“Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him.” —Oscar Wilde
Humankind has wrestled with the idea of evil for centuries. Philosophers have speculated, preachers have pontificated, writers have mused, and countless works of art and literature have revolved around this rumination. Are men born good, and later corrupted by evil? Are men naturally wicked? Do humans constantly struggle with both good and evil inside them? Can we ever know the answer, and properly represent it in writing?
Regardless of philosophy, the role of an evil man in literature is that of villain. In the latter half of the Victorian Age in Great Britain, three very different writers addressed evil in memorable ways with the unforgettable characters of Edward Hyde, Dorian Gray, and Professor Moriarty. These three men, sometimes identified as villains, exemplify the Victorian viewpoint about good and evil, culminating in the concept of duality. Duality, “the condition or fact of being dual, or consisting of two parts, natures, etc.,” (Oxford English Dictionary) was a notion that captivated Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creators of these infamous miscreants. For these writers, the duality in every man must be balanced at all times—it is when one side begins to eclipse the other that villains are created.
The Origin of Evil
“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” —Genesis 2: 16, 17
In the context of a Christian society, evil has been typically viewed as sin and its ensuing consequences, which most believers would probably define as “disorder, disease, despair, death” (Otto 781). In other words, everything that is wrong with the world and humanity, specifically in regards to the human condition of pain is because of sin/evil. In a traditional sense—that is, mainly the beliefs pertaining to the Roman Catholic Church—sin/evil is a part of everyday life, a burden on the shoulders of every man and woman, and passed down to their children in a cumbersome, sad inheritance. In this view, the modern man is born evil—but it wasn’t always that way. According to the doctrine of Original Sin, humans were born good with original justice, and not evil, before the Fall of Adam. God’s initial plan for humanity was vastly different:
Original justice is a term used to express the initial harmony that human nature enjoyed before the Fall. In this state, the lower parts of the human body were all under the complete control of reason, and reason and will were completely subject to God. This was not a purely natural state, but a state of grace: original justice was a gift from God to the first human beings He created. (Otto 781)
It was only after the entrance of sin into the world by way of Adam and Eve’s giving in to the serpent’s deception that humans were encumbered by their new birthright—the problem of evil.
Others have identified evil in a similar fashion, but have withheld such a blatant religious connection. John Locke and Thomas Hobbes agreed that “good is what is apt to produce pleasure, evil pain” (Devine 756). But by the Victorian era, men and women were undoubtedly less concerned with religion than ever before. The world was steadily becoming more secular, and citizens were beginning to make their own decisions about faith, many “believing without belonging” to any particular denomination (Nash 66):
[In the] Victorian age…militant religious questioning and autonomy flourished and the individual (re)building of belief systems became an important occupation. Such thinking assists us in understanding that in the Victoria era there was significant fluidity within religious culture that had not been evident in English Christianity since the Commonwealth period. (Nash 70)
People all over the country were actively becoming doubtful about their religious upbringings, many turning to agnosticism and atheism. It is interesting that it was the Victorians, so often thought of as “prudish and uptight” by twenty-first century people, who led the debates concerning the developments between science and religion. In 1859, Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species, which with its evidence for the possibility of evolution as opposed to creation for the development of the world caused more doubt among those who were already skeptical.
The idea that doubt was a sin and a moral failing, still widely held in the 1850s, gave way to a new and different emphasis: Doubt was instead an intellectual obligation, even an ethical necessity. It represented a principled position. It was not a sign of emotional weakness or a moral failing but exactly the reverse. (Lane)
This ‘intellectual doubt’ led to complications concerning good and evil, and the nature of man.
