I recently — this day to be exact — had a conversation with a man about the natures of godly grief and worldly grief. The “good grief” which comes from above is a deep-cutting hatred of evil, which leads to repentance, salvation, and ultimately joy. Grief then, that comes from above should ultimately produce an overflow of joy. The moralists among us however, the Tolstoy’s, who are so easily grieved over even the tiniest sin but are unwilling or unable to find a hope and cure for that grief, fall into a despair that ends in sorrow, for no moralist ever overcame any sin. And the fictional moralist I have recently studied is no other than Dr. Jekyll whose corrupt second-nature, Mr. Hyde, overcame his ability to be good on his own terms and led to his death.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” had very different views than this author on the nature of sin and goodness in man (if we can take his famous novella as evidence of his own beliefs). My point here is not to argue my own position. That’s easy enough to read somewhere else. But what is significant is Hyde’s influence on Jekyll. I perhaps should simply state what Henry James had to say about the novel — as was found in the back of my copy: “It is here.. not the profundity  of the idea which strikes me so much as the art of presentation — the extremely successful form.” This interesting case of a learned doctor falling by releasing his evil side, which is actually not so original, is indeed presented to the reader quite brilliantly.

Stevenson’s story is told through the third person limited view of a lawyer, Mr. Utterson. Anytime third person limited is used, the reader can easily see the story being told from a first person perspective instead, which we do not get in this work until the very end when Utterson reads the accounts of both Mr. Lanyon, his friend and Dr. Jekyll. (I suppose if we were given the whole story through a lawyer’s first person perspective, the believability would naturally be questioned.) Since the first fifty pages are viewed from the outside, albeit through one mind, we have a somewhat objective view of Hyde — unlike Dracula whose description is always subjective. But this brilliantly leads us to the climatic first-person narrative of Dr. Jekyll.

I am not sure if James disagreed with Stevenson’s presentation of man’s duality — that we have one nature which is good and one which is evil — but I can see part of the reason why he may have wanted to stress the artfullness of this piece instead. For my own perspective, the duality of man is a flawed outlook on our nature. Nevertheless, Jekyll explains succinctly enough in his account that he came to find through his studies that man actually consists of two natures instead of one.

With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.

His fall thus came, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s, when he decides to try and separate out those two natures and leave himself with only the good. The tinge of pride, what many have called the father of all wickedness, is wholly pervasive in this pursuit. The novella had been criticized on this aspect: that it is weakened in Jekyll’s having to take the vile to turn into Hyde as opposed to turning into him overnight and against his will. I can see and even agree with this criticism, but I also see just as easily the taking of the vile as his symbolic act of working towards a perfected state of being. And this works-based morality led to his evil side taking over his soul completely. And he eventually turns into Hyde unwittingly.

Jekyll goes on to describe his initial acceptance of Hyde as part of who he is as he sees his reflection.

This, too, was myself. It seemed natural and human. In my eyes it bore a livelier image of the spirit, it seemed more express and single, than the imperfect and divided countenance I had been hitherto accustomed to call mine. And in so far I was doubtless right. I have observed that when I wore the semblance of Edward Hyde, none could come near to me at first without a visible misgiving of the flesh. This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.

And so Jekyll goes on to embrace this evil nature. He decides that, according to his own philosophy, since he was given a totally depraved nature, he should accept it. But as he begins to indulge in this depraved lifestyle, his “good” self is itself tortured with the knowledge of this terrible depravity.

Here is, in my opinion, where Stevenson’s duality begins to show its weakness. For if Hyde is totally depraved is it not logical to conclude that Jekyll is perfect or being perfected as Hyde is released more often? Would we not have to let our sin out to allow that side of us to breathe? Yet who is doing the sin? The Hyde within us is still the Jekyll that created him. In Stevenson’s defense he’s consistent and presents Jekyll as a man who grows better in his moral outlook on life. He tries to put Hyde away for good, and though he decides to stop taking the vile, Hyde comes out against his will.

The story of Dr. Jekyll’s fall from grace is one of “a grief observed” if you will. While he grows in his own state as Hyde is released, the rest of creation suffers, and his grief at his foolishness is one that leads to despair. Moralists, who believe we should be moral simply for that reason alone, can only grieve in this way. For so long as we try to kill our sin by ourselves, we will always fail. It is not until we recognize our total inadequacy in regards to this that we can let out a “good grief!” and proceed to freedom from the bondage of our sin.

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2 thoughts on “Good Grief!

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