This section looks at the Social and cultural background of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1886 and the novella explores the dual nature of man, heavily reflecting the Victorian fascination in science, medicine and criminology. The nineteenth century was an age of exploration that led to Europeans discovering new countries and cultures, and often the behaviours observed differed from what was deemed acceptable in British Victorian society. The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide was published only a few years after Charles Darwin’s The Decent of Man which first gave British society an insight into the idea that humans carried animalistic traits – Mr Hyde is described as being “Ape like” in the novella.
Victorians considered themselves the epitome of civilisation but what lurked beneath was at times unsavoury. Victorian notions of public and private spheres underpinned respectability – but less admirable behaviour often occurred behind closed doors. Behaviour was thus governed by surface propriety. The moral climate of Britain at the time focused on family values, sexual constraint, strict control of personal behaviour and a low tolerance of crime.
The Novella is set in London at a time when the city was seeing massive growth in technological and Industrial progress, many people were beginning to question the ideals of such progress and a growing sense of pessimism and decline was setting in.