The Victorian era, named for Queen Victoria, who ruled England for most of the nineteenth century, was a time of huge technological progress. By the end of the century, however, many people were beginning to call into question the value placed on progress and civilization that had been so important in the era.
The class system was still very much in place and this influenced behaviour at this time. Men and women were expected to act within strict boundaries and were looked down upon if then did not conform. See ‘Victorian Gentleman’ for a development of this idea.
Jekyll and Hyde also links to the Victorian fascination with the less developed savage cultures that they saw around the world. They saw these as completely alien to their own society and therefore they were terrified but also intrigued by them. Hyde represents this terrifying ‘other’.
THE VICTORIAN GENTLEMAN
The idea of the Victorian Gentleman was not one that was just about social class. There was also a moral aspect that a person had to have to be considered a gentleman. These ideas were based upon the chivalry that knights had to show to others many years previously.
Reputation played a large role in this. You had to behave in a certain way to be seen as a gentleman and the rules that society had were non-negotiable. If you broke the rules then you were exiled from society. Jekyll felt so repressed by this idea in society that he had to become Hyde in order to feel like he could escape them.