The Industrial Revolution allowed for people to connect better during the Victorian era. No longer did it take several days or weeks to have a message delivered to someone else, but rather it took up to mere minutes because of the new communication inventions.
One of the main communication inventions in the Victorian era was the telegraph. The first telegraph came along in the late 1700s due to the intelligence of Claude Chappe. However, this telegraph lacked speed and was not used widely throughout Britain. It was not until the 1840s that the electric telegraph gained sufficient momentum and connected people and cities more than ever before. One of the creators of the electric telegraph “had visions of a wired world, with countries bound together by a global network of interconnected telegraph networks” (Standage 40). The telegraph’s inventors intended for the telegraph to be able to connect various societies and someday nations.
However, this emphasis on connecting in the Victorian era is not evident in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The characters do not seem connected or aware of each other’s characters. For example, no one is aware of Dr. Jekyll’s secret identity as Mr. Hyde, which becomes an overwhelming part of the doctor’s life. When Dr. Jekyll goes missing for long periods of time, his peers also do not worry too much at the beginning because this lack of communication among people in seen as the norm in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The telegraph and new communication technology in the Victorian era made communication easier and not hearing from someone for a long period of time would have caused a greater concern, unlike the reaction seen from the 1920 silent film as seen below.
In the story, the characters also always use physical documents or personal contact to communicate. This type of communication contradicts the technology available in the Victorian era because the telegraph “made it possible to send a message over long distances without its incorporation in a physical object” (Daly 47). Letters were seen often in the novel. For example, Dr. Lanyon sends a letter to Mr. Utterson to describe the recent mysterious events in his life. News was also often given in person rather than taking advantage of the new communication technology. The personal delivery of news can be seen when the Dr. Jekyll’s servant, Poole, surprisingly shows up at Mr. Utterson’s house one night while the lawyer was sitting by the fireside (Stevenson 1698). This visit could have been forgone if Stevenson included more communication technology in the story; the characters could have been better connected.
One can only insinuate why Stevenson did not include many new forms of communication technology in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Perhaps, he wanted more physical documentations and interpersonal communication to add suspense to the story. Physical letters can add mystery to a story with the reader yearning to see what is inside the envelope. Dr. Lanyon’s letter to Mr. Utterson is “emphatically superscribed; and the lawyer dreaded to behold the contents” (Stevenson 1695). While Utterson might dread the contents, the use of the letter makes the reader curious and wanting to see what is inside. News delivered by person also makes the situation seem more urgent, which adds to the intensity of the story, even though the news is delivered slower and less efficiently. Stevenson could also leave out the communication technologies because “he associated professional writing with a functionalist ‘realism’ which he is theory opposed” (Arata 44). Stevenson was seen as a more imaginative writer, and so leaving out certain aspects of the Victorian era could have been normal for him.
The Victorian era brought along industrialization throughout Britain, yet The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde did not display this newfound communication technology taking hold of the world. Inventions, like the telegraph, were made to connect the world and the people in it. However, the characters in Stevenson’s novel often seem disconnected in a chaotic society.
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) [Silent Movie] [Horror]” YouTube.YouTube. 28 July 2012. Web. 19 Jan. 2015
Arata, Stephen. “The Sedulous Ape: Atavism, Professionalism, and Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde.” Fictions of Loss in the Victorian Fin De Siecle. New York: Cambridge UP, 1996. 33-53. Print.
Daly, Nicholas. “Technology.” The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Culture. Ed. Francis O’Gorman. Cambridge UP, p. 43-60. Http://universitypublishingonline.org. July 2010. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Centuryʼs On-line Pioneers. New York: Walker, 1998. Print.