The Duality of Man
“As flitting personalities, to-day one person, to-morrow another—we are.” —Madame Blavatsky
In the new world full of Darwinism and skepticism of the old ways, “Victorians [felt] the need to find irrefutable evidence to prove the humanity—since no longer was divinity possible—of human beings” (Timko 615). Without the previous security felt by the writers who came before—“gone even was the unorthodox hope of pantheism that sustained so many of the Romantics”—Victorian writers were faced with the definition of what it meant to be a man without a “divine hierarchy or chain of being” (Timko 616). They were, of course, faced with the same problem that humankind had been dealing with for centuries: evil. How can one explain evil, or deal with evil, if there is no valid reason to believe in religion? The Victorians found a way to answer these questions with the principle of duality. As previously mentioned, duality means that something is twofold. An easy example is a coin with two faces. A more complex example is a man who hides behind an “attractive façade”—the front face of the coin—only to reveal an “ugly and frightening” nature—the back face of the coin—when no longer feeling the need to adhere to the daily rigidity of Victorian life (Elbarbary 113).
For Victorian writers like Rudyard Kipling, Bram Stoker, H. G. Wells, Henry James (not to mention Stevenson, Wilde, and Doyle), these thoughts of the duality of man led to what Samir Elbarbary has termed “neo-primitivist” leanings (115). These authors felt that the evil side of man is not as sophisticated as the polished side presented to society. One’s evil half stems from a dark, uncivilized past that cannot be fully understood. Sometimes, such a primitive, vulgar nature is seen not only in a man’s evil doings and characteristics, but in his very form and face. This is particularly demonstrated in Stevenson’s Hyde and in Wilde’s portrait of Gray.
Edward Hyde—The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)
“Even as good shone upon the countenance of the one, evil was written broadly and plainly on the face of the other. Evil besides (which I must still believe to be the lethal side of man) had left on that body an imprint of deformity and decay.” —Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson’s characters of Dr. Henry Jekyll and his counterpart, the mysterious and dangerous Edward Hyde, are often difficult to analyze because of their interconnectedness. Should one view them as two separate entities, with Jekyll as the good, innocent victim, and Hyde as the evil, child-trampling villain? Or are they one and the same man with a dual nature, and each half is to be held just as responsible as the other?
As Irving Saposnik points out in his essay “The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the public tends to read the book (or watch the movies, or see the musical, Jekyll & Hyde) with the idea that Jekyll and Hyde are completely different people. After all, Jekyll takes a potion and becomes a man who not only acts different from the original, but looks different as well. However, holding with the idea of duality, “one should see Jekyll-Hyde” as the same person (Saposnik).
Edward Hyde is undoubtedly evil. From a Christian point of view, he is devil-like; the character of Utterson finds him to be foul, to the point of being “hardly human,” with “Satan’s signature” on his features (Stevenson 20). He is careless and brings pain to others, beginning with the little girl he tramples on the street, and culminating in the brutal and shocking murder of Sir Danvers Carew. His physical features are also somewhat primitive—he is short and hairy, like a troglodyte, and everyone who encounters him finds him to be repulsive, although they cannot pinpoint why. His evil self takes over Jekyll’s good nature, to the point where Jekyll no longer has any form of control over his transformations. Jekyll, being eclipsed by Hyde, decides to end both their existences by suicide. Taking these things into account, Hyde fits the role of a villain.
Saposnik’s argument maintains that while Hyde is obviously the novel’s villain, Jekyll is not necessarily the novel’s hero. In this story, the audience has no good champion to counteract Hyde’s evil—save, perhaps, for Jekyll’s choice to put an end to the life of a murderer. While it is true that there are ‘good’ men in the story, such as Utterson and Poole, there is no archetypal ‘good guy’. Instead, the reader is given Jekyll, a man who just as much to blame for the murder of Carew as is Hyde.
