The story of the life of Dr. Henry Jekyll and the conflicted struggle inside him.
By Phoebe "DragonWolf" Roberts
On the Fringes
Where had it all begun? Why had it all come to this?
Henry Jekyll must have asked himself that a thousand times over. And still, he had no answer.
His was not a beginning that lent itself to making men into monsters. He had grown up in a world of wealth and privilege, born into a family of most immaculate breeding and character beyond reproach. His parents were kind but exacting people. They brought him up strictly, according to the high standard of behavior expected of his class, for they desired him, above all else, to be a gentleman.
Henry was in truth a little daunted by the all that such behavior demanded. It was a great deal to ask of a young man, but his parents expected from him no less. A gentleman was to be lofty and admirable in his nature, accomplished, perfectly mannered, and above all the petty vices found in lesser men. The achieving of this ideal was his upbringing's ultimate goal. They taught him well, his mother and father and governesses, in all that befitting this, meant to be equally well-handled whether out in the world, in one's own home, or at an acquaintance's party.
The last stood out strongly in his memory. The parties in his youth were the gathering place of all the highest in society. He had been in good company there, in the presence of fine people. He remembered his friends being there, like Gabriel John Utterson, who would become a lawyer, and Hastie Lanyon, later to be a physician. All three lads were highly intelligent, with all the promise in the world, and since their school days the closest of friends.
But his thoughts turned more to the young women who had been present. There were always ladies there, ladies his age, of fine family and good reputation. Their faces flashed in his mind like the facets of a jewel. Estella Havisham, her dusky skin almost exotic-looking and her dark curls framing a heart-shaped face. Irene Adler, cool and demure with jet-black waves cascading down to her waist. Gwendolyn Fairfax, her hair as fiery as her spirit and her green eyes aglow. Jane Eyre, plain of face, but so fair and sweet of disposition as to be radiant. He remembered all these and more.
Though never very much confident or outgoing, Henry made an effort to acquaint himself with them. Indeed, how they had delighted in his company. They were charmed by his sharp wit and clever conversation, and more so how well he listened to them, all solicitude, all tender attention. Perhaps most of all their hearts were warmed by his sincerity, his earnest desire to know them and make their friendship.
Perhaps before all else, Henry wanted to marry. There was a certain romanticism in his nature, and the idea of two souls bound together in epic devotion appealed to it. His was a heart that meant to love and to be loved, and in that, he was sure, he would find his happiness. And so it was for this that he spoke well and sweetly to the young lady friends, in hopes of someday finding his soul mate.
But Jekyll was not a man greatly sure of himself, and had ever possessed a strong tendency to over-think. Every smile, every word, ever glance, he pored over in his head in search of some deeper meaning, some clue to the truth of their feelings. Truly, much that they did lent itself to speculation. They held to his hands and leaned in close, laughing at his wit. They would smile at him and tell him how sweet he was. They would think him their dearest friend.
But they would not love him. They would never love him.
It took him what seemed like desperate ages to come to this realization. At long last he understood how they truly saw him, understood that there was no need to search for hidden meaning, for there was none to be found. No, they always told him precisely what they meant, for they trusted him, and felt they could tell him anything. He was their perfect friend, their perfect non-threatening confidant. With him they shared their thoughts and dreams, and on his shoulders they cried. They cared for their Dear Harry, as they called him- and never thought to consider him romantically.
Henry had always lacked of self-confidence, and this only further served to erode it. He took an inventory of himself, marking every personal flaw that could turn a lady away. He was good-looking but ordinary, perhaps handsome in a bland and forgettable way, but a mere shadow of his striking father and lovely mother. He was a lad of good stature yet nothing very impressive, his skin a little too pale, his features a little too common. There was nothing very special about his appearance to catch a lady's eye. And of his personality, well, he was so very timid and retiring, a bookish intellectual rather than a figure appealing or romantic. No man such as him ever strongly held anyone's attention, much less a woman's love.
And so Henry never spoke a word to them of his tender hopes, for he knew none of it could ever be. Such passive rejection hurt him deeply enough; he could not bear the thought of the conscious, deliberate kind. He could not bear the thought of seeing pity in their eyes.
