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Setting in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Setting Examples in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

Chapter One

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"He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theater, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years...."   (Chapter One)

The opening passage of the story introduces us to Mr. Utterson, the protagonist. Mr. Utterson is sensible, rational, discreet, and morally conscientious. In many ways, Utterson serves as an exemplar of Victorian morality. Victorian Britain was a culture which valued a strong work ethic, self-control, sexual restraint, temperance, and codes of strict ethical conduct. In its drive towards upright moral behaviour, Victorian culture developed a shadowy underbelly of child labor, widespread prostitution, and opium dens and gin palaces. The inability to repress and restrain the darker areas of the human soul—a struggle the Victorians knew well—is perhaps the story’s central theme. Our guide through this warped theater of Victorian London is Mr. Utterson, a man who represents the ideals of his age.

"penny numbers and twopenny salads..."   (Chapter Four)

Penny numbers were a type of cheap periodical publication costing one penny (one pence). Twopenny salads, which cost two pence, are also quite cheap and fairly low quality, consisting of inferior vegetables; that these items are sold in Hyde’s neighborhood indicates that he does not live in the best part of town.

"blackguardly surroundings..."   (Chapter Four)

“Blackguardly surroundings” are those pertaining to or associated with blackguards—villainous, contemptible men. In other words, Soho is a worthless, vile place, at least by Utterson’s estimation.

"The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps..."   (Chapter Four)

Soho is a neighborhood in the West End of London. In Victorian times Soho was known as the city’s center of prostitution. The word “slatternly” comes from “slattern,” a derogatory word for a promiscuous young woman or prostitute. Soho, it becomes clear in the next paragraph, is where Mr. Hyde lives. It is fitting that Hyde, who represents many of the traits despised by the Victorians, resides in the least reputable quarter of London.

"A great chocolate-colored pall lowered over heaven..."   (Chapter Four)

Stevenson renders the fog in metaphorical language that underscores the events which are unfolding in its midst. The metaphor of the fog as a “pall” being “lowered” evokes a funeral pall, a cloth used to cover corpses and coffins, a fitting image in the aftermath of Sir Danvers Carew’s murder. The idea of the fog being “lowered over heaven” creates an infernal atmosphere, as if, after the killing, goodness were being occluded by evil.

"the first fog of the season..."   (Chapter Four)

The London fog is an important feature in a great deal of Victorian literature. As a result of increasingly dense urban living, as well as the rapid industrialization of the 19th century, frequent blankets of smog overtook the city of London. This mixture of fog and coal smoke from factories and homes came to be termed “pea soup” for its thick, dark appearance. Stevenson opts for a chocolate-based metaphor, but the phenomenon is the same. Writers such as Dickens, Doyle, and Eliot have taken turns describing this signature aspect of London life.

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