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The Victorian Fear of Degeneration in Literature - Essay Example

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This essay "The Victorian Fear of Degeneration in Literature" will look at Stevenson's most famous novel, with reference to other important pieces of literature of the late nineteenth century, to examine how gender played into this idea, and to show that the tipping point which turned indulgence to savagery was a primary concern for Victorian society…
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The Victorian Fear of Degeneration in Literature
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Download file to see previous pages Victorian culture was defined “by a divide between its respectable surface and its dark underworld” (Sweet, 2002, p.ix). Literature such as Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Oscar Wildes The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) encapsulates this fear of decadence spilling over into degeneracy, of an excess of good turning into something rotten. Scientific theories also helped to diminish the hold of religion, meaning that a society which had previously seen morality as a bastion of religion began to worry that without faith, there would be no impetus to be good.
But in order to truly understand how the twin concepts of progression and regression developed, it is necessary to return to the Enlightenment – most notably to the idea of the state of nature, which evolved through Hobbes and Rousseau writings on politics. Although some authors, such as Locke, idealized the state of nature as a state of innate human reason, others saw it as a threat to the very fabric of society, believing that without laws, people would automatically revert to violent behaviour towards others. This thought remained in the back of the Victorian mind as society and science forged ahead. It was left to the artists of the time to reflect on this very real fear.
Robert Louis Stevenson, as a sickly person, was more familiar than most other writers with contemporary medical advances. Drawing on the concept of medicine gone wrong initiated by Mary Shelley over sixty years before, the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) records second-hand the experience of a doctor who manages to split the contradictory halves of his personality into two distinct beings so that his professional personality would be “no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil” (Stevenson, 1886, p.84). Narrated in the third person from the perspective of lawyer Gabriel Utterson, Stevenson employs a morally neutral tone throughout, shaping the reader's own attitude towards Jekyll's transformation. ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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The Victorian Fear of Degeneration in Literature Essay. https://studentshare.org/literature/1751500-1in-a-cultural-context-obsessed-by-fears-of-decadence-and-degeneration-human-corruption-and-depravity-the-regression-to-savage-or-bestial-states-is-a-matter-of-abhorrence-fred-botting-in-the-light-of-this-remark-consider-the-victorian-fear.
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