• Dr Jekyll, his new woman, and the late Victorian identity crisis

      Ferguson, Laura (University of BedfordshireUniversity of Bedfordshire, 2016-01)
      I have written a novel as a prequel and parallel narrative to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The accompanying critical commentary draws on psychoanalytic and feminist perspectives, interpreted for “the complexities of fin‐de‐siècle British society” (Kucich, 2007, p.35), and examines my novel alongside other adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde. Although my work may invite comparisons with Neo‐Victorian novels such as works by Sarah Waters, Michael Cox’s The Meaning of Night (2006) or Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White (2002), I would argue that it has more in common with Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and Sophie Gee’s The Scandal of the Season (2008), both of which are prequels respectively to Jane Eyre and The Rape of the Lock. My research explores the potential origins of Jekyll’s decision to divide himself – the psychological roots of “his desire to reveal himself and his desire to conceal himself” (Laing, 1960, p.37). I have used this premise for both a psychoanalytic and a feminist perspective, drawing on the key works of Freud, specifically his writings on the unconscious and in relation to dreams, and Gilbert and Gubar’s seminal text The Madwoman in the Attic. The decision to use these texts as a framework was made using the rationale of two primary perspectives: Stevenson’s novel was inspired by a dream he had, which led me to Freud, whose theories fit so well with the manifestations of the Jekyll/Hyde personae, and whose analytic attention to sex and gender, with the argument that psychological and social forms of gender oppression cause a manufactured and oppressive role for women, is correlative with a feminist approach. Gilbert and Gubar’s critique analyses nineteenth century female writers, and it is my argument that Stevenson’s novel suggests that Jekyll’s rigid beliefs about his ‘other’ can be seen as both a resistance to the feminine within himself, and as an unconscious identification with women who felt suppressed in a patriarchal society and constrained by that society’s rigid gender expectations. This feature of late Victorian culture which Stevenson’s novel appears – on the surface ‐ to actively resist, is symbolised by the anonymous and one‐dimensional female characters within his novel, therefore this narrative motif is the starting point for my novel.