Nicole Anderson (College of DuPage)
ESSAI: Vol. 9, Article 7 (2011) Abstract
The Victorian Era was a period marked by immense progress and tremendous achievement. Industry was booming, the economy was flourishing and gradually, society was changing (Chakma). No single man was more aware of this fact than “the most dangerous man in England”: the English naturalist and biologist, Charles Darwin (Fichman 17). In 1859, Darwin first published his controversial work, The Origin of Species. He proposed that humans were the product of the evolution of a lower species, shaking the core of society. It was not the biological process of evolution that terrified the masses; it was what Victorians thought it suggested or predicted (Ape 2005). Evolutionary theory rewrote history and challenged their concepts of religion, morality, and social status. Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is a vehicle for the Victorian people’s exploration of Darwinian theory, its relevancy to their culture, and what the future may hold for the human species.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fits into the literary genre of Victorian science fiction. This variety of work first emerged in the mid-1800s and was renowned for its depictions of societal changes influenced or dictated by science and technology (Franklin). These works of this genre were not just for entertainment’s sake; they served a genuine purpose in society. In an era when science and technology were rapidly gaining momentum behind a culture once driven by Christianity, these works made an effort to understand the impact science had on the present as well as the future.