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Critics have described Dr. Jekyll and Hyde as a book almost completely devoid of female characters and roles, which largely is true given that, for the most part, the cast and action are male-dominated. Both the doctor and the butler are bachelors and, despite the fact that Edward Hyde’s atrocities involve women, the writer hardly humanizes them through vivid description save for a few generalities.
In response to this, Valerie Martin decided to retell the story from a feminist perspective in Mary Reilly by assuming the viewpoint of Mary Reilly, a female character whose presence had been ignored in the original book. In the original text, she suffers the double “tragedies” of being a woman in a patriarchal society, and a servant, which makes her story even more unlikely.
The following paper will discuss the relationship and love between Mary and the doctor, where the former falls in love with the latter, although her love tragically proves incapable of saving Dr. Jekyll from himself.
In her character exposition, it appears that Mary retrospectively suffered considerable abuse at the sadistic hands of her alcoholic father. “He’d slapped once and pulled me about by my hair before he lit on the cupboard” (Martins 4). Nonetheless, she has managed to cope and find a reason to live despite her bleak conditions, and this resolve that makes it possible for her to love and even sympathize with the depressed, self-destructive doctor.
She has no illusions about her role in the house, and she knows the people upstairs rarely notice or include her in their lives. However, she includes them in hers and sometimes even sees them with more clarity than they see themselves. With time, she develops feelings for Dr. Jekyll, who is the epitome of a good master and man. He ensures that his house is well run and managed and that the servants are treated considerably better than is the case in other households.
She is concerned, therefore, when her master appears to be intent in ruining his own health through a series of chemical experiments. In addition, there is the worrying and abrupt appearance of the diabolical Edward Hyde to whom they are to defer and extend the same respect as their master.
Although she rarely encounters her master, she interprets every glance and even minor signs of intimacy as subtle displays of affection. For example, when he is examining her neck, her reaction shows she is clearly infatuated. “I closed my eyes for a second as I felt the blood rushing to my face” (11). Furthermore, the casual concern with which he responds to her inquiries about his health especially makes her practically swoon over him with love.
However, despite the emotional attraction, the status quo does not allow her enough leeway to save him from himself. When he notices the scars on her body, he asks her to chronicle the events behind them. Consequently, she feels an overt intimacy developing between them, which is interrupted by his experiments and the arrival of Edward Hyde.
Later on, Jekyll gives Mary the job or running errands to Mrs. Faraday’s house, which is a brothel where Hyde often stays. During a visit there, Mary is confrontment by the matron who complains about Hyde’s unusual actions and shows her a room where he has covered the walls and some female clothing with blood.
Although the doctor does not appear to appreciate this, Mary is evidently very much in love and devoted to him. She even tries to protect him from Mr. Hyde, whom it is claimed killed one of the doctor’s friends and is seen attempting to escape. Her devotion is evident in the fact that she lies to the authorities that she did not see Hyde, although by so doing, she is breaking the law and risking her freedom.
In fact, even the doctor criticizes her for having lied to the police to protect Mr. Hyde, although, at the point, it is not yet evident they are the same person. Given that the good and bad are manifested in the same man, Mary is torn between her love for Jekyll and fear for Hyde, and in a way, she is facing her childhood fears involving her abusive father.
In this case, Hyde is a foil for him since he is both rough and callous, and his attempts to abuse her emotionally and physically reflect her father’s action. From the reading, it is clear that her father beat her, but there is also the subtle implication he may have raped her as well.
While in the first book, the focus is entirely on the men, Martin’s book gives the reader a chance to reach into the psyche of the female character and see events through her perspective. The two men are reflections of the father she wished she had and the one she had who abused and possibly raped her. Before he started drinking, she admits that her father was a good kind man who, however, turned beastly after drinking a few pints of gin.
This could be compared to the Jekyll’s split personality, which changes from fatherly to bestial when he is under the influence of the anti-depression serum. The fact that she still has affection for him is a reflection of her unresolved fatherhood issues, which make it easy for her to fall in love with Jekyll, despite his unpredictability and the presence of Hyde.
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Considering the similarity in appearance between Jekyll and Hyde, Mary might have been forgiven for falling to the allures of the latter, but despite his cajoling, she remained steadfast in her loyalty only to the doctor.
At the book’s climax, she realized that Hyde is actually Jekyll under the influence of drugs, which he uses to cure depression. She refuses to make love to him despite his instance and demands to be let alone. However, even after she decided to leave, she still returns to the lab only to be confronted by Jekyll’s alter ego, who once again tries to assault her.
Ultimately, the story has an almost Romeo and Juliet ending when the two sides of Dr. Jekyll keep showing up until the nefarious Hyde starts to take over and finally mixes the serum with the antidote. Consequently, they “both” die in her arms, although, at the last moment, Jekyll turns into Hyde, and takes over the body his alter ego had conquered during his last living moments.
In addition to rendering a female viewpoint to an otherwise male-dominated story, Martin also uses the disparity in social class between Jekyll and Mary to create a traditional romance story that attempts to transcend the age-old social barriers.
However, in most literary cases, such romances are tragic, and this one was no different from Jekyll dying even as she tried her best to save him. Apparently, the most one-sided romance was no match for the drug hazed and evidently depressed, a schizophrenic doctor who was often oblivious of what was going on around him.
Martin, Valerie. Mary Reilly: The Untold Story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Pocket Books, 1996.