Although [Jekyll’s] actions are prompted by no single motive, his primary impulse is fear… Dedicated to an ethical rigidity more severe that Utterson’s, because solely self-centered, he cannot face the necessary containment of his dual being. However he may attempt to disguise his experiments under scientific objectivity, and his actions under a macabre alter-ego, he is unable to mask his basic selfishness… He has thrived upon duplicity and his reputation has been maintained largely on his successful ability to deceive… Having recognized his duality, he attempts to isolate his two self into individual beings and allow each to go his separate way. Mere disguise is never sufficient for his ambition and his failure goes beyond hypocrisy, a violation of social honesty, until it touches upon moral transgression, a violation of the physical and metaphysical foundations of human existence. (Saposnik)
Stevenson’s novella obviously goes to extremes in order to highlight the duality concept. A man may not be able to take a potion and isolate one of his two sides in real life, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t have dual natures. In fact, Stevenson even seems to be issuing a warning to his readers to embrace duality. Jekyll was unable to do so, and ended up unleashing a creature that was pure evil and could not be tamed or controlled by a better half.
Dorian Gray—The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
“There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful.” —Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is set against a Christian backdrop, in which the characters have free will between good and evil. In fact, Wilde almost mingles the two ideas of original sin and the duality of man in his use of the characters of Dorian Gray and Sir Henry Wotton. Wotton’s sway over Gray’s young mind is subtle, much like the figure of the serpent in the Garden of Eden—“Lord Henry’s ‘evil’ influence is always packaged in the guise of wit, insight, and charm. He is manipulative, ‘crafty, wickedly cunning, insidiously sly, and wily’” (Buma). Promising Gray that he can in fact have “sin without evil”, Wotton awakens Gray’s not-quite-dormant evil half (Buma). Gray, a handsome young man who has not yet experienced the world, is already prone to vanity and pride before he even meets Wotton. His foolhardy vow regarding his beautiful portrait is proclaimed far before his duality is unleashed:
“How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June… If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!” (Wilde 34)
Gray’s dual nature reveals itself to the reader not only in his actions and attitude later on in the story, but in the way that his portrait takes on the obvious physical toll for his sins. In line with the primitive ugliness of Hyde, Hallward points out to Gray that “sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed… If a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids…” (Wilde 172). Like Jekyll, Gray’s duality is all his own, but the evidence of evil is only seen in the picture (as Jekyll could experience evil in the form of Hyde without staining the character of the good doctor). Like Jekyll, Gray finds that he enjoys his evil side; he enjoys sinful, depraved things that a good upstanding man in Victorian society ought to shy away from. And like Jekyll, Gray is selfish in his decision to “embrace sin once and for all” (Buma).
Such selfishness incriminates Gray. He, once the innocent protagonist tempted by the sly Wotton, has become his own villain. Despite the fact that he has free will to handle his duality in multiple fashions, he chooses sin because he knows that the portrait, which he has stowed away in a locked room, will hide the evidence— “No one would ever look upon the horrible thing. No eye but his would ever see his shame” (Wilde 143). Thus, not only is he vain and selfish, but he is just as deceitful as Jekyll, hiding his nature behind a supernatural phenomenon. Like Hyde, he moves on from dabbling in the darker side of things (implied debauchery in the forms of drugs, sex, and experimentation with all manner of vices), and becomes a murderer in a fit of rage, ending the life of Hallward, the very man who painted the damned portrait. Just as Jekyll, when in the form of Hyde, felt the strange and sudden need to kill, Gray feels an “uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward…as though it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas, whispered into his ear by those grinning lips” (Wilde 182).
For Wilde, duality is one thing, but allowing evil to encompass one’s soul is another. In a fashion not unlike the suicide of Jekyll and Hyde, Wilde must somehow dispose of Gray’s villainy. In keeping with the religious background of his characters and society, Wilde gives Gray one last chance to repent:
Confession is the only answer, but Dorian cannot manage to feel the remorse from which confession comes. Rather than admitting his sins to God and begging for forgiveness, Dorian decides to destroy the painting. He takes the same knife he had used to stab Basil, and plunges it into the canvas. In doing so he restores the natural relation between portrait and subject. (Buma)
His supernatural mask destroyed, Gray is committing suicide just like Jekyll-Hyde. He is found later, dead on the floor, “withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage” (Wilde 256), as his portrait had been. The picture, meanwhile, is as beautiful as the first day it was painted.
