Thursday, March 16, 2017

"While Prominent Features of the Novella Suggest That It Belongs to the Detective Story Genre, It Also Deviates from the Genre in Many Significant Ways"

THESIS THURSDAY, which should appear every two weeks on average, is meant to shed some light on what and to what extent imminent graduates, rather than their eminent profs, have discovered about detective fiction.

MOST OF US don't tend to think of Robert Louis Stevenson's (1850-94) classic novella "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1886) as a work of crime fiction; but Wikipedia notes that, for students of literature seeking to categorize Stevenson's story, it has everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, including discernible aspects of detective fiction:

   "Literary genres which critics have applied as a framework for interpreting the novel include religious allegory, fable, detective story, sensation fiction, Doppelgänger literature, Scottish devil tales, and gothic novel."

. . . all of which, when carelessly bundled together, is usually called horror, and that's how Hollywood has always treated the story. In this thesis, our author seeks to demonstrate both that it's more than just a Gothic terror tale and where in that capacious category of "crime fiction" the story fits. (SPOILER NOTE: If you haven't read "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" yet, be aware that it differs sometimes radically from movie treatments, and Kristins-dóttir's disquisition necessarily reveals plot details; see "Resources" below for a link to the story.)

"'If he be Mr. Hyde . . . I shall be Mr. Seek': Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' 
and its place within crime fiction."
By Fríða Kristinsdóttir.
Thesis, 32 pages, 2011.
Online (HERE).
"The reluctance or failure of critics and scholars to connect Stevenson’s inherently gothic story to the crime fiction genre can be traced to what is now considered a critical misrepresentation of the chronology and lineage of the genre itself."
  I. Introduction
  II. First came the detective: traditional history of the crime fiction genre
  III. Jekyll and Hyde and the classic detective story
  IV. Jekyll and Hyde compared to contemporary crime fiction
  V. Gothic and supernatural elements in crime fiction and Jekyll and Hyde
  VI. The double, psychoanalysis and Jack the Ripper
  VII. Henry Jekyll: an inspiration for the serial killer in fiction and film
  VIII. Conclusion
  IX. Bibliography (2 pages).
Several excerpts:

   "This paper focuses primarily on the early days of the crime fiction genre, starting with the so-called 'classic detective story' and tracing its evolution into the contemporary crime novel, a period covering the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. While crime fiction certainly continued beyond this period, novels published in the second half of the 20th century are more diverse. The genre is now considered to have a number of sub-genres, such as police fiction, spy fiction, the thriller, and others that are not discussed in detail in this paper. Before taking a closer look at the elements in Jekyll and Hyde that indicate that it belongs in the canon of crime fiction, it is useful to take a brief look at the history of the genre and its most traditional presentation."
   "Incidentally, a dramatised version of Jekyll and Hyde was being staged in London in 1888, and journalists immediately picked up on the link between the suspect, Jack the Ripper, and the character in the play. As a result, the image of Jekyll and Hyde 'is still regularly deployed to describe the serial killer' (Warwick 557). In fact, Stevenson’s character has arguably inspired the serial killer and other dual characters in crime fiction and popular culture."
   "Attempts to compare Jekyll and Hyde to detective fiction can therefore be seen, as Nabokov suggested, as the defamation of a story that is in fact a great work of literature. Close analysis shows that Stevenson’s story does not even fit the criteria of the classic detective story. This does not prevent it from being compared to other works of crime 
fiction, however. As the crime fiction genre has gained the attention of scholars, it has 
been acknowledged that the present canon of crime fiction has drawn inspiration from key elements of the gothic, supernatural and sensational. These elements can all be found in Jekyll and Hyde. Rather than excluding it from the genre of crime fiction, there is clear evidence that the novella marked the beginning of the crime novel, a genre that continues to flourish today, well after the rise and fall of its cousin, the detective story.
   "When Jekyll and Hyde is viewed as a crime story, its most prominent feature, the 
character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, can be appreciated as an early portrayal of a very modern criminal. Stevenson captured his readers’ attention with a gothic monster, but 
his psychological exploration of the criminal’s mind was unique and far ahead of his 
time. His dual character has since inspired countless others that embody this conflict: 
the interior battle between good and evil."
Comment: In passing we learn that "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" isn't quite 
a pure detective story, being either two-thirds (Cawelti & Hirsch) or one-fourth (Symons) 
of one.
Typo: "a popular topic in a the new field of psychology"
- The University of Adelaide has a nicely-illustrated version of the text with artwork by 
Charles Raymond Macauley (HERE) (91 pages as a PDF).
- Since Wikipedia's article (HERE) about Stevenson's story is SPOILER-FILLED, you're 
better off reading the novella first.
- Like just about all good stories, this one has not been improved much when adapted; Wikipedia (HERE) tells us:

  "The work is known for its vivid portrayal of a split personality, and since the 1880s dozens of stage and film adaptations have been produced, although there have been no major adaptations to date that remain faithful to the narrative structure of Stevenson's original. Most omit the figure of Utterson, telling the story from Jekyll's and Hyde's viewpoint and often having them played by the same actor, thus eliminating entirely the mystery aspect of the true identity of Hyde, which was the original's twist ending and not the basic premise it is today. In addition, many adaptations introduce a romantic element which does not exist in the original story. While Hyde is portrayed in the novella as an evil-looking man of diminutive height, many adaptations have taken liberties with the character's physical appearance, sometimes depicting him with bestial or downright monstrous features. There are over 123 film versions, not including stage and radio, as well as a number of parodies and imitations."

- If, unlike us, terms like "proairetic code," "circle of solidarities," "hermeneutic sequence," and "semiotics" don't make you uncomfortable, then there's also a chapter (HERE) in Gothic Reflections: Narrative Force in Nineteenth-century Fiction by Peter K. Garrett (2003) that discusses Jekyll and Hyde; but please note that one page (115) has been purposely omitted from the Google Books preview.

The bottom line: "Street after street, and all the folks asleep—street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church—till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman."
— Enfield

No comments:

Post a Comment