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Romanticism on the Net

Numéro 44, novembre 2006

The Gothic: from Ann Radcliffe to Anne Rice

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/014001ar

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Article

Much Ado about Handwriting: Countersigning with the Other Hand in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Jodey Castricano

University of British Columbia Okanagan

Abstract

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been seen as the nineteenth century prototype of the workings of the criminal mind. Similarly, current psychoanalytic readings of the novel suggest that it serves as a precursor to Freud’s theories on the structural model of personality, and repression and that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde can provide insight into the psychology of addiction, multiple personality disorder and borderline personality disorders, as these terms have currency in the discipline of modern psychology. Indeed, Stevenson’s novel can even be seen as a precursor to the very genre of Freud’s “case” study. In fact, current readings of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde continue to focus on its case study aspects, claiming that the novel shows “the composition and operation of the criminal mind” (Thomas qtd in Rosner, Spring 29). “Much Ado About Handwriting: Countersigning with the Other Hand in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is concerned with making a Gothic case “the composition and operation of the criminal mind,” but not because the word “composition” denotes a mental constitution that merely pre-exists the text or that the text refers to or represents a substantive criminal mind; instead the word suggests that there exists a displaced link between writing, reading, interpretation, and criminality as the shadowy “place” where the “other” begins and collusion enters the scene. Taking as a premise Jacques Derrida’s contention that “it is the ear of the other that signs,” this paper is concerned with “composition,” signatures and encryption as a way of exploring how these texts pose insoluble psychic double binds regarding the determination of criminality.


The mirror should reflect a little longer before returning an image to its owner.

Jacques Lacan

1

During the nineteenth century there was, as Mark Seltzer points out, “a radical shift in the understanding of crime,” including the understanding of desire and evil, such that “a kind of act [became] a species of person” (4). Echoing Foucault in The History of Sexuality Seltzer argues that our current understanding of the serial killer as a “type” or species comes out of this earlier model of thinking about the relationship between crime and desire, between insanity and evil. In part, this shift in the understanding of crime was discursive, based upon “a wide range of theories about the workings of the mind, including the definition, classification, and treatment of insanity,” which, as Jenny Taylor points out, found their way into many Victorian journals and periodicals (29). While Victorian theories of the workings of the mind were primarily focused on the criminal as “an atavistic being” (Ferrero qtd. in Danahay 165), there were also some concerns that authors and artists could, in fact, “manifest the same mental characteristics” as “criminals, prostitutes, anarchists, and pronounced lunatics” (Nordau qtd. in Danahay 170). This concern over artists included their works. As the German psychologist Max Von Nordau argues in Degeneration, works of art by “degenerates” are not to be disregarded because they, too, can “exert a disturbing and corrupting influence on the views of a whole generation” (171). Von Nordau claims, moreover, that analyses of such works are not to be left to the “ordinary critic” because, according to him, one must be trained in “scientific criticism” to be at all capable of recognizing “the psycho-physiological elements” from which these works spring and to be thus capable of determining whether “these works are the productions of a shattered brain, and also the nature of the mental disturbance expressing itself by them” (171).

2

While Von Nordau’s claims regarding degeneration link nineteenth-century evolutionary theory and psychology, it is interesting to consider how his “diagnostic” approach to texts anticipates a certain psychoanalytic approach to textual interpretation. Although psychoanalysis has provided a discourse with which to consider the uncanniness of the relationship between a reader and a text, more often than not, the psychoanalytic literary critic who “has a transference onto psychoanalysis” works, as Jane Gallop points out, “under the same illusory ‘power’ [as the analyst] in the relation of interpretation,” which, like Von Nordau’s, is “authorized by ... theory” (29). But what of a text that resists such authorization? What of a text that, to use Joseph Riddel’s terms, “at once resists and motivates the analytical performance, reading and writing because [it] will not let itself be read, mastered by the methodology [it seems] to exemplify” (19).[1] One such text is Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a novel which has been seen as participating discursively in nineteenth-century theories of evolution and degeneration but which has also been the focus (or object) of certain psychoanalytic analyses in spite of the novel’s resistance to psychoanalytic appropriation.

