Author Archives: Ali Troiano

Jekyll and Hyde and The Moonstone

In Anna Stiles article Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Jekyll and Hyde” and the Double Brain, Stiles discusses how Stevenson may have been influenced by the “late-Victorian ideas about the brain as a double organ” (894). Stiles argues that these ideas influenced Stevenson’s portrayal of the conflict between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stiles also, however, discusses the relationship between the Gothic and the format of the text as a case study.  Stiles highlights that “the Gothic emphasis on psychological interiority and emotion may seem at odds with the eminently rational aims of the scientific case study” (888).

Despite these seemingly disparate genres, Stiles points out that the elements of the Gothic and scientific case study are actually interconnected.  The text’s format adheres to the traditional conventions of a case study while implementing Gothic elements and using subjective narrative voice to blur the lines between fact and fiction. Ultimately, Stiles argues that the combination of these two genres parallels the double brain of Dr. Jekyll; Stiles states, “ The logical, left brain perspective of science combines with the primitive, emotional, right-brain perspective of the Gothic, demonstrating how Stevenson incorporates the polarities of the dual-brain theory into the literary form of his famous novella” (891).

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reminded me, in many ways, of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. They both have elements of mystery and Gothicism and they both take the form of a case study that relies on both science and subjective narrative perspectives. The idea that Stevenson combines both aspects of science and with the romantic elements of the Gothic reminds me of The Moonstone. In my last blog post, I questioned the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity in the text. I also relayed Lewis Robert’s article, “The ‘Shivering Sands’ of Reality: Narration and Knowledge in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone,” that explored this question; Roberts states, “For Collins, realism is not only a process of scientific discovery in which everything can be explained, in which all secrets will be revealed and all revelations will be apparent; but also, realism is a state of recognition of the complexities and the mysteries involved in ‘knowing’ anything” (177). Roberts highlights the interconnectedness between the binaries in the text; Stiles argues a similar point.

For me, there is a key difference between the two texts.  In The Moonstone, the multiple views of narration seems to add to the mystery, while in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both “Dr. Lanyon’s narrative” and “Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case” literally solve the case and answer the mystery.  I wonder if this difference highlights a difference in views of Stevenson and Collins concerning the relationship between subjectivity and science.

Reality and Truth in The Moonstone

While reading Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, the narrative structure and voice forced me to question the idea of “truth” in the novel. The first-person narrator constantly reminds the reader that the he tells the story “in the interests of truth” (9). In the prologue, the narrator states, “And I declare, on my word of honour, that what I am now about to write is, strictly and literally, the truth” (1).  When Gabriel Betteredge takes over the narration, he describes how he would systematically recall his memories of each day with the help of Penelope’s diaries. Throughout his narration he asserts his loyalty to the “truth” (17) and dedication to relay events “as things actually happened” (20).

The meta-fictional aspects of this text strangely seems to work with this dedication to the “truth,” but also complicated it in many (obvious) ways.  Betteredge speaks directly to some “you,” or the reader, in his account within the fictional context of the novel.  Strangely, however, Betteredge seems to be story-telling more than providing an account of events for legal purposes. He also literally refers to the structure of the novel: “Cheer up! – I’ll ease you with another new chapter here – and, what is more, that chapter shall take you straight into the thick of the story” (53).  This narrative structure forced me to question the relationship between truth and reality in the novel.

I noticed another interesting passage that relates to the point. After Franklin tells Betteredge his account of Colonel’s death and questions the motive of his will, he states, “‘This question has two sides,’ he said. ‘An Objective side, and a Subjective side. Which are we to take’” (39). Ultimately, Franklin decides, “From all I can see, one interpretation is just as likely to be right as the other” (39).  This question relates to the text as a whole.  The entire “story” is related through a subjective perspective, yet claims a somewhat objective perspective.  How do you think this relationship between the reality and truth works in the text?

I found an interesting article, “The ‘Shivering Sands’ of Reality: Narration and Knowledge in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone,” by Lewis Roberts, that begins to answer this question for me. While Roberts makes a larger-scale argument than I will relate here, he makes some interesting points that directly address my question. Roberts highlights the artificial nature of the text including Franklin Blake’s role as a “general editor” (170) and the layers of narration throughout. He highlights how these elements force the reader to question reliability and “truth.” Roberts addresses the novel’s concern with the realism and the truth: “his concern with realism is unsurprising in a detective novel, with its impulse toward uncovering the truth and reconstructing actual events; nevertheless, Collins presents us with an understanding of reality in which the familiar and the alien, the knowable and the unfathomable, are equally present” (169).  Robert’s point draws attention to his contradiction I noticed in the narration.

