Where are the Women in Jekyll and Hyde?
When we chose The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as our project, we knew it was strongly male-centred. To give an equal opportunity to our actors, we opened all characters for casting regardless of the actors’ gender, and ended up with a mixture of male-female character-actor combinations. Little did we know that so many people gave thought to the role of females in the original story. So let’s dive a little deeper into the ‘female side’ of Jekyll and Hyde.
In the 19th century a big chunk of the most well-known literature was written by men, for men. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is no exception. Barely any female characters feature in the story, and those that do don’t have agency.
So it’s maybe no wonder that countless blog posts, reviews and scholarly articles have been written about the lack of women– and possible reasons behind it– in the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Here we list four of the theories we found, some more absurd than others… Enjoy!
Note that these ideas don’t necessarily reflect the writers’ personal views on women, and they definitely don’t reflect ours. But they do offer a glance at societal norms of the Victorian era.
“Women are too good to be true”
Under Queen Vicky’s rule, women were expected to act as ‘beacons of good moral influence’. As such, how could they exist in a dark story where violence, murder and other immoral deeds take place? Their dialogue would over-complicate things.
Interestingly though, the only person said to witness the murder that Hyde commits in the original story is Jekyll’s maid, giving her certain value to the plot. But that’s perhaps as far as it goes. The maid faints shortly after witnessing the crime, and is therefore not able to react– or act.
“Jekyll is homosexual”
Women are unnecessary. The statement has been used to explain why so few female characters appear in the original story. They simply aren’t needed. Why? Because the underlying plot of Jekyll and Hyde is that Jekyll and his friends are homosexual. That is at least according to one writer.
During the Victorian age, sex and sexuality in general became less taboo and a more talked-about subject. Some say this could be part thanks to the fact that homosexuality gained more attention. The all-male backdrop of Stevenson’s story could then mean that Jekyll’s suppressed desires and ‘secret adventures were homosexual practices so common in London behind the Victorian veil’ (as cited by Vladimir Nabokov, 2003).
This theory offers a symbolism where Hyde, freed of Jekyll’s self-preservation, lives out these sexual needs. There’s even some hinting at Jekyll and Hyde being lovers.
“Men are reproductive”
This theory takes the idea of superfluous women a step further. At least one thinker has suggested that the physical transformation that Jekyll undergoes when he turns into Hyde can be resembled to labour.
Though Jekyll of course doesn’t actually give birth to Hyde, he does create another life from his body. Does this mean that Hyde is Jekyll’s son? Definitely a defiant teenager. And does that make Jekyll a… mother? Put these two theories together, and you’ll have a real oedipal mess.
“Female character(istic)s exist in males”
The duality of human nature? Maybe this thought is what drove Stevenson to assign so-called female characteristics to his seemingly male characters, Hyde in particular.
For example, in literature and movies women have traditionally and unfortunately been the objects of men’s gazing. But with barely any women in the mix, the gaze is still there, just with a different object. In the original novella, ‘the reader is constantly drawn to Hyde’s physical appearance’ which is described in intricate detail. Being constantly gazed upon supports the idea that Hyde represents the feminine side of Jekyll.
Likewise, women’s societal role, as defined by men, has been to be subordinate to their counterparts and kept under control. Again, without any women to control, Hyde arguably has the role of Jekyll’s subordinate, the one who needs to be controlled.
Another interesting interpretation focuses on Gabriel Utterson, a dear friend to Jekyll. Utterson is eager to keep things in order and protect Jekyll’s reputation. Is he perhaps a ‘reminiscent of a bossy motherly figure’? This may even explain his unusual name: Udder (meaning breast) and son…
From Stevenson to Smith: What has changed?
In the adaptation we chose by Noah Smith, two leading female characters take the stage: Helen and Cybel. Both women are closely interlinked with the male leads. Both definitely have agency and take action– separately and in the end also together, contradicting a fictional norm where female characters are often put against each other.
Without spoiling too much, Helen and Cybel even change the course of the whole play, essentially deciding the fate of our protagonist(s) Jekyll and Hyde. This is a big leap away from the original text, where the few visible females barely even decide their own fate.
So what should we make of all these different takes on Jekyll and Hyde? What do you think? We’d like to hear your opinion! Let creativity flow and share your thoughts on any of our social media channels, or send us an email, with the following question in mind: Did Robert Louis Stevenson hate women, or did he love them?
This blog article is written by Alexandra Granberg and Tulya Kavaklioglu.