“Night Terrors and Sinister Daydreams: Oneiric Doubles and Psychologies of Moral Management in Jane Eyre and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” By Mabon Foo

Night Terrors and Sinister Daydreams: Oneiric Doubles and Psychologies of Moral Management in Jane Eyre and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Essay by Mabon Foo

Art by Enid Au


Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde both explore instances of duality that negotiate issues of morality and self-control within the Victorian psychological conceptualization of dreams. By exploring popular psychological trends of the era and discussing their influence on dream studies and morality, a framework shall be developed to discuss the mental struggles in the novels. In Jane Eyre, both Bertha Mason and Mr. Rochester appeal to the passionate phantom-child Jane that the adult Jane has subdued, the former during the night and the latter during the day, and in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde serves as a primitive, nocturnal and infantile character manifestation of Jekyll’s subdued lower faculties and threatens the boundaries between consciousness and sleep.

  1. Dream Psychologies and Moral Management in the Victorian Era

Throughout the 19th century, the study of dreams acquired increasing “scientific and mechanistic” relevance as it became less of a prophetic and religious phenomenon (Bernard 198). An 1857 entry in the Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology notes “there is not any class of phenomena which possesses more psychological importance in elucidating the science of Mind” (292). Dreams were commonly seen to reflect a man’s “habits and temper” as well as his “moral character” (Bernard 200), and an 1847 article in Psychological Medicine declares that the nature of dreams is “determined by the… tone of mind which we cultivate, indulge in, or abandon ourselves to” (375). It could also serve as a mechanism for moral self-surveillance. According to poet James Beattie, by looking at dreams, one could identify possible defects and “receive good hints for the regulation of them” (Bernard 201). However, according to the writer of the 1857 article, psychologists had to account for the fact “that even brutal dreams may be experienced by the moral and the most benevolent” (293). The writer attributes this to excessive self-control, explaining that strenuous exercise of “intellectual and moral powers” (297-98) leads to “brutalized dreams” (298). When “we regulate our various powers… we ensure refreshing sleep, undisturbed by dreamy visions of any kind” (299).

This explanation reveals the profound influence of theories such as faculty psychology and phrenology in explaining the characteristics of dreams. Faculty psychology divided the mind into a series of “competing faculties or organs”, each “correspond[ing] to a different mental state” (Tressler 2). This was followed closely by the theory of phrenology conceptualized by Franz Joseph Gall, which mapped these faculties onto specific cranial organs and features of the skull (Hall 307). As one of the earliest theories that “conceptualized mental multiplicity and fragmentation” it provided a scientific framework for the “contradictions and competing energies” of the Victorian mind (Vrettos 81). On one side were the “higher motives”, intellectual, moral and rational faculties, and on the other, man’s primitive and instinctual “propensities” (Hall 315), predominating in the “primitive”, uncultivated psyches of children, savage races, lunatics and criminals (Vrettos 74). Therefore, popular Victorian theories of moral management hypothesized that by training the will through the “exercise and development” of the higher faculties one could bring the lower “propensities” under control (Tressler 2-3).

Additionally, the late-Victorian field of evolutionary psychology and the double brain theory sought to explain this psychic dissonance by locating “humanity’s essential doubleness in the distant evolutionary past” (Stiles 885). Firstly, Gall characterized man as “a product of his biological history”, outlining faculties shared with animals and the additional cerebral organs which provide powers of reason and free will (Hall 312). He anticipates Darwin, who in “The Descent of Man” attributes man’s warring faculties to his recent “[emergence] from a state of barbarism”, with a tendency to relapse into this state (Clemens 136). Secondly, proponents of the double brain theory such as Frederic Myers positioned the lower faculties within the “evolutionary backward” right hemisphere, while the left hemisphere contained “masculinity, whiteness and civilization” (Stiles 885). The predominance of the lower faculties in criminals would then manifest themselves through a physically enlarged right hemisphere. Altogether, these theories generated within the Victorian psyche a shadowy double “[residing] just below the unstable surface organization of civilized consciousness” (Block 458).

