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BIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON: MAIN WRITINGS, SUMMARY

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BIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON


Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850.Because of his poor health he spent most of his childhood in bed.In his adolescence he travelled a lot in search of a more friendly climate; he lived in the south of England, Germany, France and Italy.

He took up engineering at University, following in his father's footsteps, but he was not enthusiastic about it. All the time he was in conflict with his social environment, the respectable Victorian world; he grew his hair long, his manners were eccentric and he became one of the first examples of the bohemian in Britain, openly rejecting his family's religious  principles and the love for respectability.

After giving up engineering, he graduated in law in 1875 and decided to devote himself to writing. He went to France where he married Fanny Osbourne, and since his health was deteriorating, they moved to Australia and Tahiti, settling down at Vailima in Samoa.He died of a brain haemorrhage in 1894.




MAIN WRITINGS

Treasure Island 1883), The strange case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Kidnapped(1886), The master of Ballantrae (1889).


SUMMARY

Mr. Utterson is a London lawyer who is a friend of Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll gave up his regular practice to experiment with non-traditional medicine. Utterson is concerned because Jekyll has written a will that leaves all his money to his new partner Mr. Hyde. Utterson has heard bad things of Hyde and disliked him at first sight. The lawyer thinks his friend is being blackmailed.

One day, the lawyer is asked to identify the body of a murdered man, Sir Danvers Carew, one of Utterson's clients. Hyde is suspected of the murder, but he has disappeared. Jekyll swears that he has not seen Hyde and has broken with him forever. The case remains unsolved and Jekyll becomes more sociable than he had been. Suddenly, though, he locks himself into his laboratory, yelling to the servants through the door, directing them to gather chemicals for him. The servants recognize a change in his voice and think that their master has been murdered; another man has taken his place in the lab. They call Utterson who breaks down the door. On the floor lies Hyde, who has killed himself with poison. Sadly, Utterson assumes Hyde returned and killed Jekyll, but the doctor's body is nowhere to be found. He does find, however, a letter in which Jekyll explains his relationship with Hyde. Jekyll had sometimes indulged in debauches which, if discovered, could have ruined his reputation and of which he is ashamed. Pondering this split in his personality, he decides to find a way to separate his two beings. Jekyll creates a potion that releases his evil side, Mr. Hyde. Hyde is shorter and smaller than Jekyll, having not had as much "exercise". For a while Jekyll enjoys his two bodies; he can do whatever he likes without fear of discovery. His pleasure is stunted when Hyde kills Carew, and he resolves never to take the potion again. Hyde is now strong, however, and emerges whether Jekyll will have him or not. Indeed, Jekyll must use the potion to be rid of him if only for a moment. Jekyll knows that it is only by killing his body that Hyde's body, too, will die.

ANALYSIS

The theme of the double is a constant of the Victorian writers, in particular of those of the second generation, and through it they reveal the hypocrisy of their own time.

The strange case of dr.Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde , written by Robert Louis Stevenson, can be doubtless considered the emblem of this theme.

It concerns not only the way in which an individual is made up of contrary emotions and desires: some good and some evil, but also the hypocrisy of Victorian society.

Henry  Jeckyll, the protagonist of this novel, is a man who has a double nature, a good and an evil soul. He has always concealed his evil part because he lives in a moralist society where everybody is judged for his behaviour therefore he decided to split up his two beings. Jekyll creates a potion that releases his evil side, Mr. Hyde. As his name suggests, he is the personification of Jeckyll's hidden pleasures that he had long repressed, infact now Jeckyll can do every sort of crime without being discovered; he can not be discovered because the poison changes also Jeckyll's body making Henry Jeckyll and Edward Hyde two completely different beings but always part of an originating ego. The aspects of these two beings also characterize their soul.



As Jeckyll has lived a virtuous life his face is handsome, his hands white, his body larger and more harmoniously proportioned than Hyde's. On the contrary Edward Hyde is pale and dwarfish, his hands are dark and hairy, he gives an impression of deformity, and the good Mr Utterson, a friend of Jeckyll's, reads "Satan's signature" in his traits.On several occasions Hyde is made to appear in Jeckyll's fine clothes, which are too large for him; this fact points out how much smaller and uglier Hyde is than his alter ego. Though the evil side of Jeckyll's nature is initially less developed because most of his life has been devoted to "effort, virtue and control" as Hyde plunges into "the sea of liberty", he begins seriously to erode his good twin. The smaller Hyde begins to grow in stature and the original balance of good and evil in Jeckyll's nature is threatened with being permanently overthrown. Stevenson drew the inspiration for the description of Hyde from Darwin's studies of man's kinship to the animal world. Hyde's small stature indicates that his body is not exercised. Hyde may be both the primitive, the evolutionary forerunner of civilized man and the symbol of repressed psychological drives.

We can find the theme of the double also in the setting of the novel; it seems to be halfway between England and Scotland, London and Edinburgh. Both capitals had a "double" nature and reflected the hypocrisy of Victorian society:London had the respectable West End and the appalling poverty of the East End slums; Edinburgh had the New town with its wide squares, and the Old Town where crime was a pressing problem. This ambivalence is reinforced by the symbolism of Jeckyll's house whose two facades are symbolically the faces of the two opposed sides of the same man: the front of this house, used by the Doctor, is well-kept and respectable; while the rear, used by Hyde, is part of a sinister block of buildings.

Most scenes in the novel take place at night: there is no natural daylight, but only the artificial lighting of Jeckyll's house and of the nightmarish street lamps.The bleakness of this setting is reflected in the characters who inhabit it; there are no women, no wives and the only ties between people are professional ones.The men are all bachelors and belong to the same respectable world:one is a lawyer and two are doctors, so the story reflects the male patriarchal world of Victorianism.


NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE

Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde has a multi-narrational structure, in which a complex series of points of view is presented.There are 4 narrators, through whom almost the whole action is seen and filtered:Enfield, Utterson, Lanyon and finally Dr Jeckyll himself.







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