Both The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray deal with the notion of duality – Dr. Jekyll is the respectable doctor whose alter-ego is the dark and animalistic Mr. Hyde, and Dorian Gray is a beautiful young man whose portrait becomes aged and decayed through his immorality and corruption. The notion of duality is also evident in both novels’ treatment of London as a city that is fragmented socially and geographically. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray, London is depicted in a manner that reflects the dual nature of the principal characters. At first glance, it would appear as if Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were two distinctly different individuals. They also reside in two separate, contrasting parts of London that appear to reinforce their character traits and the binary opposition between the two personas. The respectable Dr. Jekyll is a “well-made, smoothed face man of fifty” (44) who lives in a house that “wore a great air of wealth and comfort” (42) in a middle-class, West End neighborhood.
In contrast, the atavistic Mr. Hyde is “wicked-looking” (47) and “downright detestable” (35), and he is appropriately situated in Soho, a dismal neighborhood that evokes the worst stereotypes about the East End. Yet, these binary oppositions are interrogated and deconstructed. The boundaries between good and evil are blurred when it is revealed that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are two facets of the same person. In a similar way, the distinctions between East and West London become blurred through the treatment of the setting.
Mr. Hyde emerges due to Dr. Jekyll’s inability to come to terms with his dual nature in an extremely rigid society that demands the repression of natural human appetites and instincts, and represents the darker side of human nature that Victorian society desperately wants to keep hidden and ignore. As a middle-class man, Dr. Jekyll’s livelihood depends on his ability to present a respectable public image that is at odds with his flawed inner nature.
In a similar vein, the city of London struggles with its own identity. During one of his walks, Mr. Utterson encounters a busy quarter of London: The street was small and what is called quiet, but drove a thriving trade on the week-days. The inhabitants were doing well, it seemed, and all emulously hoping to do better still, and laying out the surplus of their gains in coquetry, so their shop fronts stood along the thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen.
Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more florid charms and lay comparatively empty of passage, the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighborhood, like a fire in a forest; and with its freshly painted shutters and well-polished brasses, and general cleanliness and gaiety of note, instantly caught and pleased the eye of the passenger. (32) Like the street’s inhabitants who lay “out the surplus of their gains in coquetry”, Dr.
Jekyll desires to “wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public” (78), and attempts to make himself look good before the public by appearing morally upright and performing good deeds. Also, the inhabitants’ hopes “to do better still” locates their desire for upward social mobility and material profit as sources of their motivation for putting on airs in order to gain social approval and to attract customers. The street “[shines] out in contrast to its dingy neighborhood”, yet the image is artificial and contrived.
The “freshly painted shutters” and the “well-polished brasses” suggest an active and continuous effort on the part of the inhabitants to cover up the rust, fading, and decay that would naturally occur on these surfaces. The busy quarter attempts to present itself as a modern, bustling commercial center, yet its surroundings undermine the image that it attempts to project: Two doors from one corner, on the left hand going east the line was broken by the entry of a court; and just at that point a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street.
It was two storeys high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower storey and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence. (32) The sinister, neglected building and the “tramps slouched into the recesses” (32) contrast sharply with the well-kept buildings to the west that project a “gaiety of note”, and the fact that it is merely “two doors from one corner” of the busy quarter highlights the proximity of poverty and degeneracy to middle-class life.
Moreover, the houses in Dr. Jekyll’s affluent neighborhood are “for their most part decayed from their high estate and let in flats and chambers to all sorts of conditions to men” (42), which suggests that all is not well beneath the fai?? ade of respectability. As Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll can indulge in secret desires that he has had to repress and “hide with a morbid sense of shame” (78) since his youth. While the text never fully reveals what these desires are or the exact nature of Mr.
Hyde’s debauchery, Mr. Hyde’s dark and menacing personality is reinforced through the description of the location of his residence in “a dismal quarter of Soho” as a “district of some city in a nightmare” (48). The area is dark and foggy, which evokes an eerie and sinister atmosphere. The descriptive details also evoke a sense of destitution and squalor that is normally associated with the East End, conflating a fear of the unknown with a fear of the urban poor:
As the cab drew up before the address indicated, the fog lifted a little and showed him a dingy street, a gin palace, a low French eating house, a shop for the retail of penny numbers and twopenny salads, many ragged children huddled in the doorways, and many women of many different nationalities passing out, key in hand, to have a morning glass; and the next moment the fog settled down again upon that part, as brown as umber, and cut him off from his blackguardly surroundings. (48)
The “dingy street”, “gin palace”, “women of many different nationalities”, and the “many ragged children huddled in the doorways” are visual details that are suggestive of a slum on the East End. However, as Joyce points out, Soho is a less respectable area located in the West End (165), a shadowy space that reflects the moral ambiguity of the principal character. Moreover, Soho is the heart of the city and is surrounded by the fashionable districts of Mayfair, Pall Mall, and the Strand (Joyce 166), which is symbolic of Mr.
Hyde’s residence within Dr. Jekyll. Like the respectable fai?? ade of Dr. Jekyll, the civilized and modern exterior of London hides a flawed and potentially dangerous inner core. The Picture of Dorian Gray depicts a London that is much more divided in terms of class boundaries. Unlike the principal character of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde who inhabits the heterogeneous social milieu of Soho, the aristocratic Dorian Gray inhabits a realm of privilege and luxury that seems completely removed from “grey monstrous London” (87).