Dr. Straight and Mr. Gay

More unoriginal thoughts. I can’t remember where I read the theory that Stevenson’s The Strange Case of… could be read as a man’s struggle with his sexuality. It was in a collection of essays on Gothic fiction, I think. It seems to make sense, although it’s not the only interpretation available, by any means. Hyde can stand for any repressed impulse.

The essayist pointed to the lack of female characters in the story, for a start. True, Hyde tramples a little girl, and is then assailed by a mob of sharp-nailed women, and a maidservant is heard weeping for the slain Jekyll at the narrative’s end (inspiration for the book and film of MARY REILLY), but apart from that it’s strictly stag.

There’s more, of course. Hyde and his exploits are described as “queer” on numerous occasions, and apparently this word DID have its current meaning back in 1886. The essayist even toted up the number of times the word appeared. The witness accounts of Hyde — that he had some air of malformation about him, but nothing that could be identified — might connect with the sense of difference that can sometimes be felt in the presence of the gay, as it would be perceived by homophobic Victorians. The notorious “gadar” is an elusive and not 100% reliable instrument, and was even more primitive in Stevenson’s day. The early steam-driven gadar available in the 1880s filled an entire room, and needed four qualified men to operate it. Those wishing to deploy it “in the field” had to hitch it to a team of six pack horses so that it could be drawn through the smoggy streets.

It’s tempting to see J&H as a parable, like The Picture of Dorian Gray, of socially repressed sexual cravings finding a supernatural means of expression, but one should not confine either book to a simple, single reading. It’s interesting that some questions have been asked of Stevenson’s sexuality, and the precise nature of his marriage to mannish American widow Fanny, but any such speculations are impossible to confirm at this historical distance.

Virtually nothing has been done to exploit this idea in film adaptations. As I recall, Alan Moore’s comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2 has some revelations about Jekyll’s sexuality — he’s said to fancy little girls or little boys or something — and Hyde does commit a sexual atrocity upon the Invisible Man, but it’s absolutely clear here, as it rarely is in fiction dealing with rape, that this is purely an aggressive act, without any tinge of desire.

Unsurprisingly, the movie adaptation, which anyway deals only with Moore’s first volume (and mangles that), omits any speculation about Jekyll and Hyde’s sexual ambivalence, although Dorian Gray is permitted to describe himself as “complicated”.

“It was the curse of mankind that these two incongruous faggots were thus bound together — that in the agonised womb of consciousness these polar twins should be continuously struggling.”

29 Responses to “Dr. Straight and Mr. Gay”

  1. I’ve never found any particularly gay resonance to the Jekyll/Hyde story. To me he was always the Victorian Id unleashed, and therefore “capable of anything.” But the “anything” of Stevenson’s story and its subsequent permutations has always revolved around sadistic behavior towards women rather than sexual interest (be it good or ill) in men. The Picture of Dorain Gray has a Jekyll/Hyde aspect in that Dorian’s a true Victorian — his surface beauty concealing an inner ugliness that the canvas retains. But in none of the versions (including a very interesting but sadly little known modern one by a video-filmmaker named Augustin Roy) is a “split” displayed. Rather it’s a rapid descent into increasingly bad behavior by one consistently delineated individual. In Stevenson the battle between Jekyll and Hyde is closer to that of Larry “The Wolfman” Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) than anything else.

  2. Yes, the werewolf myth relates to Hyde. Although usually werewolfism is a disease imposed on an innocent victim (in Endore’s Werewolf of Paris, though, it’s inborn), it resonates best as an expression of the beast in man. Hyde is inherently a suppressed part of Jekyll (who was “wild in his youth”) which I take it is why you prefer one actor in both roles.

    The question then is what is being suppressed? Most versions ascribe to Hyde a sexual sadism that simply isn’t in the book. A David Hemmings TV version makes him a pedophile. I think adaptors should be free to make it anything with sufficient dramatic mileage. A gay reading might be interesting simply because it hasn’t really been done.

