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Jekyll & Hyde – Setting

GCSE Exam Question & Answer

Read the following extract from ‘Story of the Door’.

Answer both questions below the text.

At this point in the story, Utterson and Enfield are taking one of their walks around London.

It chanced on one of these rambles that their way led them down a by-street in a busy quarter of London. The street was small and what is called quiet, but it drove a thriving trade on the weekdays. The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed, and all emulously hoping to do better still, and laying out the surplus of their grains in coquetry; so that the shop fronts stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen. Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more florid charms and lay comparatively empty of passage, the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood, like a fire in a forest; and with its freshly painted shutters, well-polished brasses, and general cleanliness and gaiety of note, instantly caught and pleased the eye of the passenger.

Two doors from one corner, on the left hand going east the line was broken by the entry of a court; and just at that point a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two storeys high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower storey and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence. The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained. Tramps slouched into the recess and struck matches on the panels; children kept shop upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the mouldings; and for close on a generation, no one had appeared to drive away these random visitors or to repair their ravages.

a) Explore how setting is created and used in this extract.

b) Explore how setting is created and used in the novel as a whole.

Make the point that London is the backdrop to the action

The novel is set in London and, in the opening pages, Utterson and Enfield walk the streets of the capital city which provide a backdrop to the action. London is initially presented as ‘busy’ with the street driving a ‘thriving trade’. The adjective ‘thriving’ suggests growth and prosperity and this positive impression of commerce is continued: ‘shop fronts stood…with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen’. There is a sense of welcome and openness in the phrase ‘air of invitation’ while the simile ‘like rows of smiling saleswomen’ further establishes a sense of warm, pleasant atmosphere of busy purpose. The Victorian era saw huge economic growth, and London, the capital city, became of a place of wealth, prosperity and industry. The London described is that of ‘freshly painted shutters, well-polished brasses, and general cleanliness and gaiety of note’; the triplet with the positive adjectives suggests a cheerful place where people take great pride in their homes and places of business. 

Move to the point that London has a negative side

Yet Stevenson shows us that London has another, less pleasant side, and one that is only ever a few steps away; just ‘two doors from one corner’, there is a much more unsavoury depiction of London. The narrator describes how there is a ‘certain sinister’ building which ‘thrust forward its gable’. The verb ‘thrust’ seems aggressive and jars on the reader, coming straight after the description of the street with its friendly ‘air of invitation’. The description of the courtyard continues to be negative with ‘tramps’ who ’slouched’ and a building which ‘bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence’. The determiner ‘every’ emphasises the complete neglect of the building, and contrasts sharply with the well-maintained street of shops. London was a city of contrasts; a place of great wealth and luxury but also great misery and deprivation. Stevenson uses setting to show his educated, reasonably wealthy readers the grim side to London that they probably with.

Develop this point that the setting reflects themes and characters

The settings in the novel also reflect themes and characters. In this extract, ‘the door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained’, reflecting the theme of secrecy; there is ‘neither bell nor knocker’ suggesting that the owner of the house wishes to have no contact with the outside world. In a novel full of layers of mystery and secrets, the setting helps establish this theme and, later in the novel, Jekyll’s house appears to be pleasant and affluent (wealthy) with a ‘large, low-roofed, comfortable hall, warmed… by a bright, open fire’. The list of positive adjectives such as ‘large’ and ‘comfortable’ establish Jekyll’s home as prosperous and it appears welcoming and friendly with the description of the fire as ‘bright’ and ‘open’. For a gentleman to have a solid, respectable reputation was seen as incredibly important in Victorian Britain, and, without this reputation, a man could be ruined and rejected by society. Jekyll’s house helps create a reputation of a wealthy, hospitable gentleman. However, setting is used here to also show the theme of duality as there is another, much darker side to the house. The laboratory at the back of Jekyll’s house where he conducts his experiments is a ‘dingy, windowless structure’; the adjective ‘dingy’ suggests a seedy, dirty atmosphere while the the fact that it’s secretive and closed and ‘windowless’ is the opposite to the hospitable, welcoming fire at the front of the house. The grimy laboratory mirrors the unpleasant, sly, base nature of Hyde, who comes and goes through the building.

Explore how setting is used to create dramatic tension

Setting is used to create dramatic tension in the novel. For example, Enfield relates the story of how, when he saw Hyde knock the girl over in the streets, London is described as a place that is terrifyingly lonely in the phrase ‘street after street… and all as empty as a church’. There is a sense of a continuous nightmare in the repeated phrase ‘street after street’, suggesting a place that is never ending and anonymous, and there is also a sense of bleak isolation in the simile ‘empty as a church’. Stevenson drew on literary conventions from the Gothic novel, which was a popular genre in the 19th century. He took the ideas of supernatural horror, but, instead of using a rural setting, he placed his action in the city, creating a subgenre of urban Gothic and reflecting the unease his readers felt about the dangers of the new cities. Similarly, setting is used later in the novel as Poole and Utterson make their way to Jekyll’s house to uncover the final mystery, and the night-time setting is described as ‘a wild, cold, seasonable night… with a pale moon, lying on her back as if the wind had tilted her’. Pathetic fallacy is used to foreshadow the horrors that Utterson is about to witness as the reader is aware from the raging chilly night setting that the discovery will be truly terrible. There is perhaps a sense of sexual violence in the metaphor of the moon which has been pushed over on her back by the wind which again reflects the theme of violence in the novel and increases the sense of impending horror. There is no doubt that Stevenson uses the setting of the dark, unpleasant world of London to drive the dramatic tension and also to reflect the ideas within the novel.

Essential Exam Tips

  • Use the word ‘Stevenson’! It sounds silly but you need to write about what Stevenson is doing. So use phrases such as ‘Stevenson presents/Stevenson uses’ in your answer.

  • Learn quotations off by heart.  Write them out on sticky labels and put them by the kettle/on the bathroom mirror etc – places where you go to all of the time.

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