Anxiety and Drug Use in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Sign of the Four
The life experiences and writings of the Victorians are peppered with anxiety. External influences such as sweeping change or fear of change can produce unease, as seen in the their anxious attitude toward Darwinism and colonialization, which greatly influenced the political, spiritual, and psychological landscape of nineteenth century England. However, for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, anxiety springs from an internal source: the human mind and its many urges. For Jekyll, the anxiety is fueled by a desire to set free his evil urges; for Holmes, the catalyst is his proclaimed "boredom" with everyday life. Jekyll and Holmes struggle with their separate anxieties and reach similar solutions. Both the doctor and the detective choose a drug to alleviate their anxiety. The unsuccessful outcomes that these chosen drugs produce speaks to the Victorian notion that anxiety could not be conquered. The people who lived and died under Queen Victoria not only dealt with anxiety in their own lives, but also fortified their literature with it. Doyle's The Sign of Four and Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explore two distinct anxieties and the consequences of using drugs to alleviate them.
For both Holmes and Jekyll, an internal anxiety plagues their actions and thoughts. An aversion to "boredom" troubles Holmes, while Jekyll struggles to come to terms with "man's dual nature" (Stevenson, 42). Holmes defends his drug use by declaring:
My mind... rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants (Doyle, 136).
Holmes cites boredom as the cause of his drug use, but the problem really seems to be an anxiety about having to assert his intellectual dominance over others. Further, his anxiety also stems from an internal inability to create intellectually stimulating situations for himself.
Jekyll's anxiety is also internal but more psychological in nature. The doctor comes from an established family and thus must conceal his bad qualities. He perceives the duality of man within himself, both good and bad, but as a member of society's elite, Jekyll has no room in his life for immoral or socially unacceptable behaviors and urges. As he realizes that "man is not truly one, but truly two," (Stevenson, 43) Jekyll's anxiety stems from an internal inability to create a consciousness that can accommodate his urges. It is interesting that both the well-educated Holmes and Jekyll, one being an intellectual elitist, the other a social elitist, would turn to the dangerous world of drugs to ease their anxieties. But desperation often forces man to make unsound decisions. Jekyll sees drugs as an antidote for guilt; Holmes, as an antidote...