Last week I wrote that even Dr. Lecter would find Mr. Hyde scary and since then I’ve been mulling over why cannibalism never comes up in connection with Stevenson’s masterpiece. Actually, we had a lively discussion in class about the worst crime we imagine Hyde committing, and because the contemporary readings of the text focus so much on (Victorian, repressed) sexuality, we just came up with child rape and murder. Someone mentioned the Amstetten monster, as you might expect, as our most potent recent Jekyll-related nightmare but not the ultimate taboo of eating people.
Check any database and you’ll soon find that plenty has been written about Lecter as the 1990s quintessential Dr. Jekyll, with suggestions that he’s both the good doctor and his evil self in one, sealing thus Stevenson’s self-divide. Other candidates to the post of best fictional Dr. Jekyll of the last twenty years might be, of course, Patrick Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’ magnificently horrid American Psycho (1991) and, yes, the split protagonist of Chuck Palahniuk’s truly great Fight Club (1996, film –also great- by David Fincher 1999). Yet, I haven’t been unable to trace an essay arguing that Hyde’s favourite debauchery consists of eating people. Why not consider this? Ummm… yummy!
Now, seriously, most critics gloat over the hidden sexuality of Stevenson’s text, fantasizing mainly that Hyde is either a sadistic, misogynistic heterosexual or a homosexual –do they mean just plain or also sadistic? See for instance Elaine Showalter’s confusing essay “Dr. Jekyll’s closet” in her book Sexual Anarchy (1991 – my thanks to Josh Bazell for pointing it out to me). Showalter makes three claims: 1) Hyde’s crimes are sexual, 2) late Victorian male readers leading a double life would have quickly guessed that Jekyll’s dark pleasures are homosexual, 3) it’s hard to imagine a version with a female protagonist. Well, yes, if you must focus on sex.
Showalter wonders, as I do, what a contemporary Ms. Edie Hyde might do secretly that is too shameful for Prof. Henrietta Jekyll, chair, I would add, in Gender Studies at any US or UK university. Have sado-masochistic (lesbian) sex with a student? Really evil… As for her twin claims that Stevenson may have, perhaps, possibly, perchance, who knows, come in and out of the closet which is why Jekyll and his cronies are clearly gay, I find it intolerant and homophobic. I know she intends to condemn the author’s and the original readers’ hypocrisy but believing that Jekyll needs Hyde because he is gay simply hurts my queer (=anti-homophobic) sensitivity. Last time I saw Lecter (in print) he had trapped Clarice Starling into an appalling HETEROSEXUAL affair…
The problem with Hyde is that we don’t seem to have much imagination when it comes to evil –um, luckily? Thomas Harris opened up through his Dr. Lecter new possibilities regarding ultimate evil at a modest individual scale (Lecter is no Hitler, not even a Bush). And why not imagine that in her college office Prof. Henrietta Jekyll daydreams about having some students for dinner? Unless, of course, you think that ladies can never be that evil… or good cooks like Lecter. That would be sexist, wouldn’t it?