The study of dreams incorporated this image of a dark double. The frequent “wildness and incongruity of dreams” was explained by the fact that one’s higher faculties and overarching will lay dormant during the night, allowing the lower faculties free reign (Bernard 200). Rhodri Hayward, examining the late Victorian policing of dreams, notes that groups such as The Society for Psychical Research characterized the state of dreams as one where the rational, moral will was suspended and the self was thrust into a world ruled by “fickle forces beyond the compass of language, reason or history” (165). Indeed, as contemporary physician Robert Macnish points out, not only do humans dream, but also all manner of “lower animals” (45). James Sully, a personal friend of Stevenson, merges this view with evolutionary psychology (Block 444) by comparing the transition from waking life to sleep to evolutionary degeneration in “The Dream as Revelation”, claiming that in the “rude native nudity” of sleep we have a “reversion to a primitive type of experience” (201). He also focuses on the self-dividing effect of this transition, calling it an “overlapping of the successive personalities” a shift from one consciousness to another (203). Thus, the primitive arena of dreams led to fears that the beliefs which surfaced in dreams would “threaten the integrity of the waking consciousness” (Hayward 169). Particularly potent dreams were seen as “indicating some form of nervous disturbance” (“Physiological and Psychological Phenomena of Dreams” 301). Likewise, a propensity for lapsing into dream-states like daydreams was considered indicative of an uncultivated will, “a lack of inner regulation” (Tressler 3).

  1. Dreams and Moral Management in Jane Eyre

Both Jane Eyre and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde present complex struggles between the higher and lower faculties that centers around the primal nature of dreams. In the case of Jane Eyre, Sally Shuttleworth notes that the child Jane provides an example of the Victorian concept of children as unrestrained, residing in a borderland “between human and animality” (153). Unable to control her lower instincts, she “pronounce[s] words without [her] will consenting” (Brontë 86) and cries out in a “savage, high voice” against her ill-treatment by Mrs. Reed (97). Dream-states populate these opening chapters; she begins the novel sitting on the window-seat, lost in a tranquil daydream (64), and her subsequent confinement in the red room erupts into frenzied nightmare during the night. Most importantly, these elements provide a collection of symbols that later indicate the returning influence of Jane’s primitive state.

Jane begins to feel remorse for her actions, noting that one cannot “give its furious feelings uncontrolled play” (97), anticipating the self-control she will learn at Lowood. There, she learns to “govern her anger”, thus preparing her for her future life as a governess (Gilbert and Gubar 347). Characters such as Helen Burns and Mrs. Temple provide Jane with models of self-restraint, tempering the “warm and racy” aroma of vengeance (Brontë 97) so that it is no longer “essential for her happiness” (Fessenbecker 7). However, the figure of Mr. Brocklehurst, with his emphasis on minutiae such as hairstyles (Brontë 126), warns against the dangers of excessive control (Fessenbecker 7). The winter cold, emblematic of Brocklehurst’s extreme austerity, proves fatal for many of the girls (Brontë 141). Instead, as Shuttleworth stresses, Brontë proposes a balanced regimen that allows for the appropriate release of “constrained psychological force[s]” (156). As such, Jane shuns the “Barmecide supper of hot roast potatoes”, and instead pursues drawing, sublimating these wilder reveries in the “artist’s dreamland” (Brontë 197).

This model of control is pushed to its limits during Jane’s stay at Thornfield, as both Bertha Mason and Mr. Rochester draw out Jane’s suppressed passions through the avenue of dreams and fantasy. The insane Bertha recalls the animalistic impulses of child Jane. Her incendiary mischief mirrors the “ridge of lighted heath” that erupts in young Jane’s mind as the visualization of her anger (Brontë 97), and young Jane’s primitiveness find its analogue in Bertha’s inhuman appearance, reminiscent of a “clothed hyena” (381). Working in the dead of night, Bertha’s “lurid visage” enables Rochester to dismiss her image as “half reality, half dream” (371-72). As well, MacNish’s comparison between dreaming and delirium, in which he considers insanity a “permanent dream” (45), further solidifies Bertha’s oneiric qualities.

Most notably, in Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar argue that she represents Jane’s “darkest double” that has “haunted her since her afternoon in the red room” (347). They characterize Bertha as the agent of Jane’s secret rebellion against her servitude to Rochester (360), highlighting Jane’s imprisonment in “stultifying roles and houses” and her “ambiguous status” as a governess, both inside and outside the family (349). Indeed, when Jane experiences a certain “restlessness …in her nature”, she releases it by pacing back and forth along the third floor, Bertha’s domain, in a state of reverie (178). “Thrilled” by the “strange laugh” and “eccentric murmurs” of the yet unknown Bertha, she rebels against patriarchal norms by musing that “woman feel just as men feel” (Brontë 178). However, Jane’s self-control is demonstrated by Bertha’s initial inability to enter her room. After she sets fire to Rochester’s chambers, Jane, thrust in a position of absolute mastery over Rochester’s fate, chooses to save his life (222). Nevertheless, when she returns to bed, she is confronted with a contradictory sea where “billows of trouble [roll] under surges of joy” and “her “sense” and “judgement” grapple with “delirium” and “passion” (225). Jane later experiences a dream vision of Thornfield as a “dreary ruin” that she escapes by tumbling from its walls (369), a fate that Bertha eventually enacts in its entirety (Gilbert and Gubar 358-59). Eventually, after a “harassing” experience purchasing dresses with Rochester, she expresses her desire to “stir up mutiny” in his “seraglio”, charactering him as a “despot” (Brontë 355). As a result of these forces, Bertha surges into the daylight, gaining the confidence to enter Jane’s chamber and tear her wedding veil.

