is a certain slipperiness of narrative perspective in these lines. The narrative voice slides from an apparently unbiased perspective (giving factual dates and places), to adopting the sensationalist tone of a journalist (“the details were few and startling”), to echoing the words of the maid who witnessed the attack. There are hints of a parody of the Gothic genre when she is described as being “romantically given” and “with streaming tears”, and this goes some way to undermining her account of the events. Is the maid exaggerating? How could she hear the bones “audibly shatter”? As infuriating as this might be for a modern reader, there is a real sense within the world of the novel that a woman’s hysterical testimony might be inaccurate. Like the fog that clouds Utterson’s vision and prevents him from seeing the truth about his friend and human nature, our understanding of the events surrounding the murder is obscured.

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