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How Duality Is Shown Throughout Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dr. Jekyll and MR. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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Duality is shown in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, a gothic tale of a scientist whom looks to advance the life-giving qualities of mother nature. Through this novel, Shelley proves that good and evil in human nature is not always simple to define, and that everyone has both of these qualities within them. The duality of human nature is shown through the characters of Victor Frankenstein and his monster, who are both heroes in the novel while simultaneously displaying anti-hero qualities. Shelley forces the reader to sympathize with them both but also creates gruesome ideas of the two.

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In an early draft of the book, Stevenson has Dr Jekyll confess ‘From an early age … I became in secret the slave of certain appetites’. Such an observation inevitably leads us to wonder what such ‘appetites’ could have been. For some as the book’s other characters – as well as the first readers of the book – unaware that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, the relationship between the two must have appeared puzzling. Why would the respectable Jekyll grant the vile Hyde free access to his house, let alone alter his will so that in the event of his death or disappearance Hyde will inherit

Just as the differing appearances of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde play upon the theories emerging from Charles Darwin’s work, so their differing personalities explore contemporary debates about moral behaviour and the possible plurality of human consciousness. By literally splitting the consciousness of Dr Jekyll into two – the decent side that attempts, and largely succeeds, in suppressing desires that run contrary to the dictates of society; and the amoral side that runs riot in an attempt to gratify animal desire – Stevenson explores in a heightened fashion the battles played out in every one of us. As Dr Jekyll observes ‘I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both’. Through Hyde, the respectable Dr Jekyll is freed from the restraints imposed by society – ‘my devil had been long caged, he came out roaring’. In his confession at the end of the book, Jekyll observes that, ultimately, he will have to choose between being Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde. To become the latter would mean giving up on noble aspirations and being ‘forever despised and friendless’. To become Jekyll, however, means giving up the sensual and disreputable appetites he can indulge as Hyde. In spite of the curious circumstances of his own case it is, as the melancholy Jekyll observes, a struggle and debate ‘as old and commonplace as man’.

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s shorter tale The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has garnered nearly as much fame in the last hundred years as its predecessor, Frankenstein. Like Shelley, a sickly Stevenson also claims his exploration of physical evil stems from a dream sequence, his in 1885. After being woken by her husband’s cries, wife Fanny jolted Stevenson awake and the creation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde began. In three days Stevenson had drafted a first version that he put before his wife. After being told he missed the allegory he returned to his desk where he promptly tossed the first draft into the fire. In three more days he completed a second draft that was published in 1886 (The Essential Dr

Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 5-6). As a further sign of their kindness, Caroline and Alphonse Frankenstein adopted Elizabeth Lavenza, a first cousin of Victor, and they were raised together as playmates and intended spouses. Victor and Elizabeth spent much of their childhood close and that blossomed into a close friendship in early adulthood. She was “docile and good tempered,” but her feelings were “strong and deep” (The Annotated Frankenstein 89). Her grace and imagination appealed deeply to Victor, but she still struck him as “the most fragile creature in the world” (The Annotated Frankenstein 90); yet, in that dissimilarity there was also appeal.

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To summarize, this is a story of a series of curious coincidences. Physical and psychological transformations, reanimations and reincarnations recur at every turn – in the plots of Mary and RLS’s stories, in Mary’s actual experiences of “death-to-life” events, in the recurrent Shelley-related disinterments, in the afterlife of Shelley’s heart (and of his own reputation) in RLS’ psychological adoption by Shelley’s descendants, with his supposed spiritual links and physical resemblance to Shelley and his supposed status as Lady Shelley’s “stolen” son

In one way or another, these led to the Shelleys’ and RLS’s lives becoming intertwined in an odd combination of life imitating art – and, however imperfectly, of art imitating life.

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Oates, Joyce Carol. “Jekyll/Hyde.” Novels for Students 11 (2001). Print.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Susan J. Wolfson, and Ronald Levao. The Annotated Frankenstein. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2012. Print.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Essential Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Ed. Leonard Wolf. New York: IBooks, 2005. Print.

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