He highlights other binaries and contradictions that exist in the text concerning the “known” and the “unknown,” including the actual moonstone itself, the shivering sands, and even the characters: “For Collins, realism is not only a process of scientific discovery in which everything can be explained, in which all secrets will be revealed and all revelations will be apparent; but also, realism is a state of recognition of the complexities and the mysteries involved in ‘knowing’ anything” (177).  In this way, Roberts argues that Collins recognizes the “unknown” as both inseparable and integral to the “known.”




Jane Eyre and “Bluebeard”

In Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the narrator alludes to “Bluebeard,” a figure in a fairy tale: “ […] like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle!” (91). Upon reading this, I immediately drew connections between the “Bluebeard” fairy tale and the novel. In Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard” tale, an ugly man with a blue beard wishes to take his neighbor’s daughters as his wife. She agrees to marry him because of his wealth despite her disgust with his appearance. After they marry, Blue Beard leaves for a trip and gives his wife all the keys to every room in his castle. Blue Beard, however, forbids his wife from entering one specific room. Curiosity and temptation overcome the wife and she enters the forbidden closet to find the dead bodies of her husband’s previous wives; she drops the key to the room on the bloody floor. Blue Beard comes home from his trip and the bloodstained key proves the wife’s disobedience. The wife’s brothers arrive in time to kill Blue Beard and save their sister from his sword.

Perrault’s version emphasizes the curiosity of the wife and her betrayal of her husband, but also punishes the murderous husband in the end. In other versions of a similar tale, such as the Grimms’ “The Robber Bridegroom,” the young maiden, before her marriage, witnesses her future husband murder a young woman. She also receives a warning from an old woman about her future husbands murderous actions that, ultimately, saves her life.

After Brontë’s direct allusion to the Bluebeard tradition, I paid close attention to the parallels between the texts. On the surface, for example, the romantic relationship between Jane Eyre, a young woman, and Mr. Rochester, and ugly, wealthy man seems to parallel, in some ways, the relationship between the young woman and the murderous husband in these fairy tales. Mr. Rochester also has his own secrets, such as the forbidden chamber in that attic of his house and the “mystery of mysteries” (173) of Grace Poole’s role and existence in the house. Finally, when Jane gets close to the secret room after the attack of Mr. Mason, the narrator repeatedly refers to the “key,” an important trope in the Bluebeard tradition. For example, the narrator states, “he turned the key and opened the door” (177) and “I felt a strange feeling as the key grated in the lock” (178). While Mr. Rochester brings Jane into this locked room, there is still another secret chamber or “inner apartment” (178) that she does not enter and a secret that Mr. Rochester forbids Mr. Mason from sharing. As I read, it was impossible for me to separate these events from those in the “Bluebeard” tale. At the end of the assigned reading, Mr. Rochester even addresses this mystery and claims he will reveal an explanation in the future.

In a critical essay by Rose Lovell-Smith, “Anti-Housewives and Ogres’ Housekeepers: The Role of Bluebeard’s female Helper,” Lovell- Smith explores this parallel between Jane Eyre and these versions of the Blue Beard fairytale. Lovell-Smith highlights a “female helper” figure in these tales that warn the protagonist directly (the old woman) or indirectly by showing her possible future (the dead women). According to Lovell-Smith, they both serve the same function – to guide or warn the heroine: “the underlying sympathy between the macabre bodies of Bluebeard’s dead wives and his living wife: they too are her helpers, the ghastly signs that inform her and insist on their kinship with her ” (Lovell-Smith 202).

Lovell-Smith also highlights this connection or “kinship” between the dead women and the wife or future wife. Lovell-Smith highlights Mrs. Fairfax as a “female helper” for Jane:

But it is Mrs. Fairfax who has most of the other necessary qualifications for a Bluebeard’s helper, being an “elderly” woman, a dependent relation of Rochester’s, and his housekeeper: she plays the helper’s role in volume 1 chapter 11, welcoming Jane to the Bluebeard’s castle, seating her by a warm fire, plying her with food, and informing her about the house and its inhabitants. (Lovell-Smith 201-2)

This connection forced me to look closely at Mrs. Fairfax’s warning to Jane when she heard of their plans to marry. Mrs. Fairfax warns, “but believe me, you cannot be too careful Try to keep Mr. Rochester at a distance: distrust yourself as well as him” (226). In this way, Mrs. Fairfax directly acts as a “female helper” who warns the young maiden of some foreboding future. Lovell-Smith also highlights Grace Poole’s role as somewhat of an “old crone” figure, similar to that in “The Robber Bridegroom” and other versions of this tale. Even the mysterious woman who rips her wedding veil in the middle of the night takes on this “female helper” role. While the critical essay also explores other parallels, we haven’t read far enough in the book to discuss them. Through this comparison, I wonder –  How does Brontë use this “Bluebeard” allusion and loose framework to transform the representation of women (particularly Jane) and the relationship between females in this “Bluebeard” tradition?

I will warn you – the critical essay will spoil some details for you if you haven’t finished reading the book!