Daniel Levine's Hyde is an interesting case (so to speak) of how the Gothic can be translated from the supernatural to the rational mode--from Lewis to Radcliffe, in other words. Readers who come to the book after scanning the back cover can be forgiven if they expect that the novel's revisionism will lead us to a heroic Hyde ("brief, marvelous life") and creepy Dr. Jekyll. As it happens, the blurb is rather inaccurate on that score. Instead, Hyde historicizes Stevenson's original novel at the intersection of two different Victorian investigations: the study of multiple personalities, on the one hand, and W. T. Stead's Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, on the other. Levine reinvents Jekyll as an alienist whose work with a French patient, Emile Verlaine (possibly inspired by Louis Vive?) went badly astray, but not before Jekyll discovered how to trigger Verlaine's different personalities with a chemical injection. Hyde, then, is one of Jekyll's own personalities, "born" from childhood abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional), and repressed from adolescence until middle age. Unfortunately for all concerned, the classic Gothic double (Jekyll/Hyde) has been interrupted by a third party. In some ways, the novel's intertext is as much Sybil as it is Strange Case.
As readers will remember, Strange Case really consists of multiple acts of storytelling, whether oral or written, attesting to encounters with/visions of Mr. Hyde. Most of the time, these tales are mediated to us through Mr. Utterson, the dour lawyer. Like many other Victorian Gothic narratives, Strange Case pits professional, middle- to upper-class men--the social elite, the experts--against apparently supernatural phenomena; the question, then, is whether or not the professionals can survive the novel with their sanity intact. Hyde's strange difference, which is always in some other place than where the viewer looks for it, troubles rational thought processes. Lanyon, of course, dies from the revelation of Jekyll's/Hyde's identity; by contrast, the reader never learns Utterson's response to Jekyll's narrative, leaving Jekyll with the last word. By contrast, Hyde is entirely focalized through, well, Hyde, with occasional newspaper articles or mysterious letters taking the place of the original's more fragmentary construction. Unlike the eminently reasonable Mr. Utterson, however, Hyde is himself fragmented: not only is he frequently relegated to passive observation but also he doesn't necessarily understand Jekyll ("[h]is work was sealed off in regions of the mind well beyond me" ). To make matters worse, it becomes clear that there is a third personality, "Mr. Seek," whose subjectivity is entirely inaccessible to the other two personalities inhabiting the body. (Jekyll's account of his work with Verlaine, who had a third and much nastier personality lurking within, should warn readers that something is up.) Thus, whereas Jekyll's narrative in Strange Case supposedly explains the rest of the text, Hyde's (and, by extension, Jekyll's) promises revelations only to come to a crashing halt in front of a mental abyss. Jekyll tries to explain Hyde to Utterson, but Hyde is in the awkward position of trying to explain Jekyll to himself and himself to himself--and, because of his imperfect access to his "own" mind, fails on both counts. By shifting focus from the rational professional to the "irrational" alternate personality, Hyde reworks the traditional problem of Victorian Gothic--"convert" to a belief in the supernatural/paranormal or die. Here, there is an explanation for Hyde's existence (Jekyll's abuse at the hands of his/their father) but it is not, for lack of a better term, functional: the answer to the mystery, whether proto-psychoanalytical or not, doesn't help.
Like many neo-Victorian rewrites of classic Victorian novels, there's much more explicit sex in this novel than in the original (as in, there's explicit sex in the novel in the first place), but given that sexual transgression was already in play in Strange Case, the lust isn't as extraneous here as it often is. In Hyde, though, the sex is part and parcel of the narrative's emphasis on both exploitation (of female bodies and bodies in general) and filth. I've joked about neo-Victorian "filthfic" before--novels focused on sewers, slums, and associated physical secretions. The exuberant filthiness of filthfic recasts the classic Victorian novel in terms of repression, boundary-making, and self-containment; Dickens may discuss "dust" (and Rossetti, more explicitly, the "middle street"), but Hyde offers us urine, feces, saliva, mud, and goodness knows what else. Indeed, the novel makes the distinction between professional Jekyll and criminal Hyde a matter of cleanliness: when Hyde transitions back to Jekyll, there's almost always a ritual moment in which he shaves off Hyde's stubbly beard, bathes, and changes his clothes. As Carew points out, although Hyde's physicality seems "deformed" and "twisted," he nevertheless is obviously Jekyll (199)--Hyde's dirtiness and Jekyll's cleanliness are each part of a personality's performance. At the same time, Jekyll's obsession with being clean, which amounts to a fear of his own body and its potential (he cannot look at himself naked in a mirror), is also associated with his inability to perform sexually. Hyde's "job," in effect, is to be "dirty" in every possible way, to revel in his body but also in sexual pleasure.
Although, like the original, the boundary between Hyde and Jekyll slowly disintegrates as the novel continues, the presence of the third personality--"Mr. Seek"--warns of more brutal impulses within Victorian culture. Seek, present to the reader only through scraps of riddling text and traces of his criminal activities, is the personality embroiled in sex trafficking; what both Jekyll and Hyde initially believe to be a nefarious plot concocted by Sir Danvers Carew (the novel's explanation for Strange Case's inexplicable act) turns out to be the product of an absolutely uncontrollable personality who taunts "himself." Reading a newspaper report clearly implicating him, Hyde notes, puzzled, that "I knew it couldn't be referring to me--I hadn't bought any virgins or ruined any maids" (182), but that confidence is precisely what the novel attacks. Hyde "knows" what he does and does not do, just as Jekyll similarly believes he knows, but neither grasps the presence of the third "I" in the equation. (A passing reference to Frankenstein suggests the extent to which the mental "Creature" exceeds the creator's control.) Seek's first letter to Hyde, "you be hide and I play seek/tho I know where you've hid, you see,/so I play hide and you play hide/and see who's found out first!" (143), suggests the secret's nature: Hyde/hide has already lost the game (Seek "know[s]" where Hyde is), so Seek will "play" as Hyde by walking about under his name (hiding as Hyde) and exposing both Hyde and Jekyll to the public as deviants. The personality who knows most of all is the one that neither Hyde nor Jekyll nor the reader ever encounters directly; moreover, Seek's evil is effectively untraceable, since it has been ascribed to Hyde. In one respect, the novel keeps drilling down, as it were, to greater and greater evils, until it finds an evil that appears containable (because it has been "named") but in fact escapes social control. And because Seek is only one of many participants in the trafficking underworld, "their" death does not, in fact, end the repercussions of Seek's evil, in the way that Jekyll's/Hyde's death does in Strange Case. Destroying the monster does not, in the end, change anything.