For GCSE English, there are a number of benefits to knowing Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde main characters. Firstly, getting to grips with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde main characters and their motivations is a great way to enhance your knowledge of the plot – because what is plot if it’s not driven forward by the characters and their actions? – and secondly, it’s a good way to structure revision, in that you can connect characters, themes and significant events together to gain a better understanding of the novella.
You should keep lists of key scenes and quotations for each character (and learn them before the exams), but to help get you started, here’s an overview of the main characters you’ll need to know:
Gabriel John Utterson
A respected and prominent lawyer, and the story’s narrator, Utterson’s dry, rational narration ironically makes him perfectly suited to a story about the supernatural, as he lends credibility to the fantastic events described in the narrative. Utterson is a good friend of Henry Jekyll, as well as his legal advisor, and can be seen as a representative of Victorian society at large in his desire for reasonable explanations and his rational denial of the supernatural.
Dr Henry Jekyll
A respected doctor, Henry Jekyll is around fifty – wealthy, ‘smooth-faced’ and well-established in London society. However, we learn that he engages in unspecified but disreputable activities, something he tries to suppress. Through a series of experiments, he manages to create a tincture – or potion – that transforms him from Henry Jekyll, respected London doctor, into the immoral Edward Hyde, his alter ego. As Hyde, Jekyll is able to indulge in all of the wicked and dishonourable activities he desires, but before long, Hyde becomes so strong that Jekyll is no longer able to control him, and indeed starts to transform into Hyde at a moment’s notice. Faced with the potential prospect of being trapped in Hyde’s form forever, Jekyll decides that suicide is the only way out, and takes his own life.
An oddly repulsive creature, described as ugly and deformed, Hyde is the physical manifestation of Henry Jekyll’s “dark side”, brought to life by the mysterious tincture. Violent, callous and cruel even to the point of murder, those who see Hyde describe him as only faintly human, struggling to articulate what it is they find so distasteful about his appearance. Controlled at first by Henry Jekyll, Hyde becomes stronger, eventually taking over his former master’s body, so that Jekyll eventually dies in Hyde’s form.
As one of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde main characters, Richard Enfield is Gabriel Utterson’s cousin. He is brought in as a “foil” (or contrast) to the staunch, unerring, rational Utterson. It is Enfield who first tells Utterson of Mr Hyde, who he saw late one night trampling over a small child. Hyde showed little to no remorse for his actions and was forced into writing a cheque for the girl’s family, which is then discovered to have been signed by Henry Jekyll. Enfield makes a number of comparisons between Hyde and the Devil, and describes to Enfield how he seemed to “loathe” Hyde on first sight.
Dr Hastie Lanyon
Hastie Lanyon is a respected London doctor who, along with Utterson, is one of Henry Jekyll’s closest friends. As a doctor, Lanyon, who is rational and collected, serves as a foil to Henry Jekyll, who seems to embrace mysticism and the supernatural, lending further credibility to the fantastical elements of the tale. In an attempt to control his alter ego, Jekyll, in the form of Hyde, appeals to Lanyon to collect powders (chemicals) from his laboratory, transforming in Lanyon’s presence back into Henry Jekyll. Lanyon is so shocked by what he sees that it hastens his death and ultimately kills him.
Poole is Henry Jekyll’s faithful servant, who, along with the footman Bradshaw, is among the party who discover the body of Edward Hyde (actually Henry Jekyll), which is found in Jekyll’s laboratory. Poole has been in Jekyll’s service for a long time, and is therefore well placed to report his suspicions to Utterson that something is amiss, making him one of the prominant Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde main characters.
Guest is Utterson’s head clerk, skilled in analysing handwriting. At Utterson’s request, he compares the handwriting of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, noticing similarities between them.
Sir Danvers Carew
Sir Danvers Carew is a distinguished MP, described as ‘an aged and beautiful gentleman’, who is viciously beaten to death with a cane by Edward Hyde. The murder is witnessed by a maid from an attic window. Together with Inspector Newcomen of Scotland Yard, Utterson visits Hyde’s lodgings in Soho, where they find a broken cane belonging to Henry Jekyll. Utterson later visits Jekyll, who shows him a note supposedly written by Edward Hyde expressing remorse and apologising for what has happened. However, similarities between the handwriting of Jekyll and Hyde lead Utterson to conclude that Jekyll has forged the note in order to protect Hyde for some unknown reason. Later, we learn that Hyde, having been suppressed by Jekyll beforehand, emerged stronger and more malevolent than ever, resulting in Carew’s murder and marking a sinister turning point in the novella.
While not actually one of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde main characters, at least not in the same sense as the others, the surrounding society of the late Victorian period when Stevenson was writing almost plays the part of one: its prudish and disapproving morality is what forces Henry Jekyll to explore his dark desires in secret, leading to the creation of the tincture and thus of Hyde. In this sense, Hyde can be thought of less as Jekyll’s alter ego specifically than as the dark, repressed side residing within each individual human and which society tries to keep under wraps.