3

In more recent history, psychoanalytic critics have read Stevenson’s novel as a struggle between the id and the super ego, as Victorian anxiety over homosexuality, as being connected to Freud’s theories of the “ego as facade” and as a precursor to both Freud’s theories on the structural model of personality and repression and to the genre of the “case” study itself, and in this way they have provided insight into various pathologies—including the psychology of addiction, multiple personality disorder and borderline personality disorders. Contemporary readers claim that the novel can be understood as an effort in Victorian society “to define deviance and normality” (Leps 205) or that it can be seen as an “explicit evocation of [the discourses regarding] moral insanity” in nineteenth-century psychology (Rosner 27). Others have focused on the Jekyll-Hyde dyad claiming, for example, that Edward Hyde is “the representation of a more primitive or rudimentary aspect of the human psyche” (Clemens 140) and that Henry Jekyll—who is “[i]nveterately narcissistic”— becomes “monstrous” and “sadistic” when he loses contact with his “moral sense by splitting off into Hyde” (149).

4

These remarks show that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to approach Stevenson’s novel without invoking the performative discourses of either psychoanalysis or forensic psychiatry, even inadvertently, since the interpretive domain of modern literary theory shares the space with psychoanalysis. However, I want to suggest that since many of these readings are diagnostic in nature and seem determined to establish the psychopathology of the Jekyll-Hyde dyad, they appear resistant to a certain engagement with a text that allegorizes what is at stake in reading a novel psychoanalytically, one that resists psychoanalytic appropriation and yet paradoxically draws the reader into an uncanny scene of transference and mutual resistance. Such a scene recalls Gallop’s point that a certain psychoanalytic approach “identifies with the position of knowledge, takes on the illusory role of ‘someone who knows,’ who knows the unconscious” (29). At the risk of falling prey to this illusion—which, paradoxically, is more or less unavoidable—I want to draw attention to this scene as a mark of engagement with a gothic text that insists on confronting the reader with the uncanny possibility not only of being an other, but of being put in the place of the other as a reading-effect. In other words, what is “strange” about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not only that the novel is a sensational case study of split-personality of a criminalized “other”, but rather that the text also poses a problem of reading as (psycho)analytic performance in that it resists what Derrida might call a “transcendent” reading or “that search for the signified” (Of Grammatology 160). For, as Riddell asks, “what kind of science or reflexive clarity is obtained when the literary example provides a clearer scene of analysis, of reading itself, than the science that has to [turn] it into a perfect case of method, a method that is complete and total in mastering what it reads, its own example?” (19).

5

One reason why Stevenson’s text sets up the scene of reading itself is that it reveals that readers are not able to avoid what, in another context, Shoshana Felman refers to as “the text’s meaning as division” (160, emphasis mine). This is not just to say that readers “can ... master or exhaust the very meaning of that division, but [they can] act the division out, perform it, be part of it” (Felman 160).[2] To act the division out with respect to Stevenson’s text is to be confronted strangely with one’s participation, as an other—an addressee, in fact— in the production of meaning—where the scene of the crime is uncannily the scene of reading. As a reader, it is to realize as tellingly as Jekyll does in a letter to Gabriel Utterson, his friend and lawyer, that “in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it [is] only because I [am] radically both” (77). To be radically both, in Felman’s terms, is to realize that

the most scandalous thing [about the text] is that we are forced to participate in the scandal, [and] that the reader’s innocence cannot remain intact. In other words, the scandal is not simply in the text, it resides in our relation to the text, in the text’s effect on us, its readers: what is outrageous in the text is not simply that of which the text is speaking, but that which makes it speak to us.

144 italics in original

In this regard, to participate in the scandal is to recognize what is at stake in reading a novel that allegorizes reading as being not only an uncanny encounter with the other—as oneself—but also an encounter with a text that reads the other like a letter. In Stevenson’s novel, readers abound and so do letters. The latter are often sealed—as in the letters which Utterson takes to his study after finding the body of Edward Hyde—and others are letters within letters—as in Lanyon’s transcription of Jekyll’s desperate letter to him pleading for assistance in obtaining a drawer from his laboratory containing the drug that will enable his transformation back from Hyde to Jekyll. In a chapter entitled “The Incident of the Letter,” a letter ostensibly written by Edward Hyde, delivered to Jekyll and given by Jekyll to Utterson for safekeeping becomes the object of analysis by no less than three readers and each of their interpretive claims reveals a bias. First, in this series of displaced addressees, Utterson comes to the conclusion that the letter is signed by a “murderer”; Mr. Guest, whom the narrator tells us is “a great student and critic of handwriting” (52), concludes that the writer is “not mad” but that the letter is written in “‘an odd hand’” (53), to which Utterson adds, “‘And by all accounts a very odd writer’” (53). Prior to the exchange between Utterson and Guest, we are told that “The letter was written in an odd, upright hand and signed ‘Edward Hyde’” (51), as if even the narrator agreed that the handwritten letter, which has already come into so many hands, gave empirical evidence of being “odd.” The effect of such reading is that we are invited to hear in the authorized voices the synonyms “abnormal,” “strange,” “peculiar,” and “anomalous” being directed towards the signatory of the letter, and scandal, deviance, and pathology are thereby located in the text signed by one “Edward Hyde,” a proper name which gestures towards acts of concealment and duplicity. But whose?