Rochester also preys on the dreamy artifices of Jane’s childhood. What Bertha enacts during solitude and sleep, Rochester elicits during the day. His introduction is tinged in the “fancies” of “nursery stories”, taking the form of the Gytrash under the rising moon (181). After meeting Jane, he refers to her continually as “malicious elf”, “sprite”, “changeling” (361), titles suspiciously similar to the “phantom, half fairy, half imp” that Jane sees herself as in the red room’s mirror (71), and he starts his elaborate courtship of Jane by disguising himself as a gypsy and lulling Jane into a mesmeric trance (282). As their relationship deepens into marriage, Jane remarks that Rochester is “most phantom-like of all… a mere dream” (366). Mrs. Fairfax, however, advises caution, noting that Rochester’s love is dangerously akin to a “fairy tale—a day-dream” (343). Likewise, Jane’s higher judgement, “resist[ing] a marriage of inequality” (Gilbert and Gubar 358) displays resistance both in the realm of consciousness and in dreams. Threatened by the arrival of Blanche Ingram, Jane’s reason orders herself to “open [her] bleared lids” and declares it “madness” to let “a secret love kindle within” (Brontë 237). Likewise, gypsy Rochester is stymied by her forehead, her powerfully managed phrenology where even within “exquisite delirium” reason “[holds] the reins” (282). Most importantly, the cautionary voice of her suppressed will manifests itself in a series of recurring dreams involving an infant, warning of future childbirth, and as Gilbert and Gubar argue, visually representing the child Jane being drawn out by Rochester (357). In a following dream, Jane, holding the child and “strain[ing] every nerve”, is unable to reach Rochester, reflecting her anticipation that his “love will effervesce in six months” and she will be abandoned like his other women (Brontë 345).

Ultimately, Jane, awakened from the “glorious dreams” of Rochester’s deceitful love (387) and faced not with a nightmarish vision but a concrete reminder of her possible destiny in Bertha, now undergoes a “terrible…struggle” within her psyche (407). Rochester’s entreaties, coupled by his devouring passions and “flaming glance” cause Jane’s higher faculties of “Conscience and Reason” to “turn traitor” and ally with her lower faculty of Feeling (408-9), and a morally driven edict to leave Thornfield is answered by a “voice within [her]” compelling her to stay and usurp Bertha’s position (387). But Jane manages to resist temptation, reestablish self-control and flee Thornfield. Rochester is unable to free the “savage beautiful creature” from its cage (409). Before leaving Thornfield, the red-room returns in a “trance-like dream”, but the once nightmarish gleaming light is instead rendered as a solemn whisper to “flee temptation” (410-411). In the end, working as a schoolteacher, she still lapses into dreams where she reunites with Rochester but manages to maintain a tranquil demeanor during the day and keep these “[bursts] of passion” sequestered in the realm of the night (463) until she can reunite on more equal terms.

III. Dreams and Moral Management in Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde

Unlike Jane, Dr. Jekyll begins his “Full Statement of the Case” already steeped in “a profound duplicity” (Stevenson 77). A “certain …gaiety of disposition” wrestles with his “imperious desire to carry [his] head high” and pursue social advancement” (75). Like Jane as a child, Utterson notes that Jekyll was “wild when was young” (44). But since Jekyll lacks adult Jane’s model of moral management, the struggle between his two natures has become “unbearable” to him (77). Valdine Clemens attributes this to his continuous suppression of his lower instincts, the “middle classes’ naïve expectation that the ‘desires and passions’ could be differed indefinitely” (133). Like in Jane Eyre, excessive control produces a devasting impact, generating a “superabundance of aggression” (140) that can be released only by wildly “[plunging] into shame” (76). Anne Stiles, reading the novella using the double brain theory, contrasts his engorged left hemisphere with his “atrophied, stunted right hemisphere” (886). Jekyll entertains the thought of separating these “polar twins” (Stevenson 77) initially as a “beloved daydream” (76), but he soon employs his higher rational faculties and concocts a scientific solution. This drug, however, recalls substances such as opium, which, as documneted in Confessions of an English Opium Eater, was known to induce nightmarish, delirious sleep (Macnish 89). Indeed, the release of Hyde, seen by Clemens as an outpouring of accumulated “libinal energy” (140), unfolds similarly.

