London’s Social Class in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeOne Victorian sentiment was that a civilized individual could be determined by her/his appearance. This notion was readily adopted by the upper classes and, among other things, helped shape their views of the lower classes, who certainly appeared inferior to them. In regards to social mobility, members of the upper classes may have (through personal tragedy or loss) often moved to a lower-class status, but rarely did one see an individual move up from the abysmal lower class. Although poverty could be found almost anywhere in Victorian London (one could walk along a street of an affluent neighborhood, turn the corner, and find oneself in an area of depravity and decay), most upper-class Londoners, who tended to dwell in the West End, associated the East End with the lower class.
Writers like Henry Mayhew (London Labour and the London Poor) and Jack London (The People of the Abyss), and artists like Gustave Dore (London) and John Thomson (Street Life in London) – all chroniclers of the desperate conditions of those in the East End – helped enlighten many around world – particularly those who lived just beyond the permeable boundaries of that notorious area – as to the needs of the city’s unfortunate members of society. Their works called out – whether directly or indirectly – for some sort of radical social reform, but there was little immediate response.
The East End continued throughout the 19th century to exist as a symbol for the deterioration of society and the degeneration of humanity.
In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the reader is given vivid (and often depressing) images of London’s East End:Two doors from one corner. . . the line was broken by thee…
… desires (i.e., sexual opportunities).
Those like Jekyll, however, who were of the upper classes and who harbored secret and socially forbidden desires, nonetheless had to control these desires in order to maintain an elite appearance. As Henrik Hansen notes, “A man was considered to be civilized if he was able to repress the animal instincts within him. . . and the Victorian elite could thus claim to be more civilized than the lower classes” (par. 2). The novel, then, can be perceived as a commentary not only on the distinctions between these sides of London but also on the hypocrisy of the upper-class men who struggled to conceal their homosexuality and who, in spite of whatever rhetoric they spoke among their class against the End End, sought to fulfill their lusts in areas like Soho and Regent Street – where their anonymity would be almost certainly secured.