6

If we recall Felman’s claim that the scandal is not simply in the text, that it resides in our relation to the text, in the text’s effect on us, its readers, then the proper name of Edward Hyde is synonymous not only with “that of which the text is speaking, but also with that which makes it speak to us” (144). This speaking “to us” takes the form of an address and, as Derrida might say, brings its subject into being. In Stevenson’s text, avoiding interpellation is almost impossible. That this interpellation is discursive and concerned with reading and writing can be heard in Lanyon’s narrative when, face-to-face with Hyde, Lanyon tells him to “Compose yourself” (73). It is through such “composition” that we come to recognize that in addressing us, the text compels us to participate in the novel’s quasi-epistolary dynamics. This notion of participation becomes even more apparent when we take into account Derrida’s contention that in any reading “it is the ear of the other that signs” (“Roundtable Auto” 51, emphasis mine). As Christie MacDonald puts it, “texts can only be understood when a reader ... countersigns in his or her name, as one might validate a check or document” (“Preface” ix), and we have only to recall Richard Enfield’s concern that Hyde’s cheque payable to the family of the girl he “trampled” was signed, as Enfield remarks, “with a name that I can’t mention” (34). One could say the same for a countersignature, for according to Derrida, it is a text that teaches the reader, “if s/he is willing, to countersign” (“An Interview” 74), and this countersignature, as Derrida suggests, concerns “what is in the work which produces its reader, a reader who doesn’t yet exist, whose competence cannot be identified, a reader who would be ‘formed,’ ‘trained,’ instructed, constructed, even engendered, let’s say invented by the work” (“An Interview” 74). In Stevenson’s work, the question of reading—and, therefore, of countersigning—becomes one of an inventive encounter with a text which insists upon teaching us not only that, as Julia Kristeva would say, “the other is my unconscious” (183) but also that what I am calling “my unconscious” is “invented by the work.”

7

In other words, to countersign this text is to be the subject of an uncanny dialectical interpellation the likes of which are alluded to by Jekyll—who, in his final letter to Utterson remarks, as I mentioned earlier, that he is “radically both” Jekyll and Hyde and “truly two” (76)—and by Utterson, who pairs himself with Mr. Hyde when, driven to catch a glimpse of Hyde after dreaming of a shadowy figure who “had no face,” the lawyer turns his stakeout into a game, saying that “‘If he be Mr. Hyde, ... I shall be Mr. Seek” (39). Although Utterson’s play on “hide-and-seek” draws attention to the fact that the lawyer’s desire to solve the mystery of the elusive Mr. Hyde takes the form of a child’s game, the strangely paired proper names of Hyde and Seek also give us insight into the fort-da game Stevenson’s text plays with the reader by inviting her to enter the uncanny epistème of a narrative which, through the figure of Utterson, promises to solve a “mystery” (39) that the text presents in the guise of Hyde which serves, paradoxically, to produce the figure of concealment. In this regard the narrator’s description of Utterson at nightfall could just as easily be about the reader drawn into the dream-logic of Stevenson’s text by the grip of the same “inordinate curiosity” which compels Utterson: “Hitherto, [the mystery] had touched him on the intellectual side alone; but now his imagination also was engaged, or rather enslaved” (38). The narrator’s revision with respect to Utterson’s imagination is telling because it also suggests that readers of Stevenson’s novel might find themselves “enslaved,” like Utterson, being subject to the mystery rather than being in the position to solve it. The reader, like the lawyer, finds herself in what Jonathan Culler describes as “the neatness of transference, in which the analyst finds [herself] caught up in and reenacting the drama [she] thought [she] was analyzing from the outside” (205).[3] In this case, to reenact the drama of Stevenson’s text is to find oneself, like Utterson, being, as Derrida might say, “implicated in the game, ... being caught in the game, ... being as it were at stake in the game from the outset” (“Structure, Sign and Play” 278).