Professor Moriarty—The Final Problem (1893)
“He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well each quiver of each of them.” —Arthur Conan Doyle
Thus far, we have seen one man find a way to isolate his evil side in one body, and another man use a picture to hide evidence of his evil doings. Both men have dual natures, and both men lose their goodness to their villainous halves. The following example strays slightly from such a precedent. The first two men were two sides in one—but Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes aretwo different people, one good and one evil, each having chosen a specific side by owning and controlling his duality.
Though he only appears by name in two of Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes adventure stories, Professor Moriarty has become Holmes’ primary adversary in popular culture. His first appearance was in the story story “The Final Problem,” published in 1893, and later included in Doyle’s The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes the following year. Doyle created the character for the sole purpose of killing off the famous detective. “The author had tired of a hero he thought was distracting attention from the historical romances he considered more important. So Doyle prepared a special end for Holmes…” (Farrell). But how could the great Sherlock Holmes, who had triumphed over every villain thrown his way, who could outwit any criminal and see through every guise, be defeated? He couldn’t simply die of natural causes, or be outplayed by just anyone: he had to go down fighting. Doyle’s answer was to write someone who was just as much a genius as Holmes, who could match him in every way—the difference between them would be that while Holmes always used his skills for solving mysteries and putting the guilty behind bars, his nemesis would use the same talents for evil (Farrell).
Much like Jekyll-Hyde and Gray, Moriarty is a “man of good birth and excellent education,” who also happens to be a mathematical genius. Holmes, when describing him to Watson, makes sure to explain Moriarty’s intelligence and potential for greatness. However, this man with a “most brilliant career before him” unfortunately has “heredity tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers” (Doyle 438). Holmes’ statement about modification lets the reader in on his own views concerning good and evil. He believes that one can adapt and refashion one’s behavior, choosing which side of their dual nature receives emphasis.
But of course, because he is to become Holmes’ archenemy, Moriarty has chosen to concentrate on his evil half, becoming what Holmes’ calls “the Napoleon of crime… He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city” (Doyle 439). He also fits the physical attributes of the late Victorian villain established by Hyde and Gray’s portrait: “…his forehead domes out in a white curve, and his two eyes are deeply sunken in his head…his face protrudes forward, and is forever oscillating from side to side in a curiously reptilian fashion. He peered at me with great curiosity in his puckered eyes” (Doyle 442). While not as repulsive or repugnant as our other evil doers, Holmes’ constant references to him as being spider-like and reptile-like lower his status to something far more primitive.
This was not the only time that Doyle gave an evil character primitive features or animal qualities. Two other examples can be found in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). The first is Doyle’s description of the man whom the reader later learns is the actual villain, Stapleton. Dr. Watson observes him as he’s attempting to catch a moth: “His grey clothes and jerky, zig-zag, irregular progress made him not unlike some huge moth himself” (Doyle 71). Later, Dr. Watson and Sir Henry Baskerville cross paths with a known criminal and escaped convict hiding out on the moor:
Over the rocks, in the crevice of which the candle burned, there was thrust out an sevil yellow face, a terrible animal face, all seamed and scored with vile passions. Foul with mire, with a bristling beard, and hung with matted hair, it might well have belonged to one of those old savages who dwelt in the burrows on the hillsides. The light beneath him was reflected in his small, cunning eyes, which peered fiercely to right and left through the darkness, like a crafty and savage animal who had heard the steps of the hunters. (Doyle 97)
In the original story of “The Final Problem”, Holmes and Moriarty have their last encounter at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, presumably where they both fall to their doom after a deadly struggle. Because “The Final Problem” is from Watson’s point of view, the reader has no idea about what has really transpired between the two masterminds. The recent BBC adaptation of Doyle’s works, entitled Sherlock, which sets the Victorian stories in twenty-first century London, explored the Holmes/Moriarty encounter in detail in the episode “The Reichenbach Fall.” This interaction between “Jim” Moriarty and Holmes demonstrates their duality, and how it is one simple decision that makes them different from each other. If not for that decision, they would be the same.
