The Slave of Certain Appetites

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First off, I must say that I am a HUGE fan of John Singer Sargent, so I apologize in advance if my bias comes out; I’ll try to tame the art history monster within me! 

Before I started to go in depth with analysis and symbolism, I wanted to talk a little about technique and how it relates to the story itself.  The painting is done is an impressionistic style with blurred, dark pigments that reveal shadows and play with the subtle, yet present, essence of light.  I like the fact that the painting as these murky hazy undertones because the sfumato helps add mystery and a sense of overlapping in the characters; for example, it’s almost as if the characters aren’t whole because they are blurred and astray, in a sense.  For example, pay close attention to the fibers of the carpet, or the dress/blanket on the figure in the chair.  It’s hard to distinguish based on the play on color and tonation.

Also, I find it interesting that the painting is obscured, much like the character of Jekyll/Hyde himself.    For instance, it appears that he is going to directly walk out of the painting.  There is such a force of movement present here, that the chair on the right is half cut off as well as the bureau on the left.  The concept of space if very important in art because it helps show you the focal point while leading the eye to visual and appreciated certain aspects of the piece that you may not have noticed in the first place.  Naturally, I’m sure you noticed the open door, but the technique of adding that in the painting is to lead the viewer to conversation and discussion as one travels beyond the painting.  Great conversation starter!

Now that I got that out of my chest J  I wanted to talk about a few things in the article that really caught my interest. The first quote that opened my eyes to the chapter was “The double life of the day and the night is also the double life of the writer, the split between reality and the imagination” (Showacter 106). At this point, I had to wonder if the woman in the chair was actually Jekyll’s feminine side, rather than his wife.  Showacter mentions several times that it appears the he is hiding from his sexuality, so this could describe the contemplative look on his face, and the fact that the two refuse to meet eyes with one another.

I was surprised that my feministic tendencies didn’t kick in towards the end, because I found myself more drawn to the notion of the analysis on homoeroticism within the story.  I did notice immediately that there was an absence of females within the story (minus the maids), as well as no interaction with the other sex.  Without repeating too much of what she said in her article, I just wanted to comment on the fact that she has excellent quotations from the story backing up her point of view, and for those that are especially interested in this topic, I would suggest reading her article. 

Now I might be stretching on this note, but I thought it might be something worth bringing up to perhaps stir up some conversation.  On page 114, she mentions a more feminine side to Mr. Hyde, which immediately shocked me, after I finished the book and already had my mind made up about him.  She states that “He is seen wrestling against the approaches of hysteria…weeping like a woman.”  I have to wonder if perhaps Mr. Hyde could be the woman in the painting… in a figurative sense of course.  I mean, the woman is completely covered up almost, as if she is afraid of someone seeing her face, and also there is the notation of her hiding…which could relate to the battle of sexual identity that he is struggling with.  Let me know what you think… I would be very interested to hear your views on it.  I know that we are told that it is technically his wife, but the beauty of art is interpretation and discussion, so please…speak out!

Work Cited:      

Showacter, Elaine.  Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the fin de siecle. New York: Viking, 1990

Picture: By John Singer Sargent

john singer sargent.jpg


1 Comments

Mike Arnzen said:

An amazing analysis of this painting; I especially like the point about light and fuzzy edges...you've got me looking at it in a new light. You really seemed to enjoy Showalter's argument; perhaps more analysis of the homoerotics of the painting could be developed, too, but I understand -- the focus here should be on the story itself.

Altogether your entry is strong, but I want to push you a little further, even. You agree Hyde is a 'feminine' principle -- beyond the 'hysteria' reference, are the other associations made in the book between Hyde's bestial nature and femininity that support this?
I like this point, but I'm used to thinking of Hyde as masculine, so it's hard for me to agree without more developed reasoning and evidence.


Please don't link to our "educational use only" articles distributed in the class in a public space like you're doing here. I'm sure GG blocks it, but even so: it's a no-no, and threatens copyright.

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