    Cue cries of “It isn’t done!” from General Carew.

    I think it’s Stevenson’s relationship with Lloyd Osbourne that has set a few tongues wagging re his possible proclivities.

  3. A gay reading would work only if Hyde were better looking than Jekyll. We have yet to see a less that unspeakably ugly Hyde.

  4. Louis Garrel — fast becoming France’s #1 young actor — would make an modern-day Jekyll. Here he is being seduced by my favorite boytoy du jour, Gregoire LePrince-Ringuet.

  5. In ”The Nutty Professor” Buddy Love is obviously more attractive than Julius Kelp.

  6. Yes, at a certain level. But he is also more repulsive. Stella Stevens’ speeches in the film spell this out She doesn’t know what it is in him that draws her to him. It is of course Professor Kelp.

    Martine Beswick is of course Beyond Attractive. Yet the film is rather shy about dealing with this in anything other than a surface way.

    The whole idea of Stevenson’s story is the doctor trying to make a “better” person only to result in a considerably worse one.

    I find the notion of a gya Hyde intriguing the more I think about it. The drug Jekyll would take to turn into Hyde could obviously parallel Crystal Meth — its use running rampant in the “circuit party” end of the gay world.

  7. I think The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll uses a handsome Hyde too. And of course, Martine Beswick.

  8. “We have yet to see a less than unspeakably ugly Hyde” (Ehrenstein)

    Is that ugliness in appearance or ugliness of behavior?

    There’s always the much-derided “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll”-a.k.a.-“House of Fright” — which I’ve yet to see. One understands that, in this Terence Fisher/Wolf Mankowitz take on the Stevenson, Hyde becomes rather attractive

  9. It’s a pity R. W. Fassbinder is no longer with us, since he’d be the perfect guy, or one of the perfect guys, to do a gay Jekyll and Hyde. Well he did make ‘”Despair”’ starring Dirk Bogarde. It’s not considered prime Fassbinder but I like it.

    You are absolutely right about ”The Nutty Professor”, I meant attractive physically which Buddy Love is but the man is fairly obnoxious though he does love Stella Stevens’ character and his direction of the Dean’s performance in his office is much appreciated.

  10. It might be possible to cast a Hyde who satisfies the description “an indefinable air of deformity about him” while also making him perversely attractive — the two traits are often close together. And so maybe straight society thinks of him as repulsive, but in his underworld haunts, he’s quite the fellow…

  11. Wo, I’d forgotten about The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll! It’s not bad, but this is territory that deserves to be mined more thoroughly.

    It might be possible to cast a Hyde who satisfies the description “an indefinable air of deformity about him” while also making him perversely attractive

    ie. Pierre Clementi.

  12. Yes Clementi’s exactly right!

  13. When I finally got round to reading the thing I immediately thought of singer/sogwriter/babycorpse Paul Williams as the perfect Hyde. I was probably chiefly thinking of “Phantom of the Paradise”. On the evidence of his cameo “Rules of Attraction” he’d still be great. Not very sexy though. Three minutes into this certainly gave me chills (especially given that it comes so close to the end of the film, it’s quite a curve to throw)

  14. What a beautiful, beautiful man. Love his turn in The Loved One as well. “Didn’t he write The Rainbow Connection for Kermit the Frog?” asks Fiona. Yes.

    He would certainly make a disturbing Hyde. And Hyde as short guy is a thing that hasn’t been exploited enough. I would love to see Robert Blake in the role.

  15. His son is quite good too.. Particularly in the little-seen Race You to the Bottom.

  16. Robert Blake is All Hyde

  17. Yes, that’s why you’d want two actors…

  18. The one contribution Christopher Hampton HAS made to cinema since Dangerous Liaisons however, is the casting of Robin Williams as the Professor in the otherwise incredibly dull “Secret Agent”. It’s a stroke of genius, and – unseen as it was – seems to have completely altered the trajectory of R Williams’ career since, for whatever that’s worth. I only bring this up here because I’m working on a screenplay of SA myself now and the only other actor I can only constructively think of in the role is Paul “the other” Williams. (And Ricky Gervias is Verloc. In my head.)