As if that weren't heartbreak enough, as if it didn't tear at his self-regard enough, there was yet more too it. He found himself in moments, shameful, loathsome moments, when romance gave way to something baser. Their nearness stirred in him moments when he saw them not as ladies, not as friends... but as females.
Thoughts of love and courtship were dashed away by thoughts of a very different sort, crude imaginings of things a true gentleman did not even wonder of until his wedding night. All regard for the friendship and respect he held with them vanished in the surge of basely animal need.
It was wrong, he knew it was wrong, and yet, that very knowledge spoke strangely to him. The illicitness of it had its own wicked appeal, made his thoughts more darkly enticing than ever. Such fancies were beneath a true gentleman- yet they were so forbidden and alluring they made his throat go dry.
But even to this less lofty feeling, he found perhaps even less response. To them he was sexless, dear but always chastely, without romance. They thought of Henry as comfortable and familiar, an object of neither their interest nor excitement. He was ever before their eyes, and ever unnoticed by them. No matter how he looked to them, would never look back.
He watched them marry, one by one, each falling in love with some worthy gentleman. Not Henry, though, never Henry; with whom they were glad to share their minds and souls, but would not share their lives. It drove him to distraction even as his heart twisted despairingly within him. Every maid remained ignorant to how Henry felt- and to how he looked at them. They never saw it. He never allowed them to see.
How he burned with shame for the lustful urges he harbored. It was wrong, he told himself. He could not possibly act any more disgracefully. And yet he could not control it. His every effort to stifle his compulsions only made them stronger, more impossible to deny.
For this weakness, he heaped recriminations upon himself in disgust. Was he a gentleman or a wanton brute? How could he be worthy of a woman's love, when he had looked on her as nothing more than an object of carnality? How could he permit himself conduct so dishonorable? Henry lived in conflict, his moral mind against his immoral instinct. He could not come to terms with it, and so all he could do was repress it. Normal social interaction became a struggle, and came at the expense of his self-esteem.
He suffered greatly for this heightened self-consciousness, for so much of the time it held him back. Some of the worst times were at the parties. Jekyll truly enjoying dancing, but was too ungainly to be much good at it. He could acquit himself passably well at the slower ones, like waltzes and stately pavanes. He enjoyed the grace and intimacy of that kind of dancing, of holding his partner close through the elegant steps. It was at those times that he could close his eyes and pretend they shared something more than just the dance.
But emerging with growing popularity among his friends were the lively, fast-paced dances; reels, cotillions, galliards. These required quick, intricate movements he lacked the dexterity to perform. All too often did Henry find himself a wallflower, far too embarrassed by his natural clumsiness to allow himself to join in. He did not know it at the time, but this was to be by and large the way of his life- a man standing on the edge of something he could only witness, never know for himself.
It was happenings such as this that shaped the way many people thought of him. There was a certain diminishing effect that came from his unsure, retiring nature. He was a nervous fellow with a constitution was never robust, so he took on a certain delicacy in their minds. Many of the other's favorite pursuits, he was not of the temperament to join in. He had no skill in martial sports, like hunting or riding or fencing. Nor was he one for the adventures across Europe, or in America, or India and Africa, that so many of them delighted in. They saw a distinct meekness and mildness in the doctor, a cautious spirit rather than an adventurous one. He was close to so many ladies, ever ready to offer a handkerchief or just the right word to make them smile, yet still largely ignored by them. He was introverted, often painfully insecure, and it colored the way they looked at him. They relegated him ever to the sidelines, to an estimation of unimportance. As it would be for the rest of his life, Henry was irrevocably marginalized.
The young man suffered greatly for this, for Henry longed for the respect of those who were wise and good. Perhaps, then, it would not matter so much that he could not respect himself. And so he grew up with this ever weighing on his mind.
He wanted to be well-thought of, wanted to free himself from that minimized and overlooked image so many people held of him. There was only one path he could see that would lead to such esteem in the world, and that was the way of the gentleman. A gentleman was to be educated, accomplished, and virtuous- qualities Henry was determined to attain.