Mr. Hyde, the personification of Jekyll’s lower faculties, parallels Bertha in his equally primitive appearance. He is described as “troglodytic”, an early evolutionary ancestor of man, and like Bertha he possesses a “savage laugh” (Stevenson 43). His appearance evokes Darwin’s depiction of lower primates in The Descent of Man (Clemens 129), revealing the influence of evolutionary psychology and demonstrating what Helen Small puts as “the persistence of precivilized states of consciousness” (500). Also evoking Bertha is his tendency to strike during the “confidence of slumber” (Stevenson 89). Ed Block notes that Jekyll’s transformation [yields] a more primitive freedom of the kind Sully appreciated in dreams” (455), a realm where one is liable to “perform the most ruthless crime without compuncture” (MacNish 73). Fittingly, Hyde tramples a girl (Stevenson 35) and bludgeons Carew with “ape-like fury” and without remorse (48). He recalls the child Jane with his “dwarfish” stature and his hot temper (80), the “primitive infantile… psychosis (Sully 200) of dreams casting Hyde in the image of Jekyll’s son, but possessing “more than a son’s indifference” (83) in Jekyll’s desires to discipline him.

Interestingly, Hyde’s sojourns through London’s darkened streets resemble the double life of dreams discussed in Stevenson’s “A Chapter on Dreams” (93-94). There, a pattern of management emerges that veers in a direction opposite to Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde. Initially, Stevenson’s “dream-adventure[s]” span both day and night, leaving him unable to differentiate between dream and reality (93-94). However, he manages to exercise influence over the “little people who manage man’s internal theatre” (95). Like Jane and her artistic pursuits, he sublimates his imaginative proclivities by employing them in “making stories for the market” (96) and keeping them “locked in a back garret” (99), separated from his waking life. Unfortunately for Jekyll, his trajectory begins with a demarcation between his higher and lower faculties but results in the domination of the latter.

Prior to Hyde’s triumph of Jekyll, reason manages to hold the reins, with Jekyll choosing when to consume the drug. Framing this using the relationship between Jane and Bertha, he lets Hyde roam free at night but prevents him from opening the door to his chambers. However, the drug soon shakes the “doors of the prisonhouse of [his] disposition” (79). Unlike Jane, who faces the temptation of usurping Bertha’s position but chooses to remain solitary and poor, Jekyll, “like a schoolboy”, rushes into a “sea of liberty” (80), the figure of Hyde tempting him without any “counteracting breeze” (Bronte 205) drawing him back. Jekyll wakes up one morning bearing the shape of Hyde, in the midst of a waking nightmare (Stevenson 80). Hyde has surged into the daylight and forced his way into Jekyll’s room. The nourishment of his lower faculties through Hyde (7) eventually “incorporates” Jekyll with his dark double (83).

This losing battle is played out over the steadily fading boundary between consciousness and sleep. Jekyll attempts to restrain himself, refusing to take the drug and keeping a close watch over his faculties. However, the instant he lets his guard down, Hyde, “struggling for freedom” and torturing Jekyll’s conscience with “throes and longings” (84), breaks free. Sitting in the sun on a bench and reflecting idly, what seems at first an innocent daydream falls prey to the vicissitudes of nightmare, a “horrid nausea” and a “deadly shuddering” (86). Even when Jekyll is resurrected by Lanyon, he feels that he is “partly in a dream” and at the mercy of the “brute that slept within me” (88). Sleep becomes a terrifying notion, with Hyde emerging whenever Jekyll dozes off (88) or his “virtue [slumbers]” (79). As a result, Hyde must face the “doom that is closing in” on him, he must mirror what Bertha, separated from Jane eventually undergoes, that being his self-annihilation. If Jane’s triumph comes from her reestablishing the balance of her dual natures and casting off her destructive lower instincts, Jekyll’s tragedy stems from the collapse of his dual nature into one ruled entirely by those primal instincts.

In essence, both novels locate in dream-states a primitive, infantile duality that provides fertile ground for the blossoming of moral and psychological conflict. The primitive psyche of Jane’s childhood, symbolized by the phantom child found in the red-room, is coaxed into the daylight by the similarly illusory Rochester and finds its pinnacle in the nocturnal mischief of the savage Bertha. But Jane’s cautionary higher faculties remain active in her dreams and reestablish control in the end. Jekyll, on the other hand, suffers an entirely different fate, as his excessive self-control leads to a spectacular outpouring of his lower passions in Hyde. As such, Jekyll quickly finds himself on the ropes, where even the briefest reverie proves fatal.

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