  19. I recommend Hitchcock’s Sabotage as the best version to date. The first thing I saw Williams really efface himself in was Dead Again, which he’s the bright spot in. In fact —

    Kenneth Branagh: has an idea of cinema as showmanship and visual and so on, but can’t quite manipulate the elements into a successful shape. Has a kind of anti-genius for casting that sometimes comes up trumps.

    Christopher Hampton: no filmmaking ability whatsoever. Made perfect sense as a screenwriter, but why direct?

    David Hare: perfectly OK on TV, but used to keep making films, none of which had an audience, or any cinematic qualities whatsoever.

    Hanif Kureishi: don’t get me bloody started. “I’m not particularly interested in telling stories with pictures, like Peter Greenaway for instance.” Apart from being the worst encapsulisation of what Greenaway does that anybody’s ever come out with (ceramics; wrestling; dog-neutering — all these would be more accurate) this self-assessment leads to only one response: “Get off my screen, then!” Stephen Norrington (he of Blade and League of Extraordinary Gents) is reputedly a prize asshole, but wins my admiratuon for the line “We are the generation that HATES London Kills Me.”

    Can we just STOP giving directing gigs to Stephen Frears’ screenwriters, please?

    Mark Peploe: being sort-of family to Bernardo Bertolucci hasn’t done him a bit of good.

    Tom Stoppard: “Someone pointed out I wasn’t moving the camera very much. In fact, I hadn’t been moving it at all. I’d forgotten that you COULD move it, actually.” Don’t let the doorknob hit you on the ass, Sir Tom.

  20. Yes, Sabotage is excellent (with a very different but creepily parallel take on the Professor; “Slap your grandad, he’s been very naughty” or whatever the line is…) I’d love my Russian Embassy to have giant turtle tank… And Charles Haughtrey.
    I first saw it in a bill of Early Hitchcocks while ushering at the BFI, and all this early London stuff remains – Psycho notwithstanding – my favourite period of Hitchcock’s by far (North by Northwest, taking place as it does in a USA populated almost entirely by Brits, also comes close… although its “sophisticated sexiness” hasn’t dated nearly as well as that of , say, Thirty Nine Steps). The following month I had to sit in on two hours of Camille Paglia talking about new stuff she’d noticed about “The Birds”. That may have swung it for me.

  21. Here’s a chunk of Hyde from the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – he’s at dinner with Captain Nemo here, and he’s just raped the Invisible Man to death…

    Nemo – “He was a doctor wasn’t he? I should’ve thought he’d not had many sins to purge.”

    Hyde – “Exactly! Exactly! First sensible thing you’ve said. Should I tell you what these sins were, eh? These evils he was so desperate to get rid of? Well, he’d once stolen a book. More borrowed and never returned, but still… Oh, and he’d played with himself, sometimes while he thought about other men. That’s about it.
    “Anyway, what the silly bastard did, he thought that if he quarantined all these bad parts, what was left would be a fucking angel.”

    Nemo – “Hang on, if you’re this chaps sins, how did you end up so bloody big?”

    Hyde – “Good point. I mean, when I started out I was practically a fucking dwarf. Jekyll, on the other hand, a great big strapping fellow. Since then, though, my growth’s been unrestricted, while he’s wasted away to nothing. Obvious, really. Without me, Jekyll has no drives… and without him, I have no restraints.”

  22. I have no idea what Kureshi was talking about re Greenaway. London Kills Me was simply dull. Not a good script so there was no where any director could have gone much less himself.

    But you’ve isolated why Frears is so damned teriffic. He often understands his screenwriters better than they do. Sammy and Rosie Get Laid is the THE best film about Thatcher’s UK. And the best about the modern UK all told is the mazing Bloody Kids. Frears expressed surprise when I told him how much I loved it. Maybe he just saw it as an assignemnt but it’s mise en scene like Mama used to make wedded to the best film about the neo-fascist mindset I’ve ever seen. All the mosr remarkable in that the midset in question is that of a pre-teen boy.

