Thursday, February 3, 2011

Science in a Victorian Age

Both Charles Darwin and Robert Louis Stevenson were Victorian writers that shared common threads in their works: science and change.
"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is Stevenson's novella about a man that experiments on his own nature, specifically his good and evil nature. Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that separates his free will and conscience from his morality and reasoning, ultimately creating a separate persona that is Mr. Hyde. The main character of the story is a scientist who wishes to test and prove a new theory, much like the real-life scientist, Charles Darwin.

By writing "The Origin of Species" and "The Descent of Man", Darwin was not opening up the idea of evolution, but making it more plausible with his own theory of natural selection, (Greenblatt et al, 2006). Evolution had been a theory lightly discussed by scientists of the time, but Darwin's research made it all the more believable. With the printing of Darwin's writings, great debate and change began in the scientific community, and even amongst the general populace. Before, it had been an accepted mode of thought that animals were a separate from humans, with both being unable to change unless the Creator saw fit to do so. After Darwin made a compelling argument for evolution and for his new idea of natural selection, people began to see the world differently.

Stevenson also took a staid idea (the concept of good and evil), and brought it to the forefront with his story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On a deeper level, his story was ultimately alluding to the fact that there is good and evil in every person and that it cannot be denied. If one tries to deny it, or repress it with potions like Dr. Jekyll was eventually forced to do, than they may create a split-personality of Mr. Hyde-caliber. Repression, even in nature and especially in society, often leads to rapid and sometimes violent revolutions.

The works of Stevenson and Darwin have changed through the 20th century into the 21st century. In the 20th century, both works may have been hard to accept, for the moral and scientific truths they portray. Yet, from a modern perspective, the works of Stevenson and Darwin are so widely accepted that they are a part of the everyday cultural language. For example, when one is explaining evolution or natural selection, they may refer to it as "Darwinism". Also, when referring to a person that is acting strangely in opposing fashion, they would be described as being "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".

Greenblatt, S., et al. (Eds.) (2006). The Norton anthology of English literature (8th ed., Vol.2). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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