8

This uncanny realization is what Utterson tries to avoid; which is one reason why, after dreaming all night long of an evil “figure [that] had no face” (39), he awakens with “a singularly strong, almost an inordinate, curiosity to behold the features of the real Mr. Hyde” (39). The fact that Utterson’s curiosity is “almost ... inordinate” suggests the force of his desire to catch a glimpse of Hyde, yet the fact that he now desires “to behold the features of the real Mr. Hyde” also suggests that Utterson, by seeking empirical evidence of evil in an other, attempts to establish a hard division between dreams and reality, between fact and fiction, thereby disavowing knowledge of his participation in the drama. In other words, to catch a glimpse of the “real” Hyde means that Utterson can remember to forget to remember the dark figure of his dreams. This play of forgetting works much in the way that a certain critical analysis seeks, as Gallop suggests, to forget that “interpretation is … the medium through which ... transference is manifested” (28). In this regard, forgetting is also a form of denial that, according to Gallop, works to avoid the terror of a certain recognition: “the critic escapes that terror by importing psychoanalytic ‘wisdom’ into the reading dialectic so as to protect herself from what psychoanalysis is really about, the unconscious, as well as from what literature is really about, the letter” (30).

9

If we could say that every literary text is a kind of letter, we would realize that Stevenson’s novel is a drama of letters that doubles up on the insight it gives us into the uncanny correspondence between a reader and a text. That Stevenson’s text is “about the letter” and, likewise, about the reader as an “addressee ... produced by the letter” (Derrida, “Telepathy” 5), seems apparent in Taylor’s remark that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novel that shows “the composition and operation of the criminal mind” (qtd. in Rosner 29). The word “composition” is telling in Taylor’s remark not because it posits the existence of a substantive criminal existing prior to the text but rather because it draws attention to how the trope of writing and reading letters in Stevenson’s novel gives us insight into how interpretation is implicated in the shadowy “operations” of which Taylor speaks. In this regard, criticism, according to Felman, is uncannily complicit in the letter since

[it] consists not of a statement, but of a performance of the story of the text; its function is not constative, but performative. Reading here becomes not the cognitive observation of the text’s pluralistic meaning, but its “acting out.” Indeed, it is not so much the critic who comprehends the text, as the text that comprehends the critic.

161

In the case of Stevenson’s novel, what is it about “me” that the text comprehends that I would just as soon, well, “hyde”? Is it to avoid being implicated in “the ... composition of the criminal mind” that I, like Jekyll, ascribe guilt to the other? “It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone that was guilty,” asserts Jekyll in his last letter (81). In this regard, is it the figure of Jekyll, who is able “to profit by the strange immunities of [his] position” (80), that reflects my own “position” as a reader of the gothic? It seems telling that when Jekyll admits to experiencing “a kind of wonder at [his] vicarious depravity” (81), I find myself, strangely, in the position described by Tina Pippin who writes on being drawn to apocalyptic texts:

What am I doing here, once again, immersing myself in the discourse of disaster? As I speak of the perversities of the apocalypse, am I not also drawn in by the evil? The image that comes to mind is of a common theme in movies where a good detective sets out to stop the evil, usually psycho, killer and is sucked into the vortex of the terror, suddenly unstable on her or his moral ground. [...] I am a detective looking for clues at the crime scene—for body parts, heaps of bodies [...]. I give in because as I am committed to hunt down [...] the ethical problems of these texts, I am also drawn in by the textual power—the scenes of violence and death.

xi

To a certain extent, Jekyll’s remark leads me to reflect upon the notion that what is imaginatively experienced through the other—that is, vicariously—entails a kind of fantasy that is best described by Gallop as “transference as it is enacted in the process of reading” (30). In a sense, the Jekyll “position,” as it were, describes a reader who, like Jekyll—like me—is able “to doff at once the body of the ... professor, and to assume, like a thick cloak, that of Edward Hyde” (80 emphasis mine). The net effect of this assumption is to conceal, forget, and, thus, enjoy hiding any reflection of “myself” in the uncanny “operation of the criminal mind” which is, actually, at play, compositionally, between reader and text. To a certain extent, the disavowal of such participation might amount to what Felman calls “a knowledge which does not allow for knowing that one knows” (121). In fact, we get a good sense of what is at stake in a reading of Stevenson’s text which does not allow for “knowing that one knows” about duplicity when Jekyll says “when by sloping my own hand backward, I had supplied my double with a signature, I thought I sat beyond the reach of fate” (83).

