The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is all about the duality that exists between the public and private, and nowhere was this more typified than in Victorian England, named in honor of Queen Victoria. You can read about Jekyll and Hyde and its theme of dualities on Dualism & Dualities, an excellent website to help you understand the background for this interesting novel. The Victorian era lasted from 1837 to 1901, spurred at least in part by changes that resulted from the Industrial Revolution, which brought about a newly empowered middle class.
Watch and Learn
Below is a fantastic video by Watch Mojo. It shows clips from the classic film, explains some background and gives some cool trivia! Last year’s students would have killed for this!
Modesty and Restraint
Facts on Victorian England provides some good information, which I have summarized for you below.
Queen Victoria’s predecessor, King William IV, had lived a life of public excess. He openly fathered children with women he never married and became known as the rogue king. Victoria modeled her lifestyle — and attempted to give the British people an example — from the other extreme. Clothing and behavior, in both public and private, were modest. Discussing physical love in the public sphere was frowned upon, and any discussion of sex was limited. Social historians like Sally Mitchell note that most middle- and upper-class newlyweds approached marriage in a state of almost absolute ignorance about sex (McKellen). At the first feelings of romantic interest, Victorian men had to follow the deeply ingrained belief that marriage must soon follow, so if they were unready or financially unable to pursue a legal union, it was considered in poor taste to pursue any kind of courtship. “Dating” usually consisted of supervised visits at a young woman’s home or walks in large groups.
Because most Victorians prized propriety, one’s reputation was of huge importance. Ensuring an individual stayed in society’s good graces dictated an extremely detailed code of everyday manners and etiquette. This is best exemplified by the popular Victorian-era tome “Our Deportment: Or, the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society,” a more than 400-page instructional book written by John H. Young and published in 1882. Young authored the book largely on the premise that, as he wrote, manners represented the core ideals of Christianity and would promote goodwill and peace within humanity at large. This is the repression that Dr. Jekyll was trying to escape with this experiments in the novel.
You can read some more interesting information about the structure of Victorian society at Victorian England: An Introduction.
We have been fascinated with this idea of the public versus the private face, and many versions of Jekyll and Hyde have been made since the original novel’s writing in 1886, including The Looney Toons cartoon with Bugs Bunny, an updated, reimagined BBC television version starring James Nesbitt and the 1997 Broadway musical version.