In One Backdoor, Out Another

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I must admit that when I read the sixth chapter of Elaine Showalter's Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle, I went from intrigued to frustrated to utterly appalled.  Showalter's exploitation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in her chapter called "Dr. Jekyll's Closet" reminded me of juvenile interpretations I could see my XXXXXXXX creating while reading a work of literature.

Are my words harsh?  Probably.  Is my opinion justified?  Most likely.

By reducing Stevenson's descriptiveness of things like "A great chocolate colored pall..." (36) to "...images suggestive of anality and anal intercourse" (Showalter 113), she is both disrespectful of Stevenson's vision and insultingly stereotypical of homosexuals.

Why did Showalter feel she needed to read into things such as, "...the more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask" (Stevenson 17)?  She insists that "the homosexual significance of 'queer' had entered English slang by 1900" (Showalter 112).  Yet, she fails to point out that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was printed in 1885.  Could slang have been drifting around unnoted for 25 years?  Sure.  Is it more likely that Stevenson actually meant "queer" as strange or odd?  Yes.

A more logical approach to Stevenson's use of his descriptions of the color brown and references to back doors points to his view of the hidden or darkly evil side of human nature portrayed in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Why does Showalter not address the color imagery found elsewhere in the book?  Is she afraid that pointing out "An ivory-faced and silvery-haired old woman..." (Stevenson 37) will lend more to the visual perception of good versus evil?

Showalter also points to the close association of men as grounds for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's hidden homosexual agenda (110-111).  She takes this community of men as proof of homosexual penchants.  Yet, these kinds of social preferences are nothing more than de rigueur for the time period in which Stephenson's tale is set.  In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, the main characters mostly associate with other females.  Does this mean that Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are lesbians?  No.  It means that other than in certain social events, it was more likely and more acceptable for women to socialize with women and men to socialize with men.

If Showalter is to take this as a memoir of repressed homosexuality, then we, as readers must take it as a treatise against homosexuality.  Nothing good comes to those associated with Hyde, Showalter's homosexual representation of Jekyll.  It must be taken, then, that Stevenson is warning others against and scolding himself about homosexuality.  He must also be asserting that gay people are murderers and child-trampers, since those are actions of Hyde.

Instead of listening to Showalter's misguided beliefs, we should continue to view Stephenson's story as a cautionary tale about the dichotomy found in human nature.  Both good and evil reside in all of us (both hetero- and homosexual).  Where there is absence of one, there is absence of sanity.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle. New York: Viking, 1990. Print.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Travels with a Donkey. Art-Type Edition. New York: Books, Inc., Unknown. Print.

3 Comments

Matt Duvall said:

Good points! I think you gave much more plausible reasons for some of Showalter's points (the use of "queer," men keeping company solely with men, etc.). I found Showalter's argument frustrating, because I was with her to a point--I could at least give some credence to her arguments--but after a while it passed into, as you describe it, rather juvenile analysis.

I was the same way. Through page 107 of her argument I was jotting notes like "interesting." By page 111 I was just underling important pieces of her argument. Page 112 saw me writing "Why?" and "?" Finally on page 113 I wrote, "Are you serious?!"

Mike Arnzen said:

I love it when critics seem to go "over the top"... it really makes me question where I'm really drawing the line, and why. Same goes with horror.

I don't disagree with you, but your point that "it was more likely and more acceptable for women to socialize with women and men to socialize with men" IS Showalter's point, is it not? That the dominant behaviors are what drove desire underground, to emerge as something loathsome. The homosexual subtext might not necessarily be homoerotic, per se, but simply homosocial. Not sure... and I don't really endorse everything Showalter is arguing, but by the same token I don't write Showalter off as quickly as you do here.

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Mike Arnzen on In One Backdoor, Out Another: I love it when critics seem to
Natalie Duvall on In One Backdoor, Out Another: I was the same way. Through p
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