10

This resistance to “knowing that one knows” is apparent in the pronominal slippages that occur in Jekyll’s letter, where these belie his attempts to dissociate himself from Hyde and thereby maintain his innocence even though he says, “ my two natures had memory in common” (83). Claiming that “the leading characters of Edward Hyde” were a “complete moral insensibility and insensate readiness to evil” (84), Jekyll refers to Hyde in the third person—as I am now doing with Jekyll—emphasizing the division between them: “He, I say—I cannot say I,” says Jekyll at one point in his letter (88). Yet Jekyll admits to enjoying “secret pleasures [...] in the guise of Hyde” (84), and when he considers what he calls “the horror of my other self” (89), the narrative voice shifts to refer to Jekyll in the third person: “he thought of Hyde, for all his energy of life, as of something not only hellish but inorganic” (89)—a pronominal shift that draws attention to a slippage in Jekyll’s attempt to repudiate Hyde and to avoid “knowing that one knows.” To a certain extent, this repudiation can be seen to mirror the reader’s attempt to avoid knowing, as Gallop suggests, that “[t]he perceived other is actually, at least in part, a projection” (61) and that “in a rivalry over which is the self and which the other, which the ego and which the replica ... transference would be going on but could not be recognized as such because what is projected would appear to be actually ‘out there’” (62). This notion appears to resonate in Jekyll’s letter in which he speculates upon “the possibilities of [his] double existence,” stating that “That part of me which I had the power of projecting, had lately been much exercised and nourished” (83). The point is that Jekyll’s remarks describe a reading in which one recognizes that “there is no direct apprehension of the real, no possible liberation from imagoes, no unmediated reading of a text” (Gallop 70), which seems to be what Jekyll aspires to when he seeks to divide and thus to deliver “the unjust” from “the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin” (77).

11

To realize that there is no possible liberation from imagoes is to reflect upon what Gallop refers to as “the uncanny effects of literature” which include “something like a ‘transference’ at play between reader and text” (30). To include this “something” is to trouble the diagnostic aim of a certain analysis that views the novel (and its characters) as an object of study, thereby avoiding a certain uncanny recognition. This avoidance might, in the case of Stevenson’s novel, best be characterized by Derrida, whose remarks regarding Freud’s desire to avoid assuming the debt of philosophy in psychoanalysis reveal what is at stake in such denials: “there is something, something other, that we would be tempted to hide from ourselves, something, other, that we would have preferred to avoid or not to recognize” (“Notices” 268). In the case of Stevenson’s novel, what is it that we are tempted to hide from ourselves if not the fact that, to a certain extent, the reader, like Jekyll prior to his experimentation with the drug which manifests Hyde, stands “already committed to a profound duplicity” (77)? This commitment to duplicity shows itself as a disavowal of the “other” upon whose face, says Jekyll, “evil was written broadly and plainly” (79). The point is that “evil” is not only “written broadly and plainly” but it is also read that way. We get this sense, too, when we recall that when Utterson looks upon Hyde he claims to be able “to read Satan’s signature upon [his] face” (42) and that when he returns home, Utterson is found “to read a menace in the flickering of the firelight on the polished cabinets and the uneasy starting of the roof” (42). In these instances, Stevenson’s text invites us to reflect upon the uncanniness of reading itself and to wonder about the phenomenon of interpretation. In a roundabout way Felman’s remarks regarding Lacan’s re-reading of Freud best describe what I have in mind for they allude to a rendevous with the unconscious as being as being an effect of reading:

For Lacan, ... the unconscious is not only that which must be read, but also, and primarily, that which reads. Freud’s discovery of the unconscious is the outcome of his reading of the hysterical discourse of his patients, i.e., of his being capable of reading in this hysterical discourse his own unconscious. The discovery of the unconscious is therefore Freud’s discovery, within the discourse of the other, of what was actively reading within himself: his discovery, in other words, or his reading, of what was reading—in what was being read.

