Kevin asked yesterday whether I thought Edward Hyde was “purity of evil/selfishness incarnate,” and whether he had “*any* redeeming qualities.” Let’s take a look at the evidence.
The first time we hear about Hyde involves a description of one of the two violent crimes he commits that are witnessed and described in the novel. This first one involves him running into a little girl on the street, upon which he “trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds like nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see.” And this is exactly what, for me, was off or generally disappointing in the book: the evil sounds like little to hear, though everyone keeps insisting it is hellish to experience.
Everyone who encounters Hyde, from Mr Utterson to Dr Lanyon to Dr Jekyll’s servants to strangers in the street, seems to have a physical reaction to his evil. Their blood runs cold, they can feel it in their marrow, they are repulsed, they are disgusted. They can tell there is something not right about this man. Jekyll recognizes this:
I have observed that when I wore the semblance of Edward Hyde, none could come near to me at first without a visible misgiving of the flesh. This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil; and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.
But what does that mean? Yes, we witness two violent crimes, where there is no doubt of the malevolence of the criminal and little question of remorse. Self-preservation is the closest Hyde comes to regret, or so it appears. But these are, as far as I can tell, the only real examples of “evil.” Stevenson seems to harp on the purity of evil in Hyde, first in the third-person narration section, where all the characters insist on it, then again in the person of Dr Lanyon, then again in the person of Henry Jekyll. But as for what evil is, that bit seems less than fully explained.
Dr Lanyon’s letter to Utterson provides almost a perfect example of same:
What he told me in the next hour I cannot bring my mind to set on paper. I saw what I saw, I heard what I heard, and my soul sickened at it, and yet now, when that sight has faded from my eyes, I ask myself if I believe it, and I cannot answer. …As for the moral turpitude that man unveiled to me, even with tears of penitence, I cannot, even in memory, dwell on it without a start of horror. I will say but one thing, Utterson, and that (if you can bring your mind to credit it) will be more than enough. The creature who crept into my house that night was, on Jekyll’s own confession, known by the name of Hyde and hunted for in every corner of the land as the murderer of Carew.
I’m not trying to let the murderer of Carew off light here. I guess a gratuitous and unrepented (by the actual perpetrator, Hyde, as opposed to Jekyll, who does regret the action) murder could be “evil.” But, you know, this crazy moral turpitude, unveil it to me. Otherwise, all I can do is take everyone else’s word for it: Hyde is pure evil. (Note that I haven’t addressed the selfishness question; there are lots of other ways, I think, to look at Hyde—e.g., the absence of inhibition. Also, does he have any redeeming qualities? Well, he doesn’t go around murdering people all day, I suppose.)
And now, have at me again!