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The Strange Case of Robert Lewis Stevenson & the Left Winged Radical

by Jacob Herr 2 years ago in book reviews
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A Political Reflection of Dr. Henry Jekyll & Mr. Edward Hyde

Upon Robert Lewis Stevenson’s publishing of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886, the social classes in the "civilized world" were facing the threat of destruction by the hands of left-winged rouges and radicals. The political philosophies of Karl Marx, the Paris Commune, and the Anarchist riot in Haymarket Square made the message clear that social reform would be inevitable; be it in a year or in an entire generation’s lifetime. The elements of 19th century society and politics inspired Stevenson’s characterization of Edward Hyde as a left winged radical, fueled by the desires of chaos and anarchy.

The period of time referred to today as the victorian era comprised of the years between 1837 and 1901; due to the reign of her majesty Queen Victoria of England. During such time the populations of both England and the Unites States were comprises of two primary social classes. The first being the upper class. Families of wealth and power, which were commonly associated with close connections to the political ideals of aristocracy, parliament, and capitalism. The tools by which generations of people thrive by means of a family name and royal blood ties. The second group was the lower class. People who live in poverty and call the streets and slums of urban areas home. They work in dangerous factories (owned and run by the upper class) for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, only to be paid the meager wages of less than $1.70 an hour (in today’s money). As this victorian-era reached it’s end, the voices of the lower class spoke loud and clear for a desire for change by means of reform and revolution. The ideals of communism and anarchism became synonymous with their social class, as they made up the majority of riots, demonstrations, and politically motivated crimes for the sake of these ideals.

In 1868, the political philosopher Karl Marx traveled to England in order to conduct a series of socialist and communist rallies in London; as well as to publicize his career defining work, The Communist Manifesto, to the people of Britain. During his time in London, Marx was constantly tracked and watched by law enforcement, due to the massive turnouts of lower class people, who were driven and inspired by Marx’s ideals of the proletariat workers acquiring equal power and position by means of conquering the bourgeoisie aristocrats.

Cover of the The Communist Manifesto’s initial publication in February 1848 in London.

"When in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for opposing another. If the proletariat during it’s contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution." (Marx, Engels 61)

"The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at the communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. That have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES UNITE!" (Marx, Engels 77)

A Street in Paris in May 1871, by Maximilien Luc, depicting a small piece of the violent aftermath of the Paris Commune.

Such ideology spread across Europe and North America like wildfire. Between March of 1870 and May of 1871, the government of France had been violently overthrown by 35,000 communist rebels; costing the lives of nearly 7,000 people. And in 1886, the streets of Chicago had flowed with blood when a workers gathering in Haymarket Square ended in violence after a bomb was thrown at incoming policemen, and gunfire ensued between the police and the protesters, resulting in the lives of 7 cops and 4 protesters. These events driven by the such left winged ideals, drove Stevenson to forge the antagonist of his Jekyll and Hyde novel (Edward Hyde) as the ultimate human incarnation of communism and anarchism. Along with how this entity would react to the environment around him and how others would mentally and physically suffer because of him.

An 1886 engraving was the most widely reproduced image of the Haymarket Affair; showing pastor and anarchist Samuel Fielden speaking, a bomb exploding between protesters and police, and the riot beginning simultaneously.

The reader is first introduced to Hyde from Enfield’s flashback story, about how a man of hideous nature motivelessly trampled on a little girl in the streets of an impoverished neighborhood. A crowd gathers in shock and mourning for the girl, but they ultimately move on with their lives; as if nothing had ever happened. Enfield himself isn’t affected much by the event, and when Hyde writes out the check (or “cheque” if you’re British) for the girl’s medical care. Implying that in the eyes of the wealthy, the pains and burdens of the lower class mean little to nothing. One of the driving causes for the populous in poverty to embrace the ideals of communism and anarchism, as a means of making the mending of their everyday struggles a top priority.

As the story progresses, the second event surrounding Hyde has the complete opposite effect. When he violently beats Sir. Danvers Carew in the alleyway with a cane, the reaction is still of shock and mourning, but with an insane fallout. For weeks the police and Scotland Yard detectives investigated the case, because of Sir. Danvers Carew’s high position in British society. Sir. Carew was a member of Parliament, an aristocrat, and he was knighted by the Queen. Only to be murdered by Hyde, in a manner which parallels Hyde’s trampling of the little girl. Hyde killed him, not caring one bit about his social position. Making him no different than the little girl in his eyes. Such thoughts, mirror the political philosophies of the communist and the anarchist. With the only outcome to be pain. Pain to the girl, to Sir. Carew, and to Dr. Jekyll as he slowly, yet surly, loses control of this monstrous entity within him. To the point that he locks himself into his lab, desperatley seeking a cure or corrective antidote, until Jekyll's servants and others break into the lab and find his dead body in the permenant form of Mr. Hyde.

"The Death of Mr. Hyde" by Tom McGrath

Such means as these, must lead to an end. A contextualization of sorts. From the political philosophies and struggles which brought about by the rise of these left-winged ideals, results in nothing more than the destruction of the human condition. With the bringing about of true human equality, we are simultaneously bringing about unnecessary turmoil amongst humanity. With such turmoil emerging both physically (violence, bloodshed, murder) and mentally (corruption of the human mind and dissolution of human morality).

Works Cited

  • Stevenson, Louis, Robert. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Broadview Press. 2015. Print. March 21, 2020.
  • Marx, Karl, Engels, Frederick. The Communist Manifesto. Verso Inc. 1998. Print. March 21, 2020.

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About the author

Jacob Herr

Born & raised in the American heartland, Jacob Herr graduated from Butler University with a dual degree in theatre & history. He is a rough, tumble, and humble artist, known to write about a little bit of everything.

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