164

What is at stake in reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is less about describing the unconscious than it is with engaging with “that which reads.” In Stevenson’s novel, letters, proper names, handwriting, forgery, correspondence, readers, and signatures are all metonyms for “what was reading—in what was being read.”

12

That the novel is concerned with what was reading in what was being read becomes profoundly apparent at the end of Stevenson’s text in the form of a narrative written by Jekyll that purports to be a “full statement of the case” (75). What is uncanny about this narrative is how, in the drama of letters, both the reader and Utterson are simultaneously reading Jekyll’s narrative. Recall that at the end of the novel—which is an end and not an end—the reader is Utterson, who, the narrator tells us, has “trudged back to his office to read the two narratives in which the mystery was to be explained” (69). Yet, this is the last we hear of either the narrator or the lawyer who, we presume, is engaged in opening the “considerable package sealed in several places” (68) and reading the letters or “narratives” of Hastie Lanyon, who narrates the horror of discovery regarding the transformation of Hyde to Jekyll—or of Jekyll, who writes that in laying down the pen and sealing up his confession, “I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end” (91). It is curious, firstly, that the writer who has laid down the pen and sealed the letter considers the matter—or the case— closed. Note that although the last word of the narrative is the word “end,” Jekyll has also written that “what is to follow concerns another than myself” (91). It becomes even more curious when we realize that “what is to follow” is a profoundly uncanny moment in that we realize that Utterson and the reader are simultaneously reading Jekyll’s narrative: each holds that text in his or her hands, each reads the word “end” and each considers “what is to follow.” If what is to follow concerns another, who is it? Utterson? The reader? Both? At the same time? It is as if the has reader had passed through the cheval-glass of Stevenson’s text, this passage leading her—leading me—as Jekyll says, “to reflect more seriously than ever before on the issues and possibilities of my double existence” (83).

13

These possibilities beg the question of who remains holding, reading and interpreting Jekyll’s narrative, as the text—instead of ending with Jekyll’s last word—appears to fold back on itself, drawing us into what Derrida would call an “invaginated pocket” (“The Law of Genre” 236) or a “double chiasmatic invagination of edges” (238 emphasis in original) occurring in a work when, as Jonathan Culler describes it, “an outside becomes an inside and an inner moment is granted a position of exteriority” (205). This “fold” is uncanny because it gives us insight into what Jean Baudrillard means when he says, “the other is never more than the ephemeral form of a difference that draws me closer to the I [me rapproche de moi](CTheory webpage “Plastic Surgery for the Other”). To be drawn “closer to the I” through a “double chiasmatic invagination of edges” is terrifying not only because the law of reflection has been breached but also because the text reveals itself, not as a mirror image, but as a mirror in an uncanny subject position similar to the one alluded to by Lacan in the epigraph to this essay. We get a sense of what is at stake in this uncanny moment of reading when in the novel Utterson and Jekyll’s manservant, Poole, who have broken down the door of Jekyll’s laboratory to find the body of Hyde, come upon the cheval-glass “into whose depths they looked with an involuntary horror” (67). Poole says, “‘This glass has seen some strange things, sir,’” to which Utterson, cryptically replies, “‘And surely none stranger than itself’” (67). In this scene, the mirror itself is uncannily regarded by others—because it appears capable of perception—and also by itself, and it seems a moment in which the reader might reflect upon the text as being analogous to the cheval-glass and equally uncanny. While the mirror suggests that text serves as “the ephemeral form of a difference that draws me closer to the I,” this moment is uncanny because it draws attention to what is at stake in reading, writing and interpretation when, as Kristeva puts it, “the boundaries between imagination and reality are erased” (188).

14

With respect to Stevenson’s novel, the notion that such boundaries are under erasure, gives us the sense that the relationship between a reader and a text is uncannily similar to that between a dreamer and a dream, since dreams tell us about displacement and desire. Allow me a digression to relate how this point gets made analogously in another context. In discussing Fritz Lang’s film, Woman in the Window, Slavoj Zizek describes what happens when yet another professor attempts to avoid the implications of a double existence. Appropriately, in Lang’s film, it is a professor of psychology who becomes

fascinated by a portrait of a femme fatale that hangs in a shop window of a store next to the entrance of his club. After his family has gone away on vacation, he dozes off in his club. One of the attendants awakens him at eleven, whereupon he leaves the club, casting a glance at the portrait as usual. This time, however, the portrait comes alive as the picture in the window overlaps with the mirror reflection of a beautiful brunette on the street, who asks the professor for a match. The professor, then, has an affair with her; killers her lover in a fight; is informed by a police inspector friend of the progress of the investigation of this murder; sits in a chair, drinks poison, and dozes off when he learns his arrest is imminent. He is then awakened by an attendant at eleven and discovers that he has been dreaming. Reassured, the professor returns home… [pledging to avoid clandestine affairs].