JIM: You need me, or you’re nothing. Because we’re just alike, you and I—except you’re boring. You’re on the side of the angels…your big brother and all the King’s horses couldn’t make me do a thing I didn’t want to.
SHERLOCK: Yes, but I’m not my brother, remember? I am you—prepared to do anything; prepared to burn; prepared to do what ordinary people won’t do. You want me to shake hands with you in hell? I shall not disappoint you.
JIM: Nah. You talk big. Nah. You’re ordinary. You’re ordinary—you’re on the side of the angels.
SHERLOCK: Oh, I may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for one second that I am one of them.
JIM: No, you’re not. I see. You’re not ordinary. No. You’re me. (Thompson)
The direct labeling of Sherlock as Moriarty, and Moriarty as Sherlock in this scene (an aspect readily recognized by both parties at the end) represents that they are cut from the very same cloth. Their individual intellects, witty natures, and gifts for observation are so similar, that were their names changed, they would be nearly the same character on paper. Each can anticipate the moves of the other, like a real life chess game. Holmes knows almost everything about the seedy criminal world of England, easily putting Moriarty’s minions in the hands of Scotland Yard. Moriarty is just as clever as his counterpart—he is able to manipulate and protect other criminals, but stay out of the public eye so completely that not even Holmes learns of his existence for several years (much like a hard-to-catch mob boss). Had Moriarty chosen a different path, he could have easily put his brainpower to the same use as Holmes, putting an end to crime instead of vitalizing it.
Moriarty meets the same end as Jekyll-Hyde and Gray. Because he has upset his internal balance between good and evil, he must be disposed of by Doyle. For Stevenson, Wilde, and Doyle, killing off the villains in their stories also means executing whatever remains of said character’s good half, no matter how small or large that part may be, and regardless of its potential for repentance. When Jekyll killed Hyde, he, too, died by suicide. When Gray plunged the knife into his portrait, it was not his sins that disappeared, but his own body that took the fatal stab in the heart. Likewise, when Holmes wrestles with Moriarty atop Reichenbach Falls, he is very likely sacrificing his own life in order to do away with a criminal mastermind, who has already tried to kill Holmes on numerous occasions. He has no guarantee that he won’t fall to his watery death alongside his nemesis. Technically—because at this point Doyle hasn’t written him back to life—Holmes does indeed die at the end of the story with Moriarty.
There are many ways to look at the identities of Edward Hyde, Dorian Gray, and Professor Moriarty—but any way you do, they are the counterparts to something better. Whether this make them villains or not may be up to the individual reader. But as far as actions, definitions, descriptions, and deaths go, these men are obviously the opposite of good.
In keeping with the idea that it is not only Hyde who is a villain, but his entire being (Jekyll-Hyde), the concept of duality can then be applied to Dorian Gray and his portrait, and to the two very slightly different characters of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. The Victorian ideals of the day apply to all six ‘characters’. Each man is born with both good and evil inside him (or more poetically, “Heaven and Hell”, as Wilde states through Dorian Gray), and likewise, each can choose one of three paths: 1) he can give into the evil side and become like Jekyll-Hyde, Gray/Gray’s portrait, and Moriarty; 2) he can put a lot of effort into channeling his energy toward the good side and become like Holmes; or 3) he can attempt to balance both sides, which is probably the most human-like and probable of the three choices. The examples shown here go to the first two extremes, and as readers, we don’t get to witness the third choice being played out on paper. Each choice is somewhat dangerous and can have horrible repercussions. For example, Jekyll was initially attempting to isolate both sides of good and evil into separate bodies. He had hoped that with two entities, Hyde would be purely evil, and he, Dr. Henry Jekyll, would be purely good. But as is obvious, this didn’t work as well for Jekyll as it does for Holmes—this may be because Jekyll tried to corrupt the form God had provided with a medical experiment, while Holmes mastered the same problem using only his intellect and willpower.
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