  23. Too true. I think Frears is surprised when anybody mentions any of his pre-Laundrette work, except maybe the Alan Bennetts. He reacted warmly when I got him to sign a still from Gumshoe. “Ah, that was good film, that. A FAMILY film.”

    On a contrasting note, thanks for the Hyde quote. So, a gay Jekyll and a straight Hyde. Although he screws the Invisible Man to death, that’s an act of revenge, and he’s clearly in love with Mina Harker.

  24. Re Sabotage, it’s a gift to Hitch scholars because it features a vegetable stall, so provides handy clips whenever Hitch Snr gets mentioned. Along with the market stalls of Frenzy.

    That greengrocer is played by Mr Jessie Matthews. While Jessie herslef was a cockney girl talking posh, he was actually an upper middle-class lad who assumed a cockney accent for acting purposes.

    I have stacks of unwatched early Hitchcock, which I’ll need to devote a week to soon…

  25. You’re absolutely right – Hyde is in love with Mina Harker in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or at least something like it. I think that as with Frankenstein’s creature, Hyde tends to react to the way in which people treat him. If he is feared and loathed, he becomes fearsome and loathsome. As Mina doesn’t fear him (having met something far worse) he is surprised by his own reaction to her. It’s a while since I read the original, but I seem to remember the same being true there, with Hyde getting worse as people expect worse. Anyway, here’s Moore’s Hyde again, illustrating my point:

    “I thought as much. Miss Murray, though I am a beast, do not think that I am stupid. I know that I am hideous and hateful. I am not loved, nor ever hope to be. Nor am I fool enough to think that what I feel for you is love. But in this world, alone, I do not hate you… and alone in this world, you do not hate me. I… I would be grateful if you left me now. Go quickly, woman. Go before I break your jaw.”

    Wouldn’t that make a nice wedding vow!

  26. Yes, it’s quite touching in a way. A strange way.

  27. I picked up a book of Kim Newman’s short stories a while back (it was called Unforgivable Stories, I believe). Among some stuff that’s, well, rather inessential, there’s a very good piece that contains an excellent and persuasive gay reading of Jekyll and Hyde. It’s written as a sequel to the original, whose style it pastiches very well. It asks, what if Dr Jekyll’s confessional account wasn’t entirely truthful? What if his mad and nonsensical tale of chemical breakthroughs and grotesque transformations was a cover-story? Who was he covering for, and why?

    On Moore’s League, I always liked his suggestion that Hyde Park in London was named after Edward Hyde, to commemorate his stand against the Martian invaders.

  28. And what a stand! “Mmm, delicious…”

  29. About two years ago I remember sitting around with some other folks and brainstorming an idea for a script, about a med school student who concocts a potion that makes you immune to the AIDS virus. Unfortunately, it also had the side effect of turning it’s inventor into an ambisexual nymphomaniac sex addict, who also got steadily more sexually aggressive, finally becoming a serial rapist of both men and women. I suspect the X song “Johnny Hit And Run Paulene” was also an influence….Sort’ve “Jekyll and Hyde” meets “Cruising”. Anyway, I ended up registering the idea with the WGA, so don’t anybody steal it, but I thought it relevant to the ideas of a gay Hyde.

    And kudos to dcairns for pointing out that you can have a sexy Hyde who is’nt necessarily very handsome. (Though I do remember Jack Palance playing a handsome, saturnine Hyde.) There’s something very sexy about people who know they’re not conventionally physically attractive but shamelessly and energetically pursue sex regardless. And yes, the “air of deformity” and the magnetism of desire can be pretty closely linked.

    I’m now imagining Peter Dinklage as an erotic Hyde, although I think the problem with casting him is that he could be sexy, but not very physically threatning….

    And loved the LOEG discussion.

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