The theme of Reputation
The Victorian society was obsessed with sustaining a good reputation and Stevenson picks upon this in this detective novella. Dr Jekyll, the "protagonist", of this novel creates an alter-ego, Mr Hyde. Jekyll does this so he can follow his evil desires without harming his social status as he is a wealthy physician. Reputation comes numerous times into this novel. Jekyll tries to maintain his own while supporting curious characters that are concerned of his suspicious behaviour, but destroys Hyde's reputation.
In the first chapter, as the little girl gets ‘‘trampled calmly'' over by Hyde. Richard Enfield, Gabriel Utterson's "friend" is sickened by what he has seen and wants Hyde dead, because he cannot kill a man as murder is unacceptable, instead he blackmails Hyde into giving 100 pounds to the girl's family. This isn't socially acceptable, as a man of his status should not be blackmailing people, no matter the problem. Later on, Enfield feels guilty of his disgraceful actions, "I am ashamed of my long tongue. Let us make a bargain never refer to this again." This exemplifies the magnitude of gossip in the Victorian era as it can lead to being regretful and, in Enfield eyes, can cause a negative effect on someone's reputation.
Gabriel Utterson, one of Dr Jekyll's long-time friend's whose friendship "grew over time like ivy", throughout the chapter protects his friends reputation even when he turns from rational to irrational. Utterson suspects that Hyde may have blackmailed his friend for an inheritance and starts to investigate the suspicions aroused by the two. Although Jekyll assures that all is well, "is not so bad" and "I am waiting for the right moment to be rid of Hyde", Utterson does not quite buy Jekyll's reassurance "I can't pretend that I shall ever like him", "…heaved an irrepressible sigh". This shows the little trust Utterson has in his friend, Jekyll. After the Carew case Utterson mentions to Jekyll "if it comes to trial your name might appear." Utterson is aware that something is going on between Jekyll and Hyde at the Carew murder scene as he finds a "broken b attered " and "he recognised for one he had presented many years to Henry Jekyll."
Henry Jekyll in this novel values his reputation more than his sins which he uses his alter-ego to commit as he is fearful of damaging his name. It is clear that Jekyll wants a gentlemanly reputation, "...a load of genial respectability", but he cannot get respect by acting " ... Like a schoolboy"- this makes Jekyll seem childish and irresponsible. This is where he creates Hyde to rid himself of the "disgrace" of sin. Multiple times in the play Jekyll associates Hyde with freedom "sea of liberty" , he can now conceal his sins without exposure. Jekyll thinks that his reputation is safe "safety was complete" now that his dark side is taking the damage on reputation.
Stevenson wants us to understand the importance of reputation to the Victorian Society especially the higher class as they were often looked up and admired by lower class citizens. The theme of reputation is one of the main themes which drive the plot of the novel. There would be a lot of pressure put on higher class citizens as they would have to set an example and they would not like to be seen going to a brothel as a lot of g entlemen would have to fulfil their lust. Gentlemen would blackmail each other or k eep another's secret acts to themselves . It would be normal for lower class and some work ing class to commit sinful deeds as they were seen as scums and worthless and what they did didn't matter. Stevenson shows us that Victorian gentlemen and women would go to such extreme lengths of keeping their reputation safe. It is shown this through Jekyll who uses Hyde to dispose of his evil cravings .