Zizek 16

In spite of the fact that the film appears to resolve the situation of the professor’s being guilty of a crime, Zizek asserts that we must not view the film’s ending as a reconciliation of events. Instead, says Zizek, the film’s message is “not consoling, not: ‘it was only a dream, in reality I am a normal man like others and not a murderer!’ but rather: in our unconscious, in the real of our desire, we are all murderers” (17 emphasis in original). More to the point—and relevant to what I have been arguing about the parallels between Henry Jekyll’s protestations of innocence and certain interpretative displacements and disavowals in critical readings of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—Zizek’s further remarks are both illuminating and chilling and give us pause to reflect upon the double scene of reading in Stevenson’s novel, which I have also been calling the scene of the crime: “we could say that [in Lang’s film] the professor awakes in order to continue his dream … . In other words, ... we do not have a quiet, kind, decent, bourgeois professor dreaming for a moment that he is a murderer; what we have is, on the contrary, a murderer dreaming, in his everyday life, that he is just a decent bourgeois professor” (16-17). As with Zizek’s reading of Lang’s film, we see that the dream motif in Stevenson’s text also segues into the question of criminality when, for example, Henry Jekyll remarks that “if [he] slept, or even dozed for a moment in [his] chair, it was always as Hyde that [he] awakened” (89). How many critical readings of Stevenson’s novel have been done by dreamers?

15

What is disturbingly apparent in both of these texts is that they invariably draw attention to how a certain dream-logic not only begs the question of identity but also renders forever uncanny the question of autobiography by linking it with radical alterity and doubleness. To my mind, the question of autobiography is posed relentlessly by Stevenson’s text at the scene of reading and recalls a point I made earlier about how who remains holding, reading, and interpreting Jekyll’s narrative or, for that matter, Stevenson’s novel, and what is their involvement in its “composition.” In his introduction to Stevenson’s text, it is telling that although Martin Danahay writes that the story has more recently been treated “as an expression of anxieties about self-revelation through autobiography,” he is referring neither to his own anxiety or to those of other critics but, instead, to that produced by the “autobiographical statement [of Dr Jekyll] in which he finally lays claim to both sides of his identity” (23). If we recall, however, Jacques Derrida’s point that when it comes to the doubleness of textuality, “it is the ear of the other that signs” thereby “constitut[ing] the autos of my autobiography” (51), I think that we will have an uneasy moment based upon the recognition of whose “anxieties about self-revelation” are invoked in a reading of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ever uncanny novel, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


 

Notes

[1]

Riddell is talking about Derrida’s reading of Poe’s texts. While it may be argued that such remarks can be made of textuality in general, I am interested in their application to a reading of Stevenson’s novel which seems implicitly and explicitly concerned with writing, composition, reading and interpretation.

[2]

In her discussion of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Shoshana Felman points out that the subject of the novel is a “conflict which inhabits meaning” and this conflict is duplicated in critical debates regarding the text’s meaning (159-160). In Felman’s view “division” is the meaning of James’ text and critics “in precisely trying to unify the meaning of the text and to proclaim it as unambiguous … only mark more forcefully its constitutive division and duplicity” (160). Although this effect might be said to apply to any interpretive claim, texts like The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can arguable be seen to set up an interpretive impasse when it comes to divisions and duplicity as these are also thematic issues in the text as well as being dynamically constitutive of meaning.

[3]

Culler’s remarks draw attention to the similarities between transference in psychoanalytic treatment and interpretation when in either case “transference” refers to the mechanism of projection which serves to locate elements of the unconscious in the external world making them appear as object “out there” instead of parts of the psyche. In psychoanalytic theory, transference involves divisions and repetitions in terms of identifications.

 

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Auteur : Jodey Castricano
Titre : Much Ado about Handwriting: Countersigning with the Other Hand in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 44, novembre 2006
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/014001ar
DOI : 10.7202/014001ar

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