Thursday, 9 February 2012


I wanted to explore femininity as delicate, iconic and beautiful. Compelling the viewer to reach out and touch, to worship.  I also wanted to use traditional woman’s crafts such as crochet, quilting and beading as a fine art form.

In exploring the power of the feminine and feminine sexuality I wanted not only the form but the fabric to be part of the work. Crochet, quilting and beading are domestic and commonplace and in using them in a fine art form I want the viewer to rethink traditional feminine borders. She was originally based around a corsetry theme however she literally outgrew it throwing off all constraints to become a celebration of life giving bounty and joy to be a woman.

My inspiration has been from the ancient to the modern. In the alternative use of materials I have been inspired by the post modern feminist movement in particular Eva Hesse and Judy Chicago, also Lannie Harts Freedom Suit. Niki de Saint Phalle for her joyful bounteous exuberant female forms. Louise Borgeous and Marc Quinn for their explorations of normality and sexuality. The paintings Boticellis’ birth of Venus and the ample figure of Rubens’ Venus at a Mirror. Finally the pagan goddess images such as the Willendorf Venus and Diana of Ephesus.

My work in its bounty and celebration would I hope make people want to touch, to rethink the wonder that is woman, to be smile and be grateful for the gift of life.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Walk Tall - making and cutting out the patterns.

There was a good response after I posted the brief to see if any interested parties wanted to work with me and we all met to discuss deadlines, designs and costings. 

Drape Jackets

Further research produced an authentic Teddy Boy Drape pattern from 'Classic Fashion Patterns of the 20th Century' by Anne Tyrrell published by Batsford 2010. 

The patterns shown are 1/5 scale so the jacket needed to be traced onto gridded paper and scaled up.  This was not as simple to do as it originally seemed as our pattern paper has a different grid so we worked to the larger square and guesstimated the increments within those.  As we will be producing a calico toile any differences in measurements can be worked out before cutting the main fabric.

The original pattern is traced onto small gridded paper - each 0.5cm square is equivalent to 2.5cm
A large grid is drawn onto pattern paper and the pattern transferred onto this by hand.

The pattern cut out to its original dimensions of 36" chest.

Size the pattern up by slashing through and adding the extra width needed adjusting arm holes and sleeves to match.
Circle Skirts

The circle skirts we are making in black fabric and originally I had thought of using rik rak trimming around the base.  However the poodle skirt reared its head when I was researching patterns and as this is such a memorable nostalgic design we have incorporated it into our costumes.

Poodle skirt in light blue

The circle skirt was easier as we produced our own pattern from scratch by using the maximum waist measurement that the costumes had to fit (size 18) 36" and a bit of maths.

Circle skirt 1/4 pattern
Divide the waist measurement by 3.14 (pye) to give the diameter and divide this in two for the quarter.  On your pattern paper mark from the corner to this distance and using a pencil and a piece of string draw your first semi-circle. 

Then mark the second distance which will be the length you want your skirt including hem allowances.  This length measurement is marked from the first semi circle, (add this to your first measurement when you cut your string) again draw in the line from the corner with a pencil and string to create your second semi-circle. 

Voila a circle skirt pattern.  Fold the fabric you are using and place the pattern as shown onto the fold, cut twice to give two half circles.
Circle skirt 1/4 pattern
Place on fold to create a half circle when cut out

Pin together and sew
Pin the seams together and sew leaving an opening on the side seam of 6" to allow the skirt to be put on over the head or hips.  Once the side seams are done double over a 3" waistband to create a loop for the drawstring, pin and sew into position.  The skirt is now ready for fitting to determine hem length.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Walk Tall

Walk Tall is a community theatre group set up by Anne Duke originally from her kitchen table.  They use local children and adults in their productions to give an experience of achievement and difference to those whom otherwise might not experience it.  They are based in Northfleet, Kent and have premises that include offices and a small theatre.
After my initial contact by telephone I met with both Anne and Robbie Humphries (artistic director) to discuss what help if any I could provide.
A Midsummers Dream in da Club - 2009
(Image from Walk Tall gallery)
 There were several projects in the pipeline that needed costume and one in production.  The deadlines for Murder Mystery were short but not unachievable and a quick prioritizing resulted in:

Deadline of 16th February
2 Teddy boy Drape Jackets (one blue, one red, black trim, 1970's revival style) with bootlace ties
2 Circle skirts in plain black with trims to match the jacket colours with petticoats
3 matching headscarves
1 plain 'mumsy' 1950s dress with petticoat

Jackets to be made to a 44" chest and skirts to be flexible up to size 18

The next production in the pipeline was for the Manor School

Deadline of 10th March
4 childrens oompa loompa outfits (from 1971 production)
4 adults oompa loompa outfits


Teddy Boys 1950's
These original images show that the original Ted's were more concerned with looking smart than a refined 'look' jackets were different lengths and ties varied from a windor knot to a bootlace bow.  The trousers were narrower than standard and the quiff or D.A is starting to make an appearance.
Teddy Girls - 1950's

The girls in these images seem much more rebellious with their capri pant trousers and casual look.  Most women and girls in the 1950's wore dresses or skirts and trousers were seen as home wear.  The neckscarves are an iconic 1950's look.

Wedding 1970's
Pub 1970's
 These images from the 1970's show the standardisation in the Teddy Boy Drape.  The jackets are all longer mid thigh frock coat length, everyone has narrow or bootlace ties and everyone has the hairstyle.

Based on these images I have sourced a few patterns that might be suitable or can be adjusted to suit the style.

simplicity 2895
Burda 2767
Burda 8186

Monday, 30 January 2012

Pornography the Fantasy of the Real


This essay aims to discuss the theories of the postmodern with particular reference to pornography as an example of contemporary visual culture.  Starting with the rise of postmodernism and the controversy surrounding its theories.  In particular I am going to look at Jean Baudrillard’s theory of Simulation and the creation of a false reality through the three orders of simulacra, tracing the rise of pornography through each to determine if indeed we can distinguish the real from the hyperreal.  Within these I will be referring to art by Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons to demonstrate the blurring of the lines between high art and mass culture (pornography) and examining the effect of pornography on body image.  The key texts within this essay have been the writings of Jean Baudrillard for explanations and applications of his theories and Pornified by Pamela Paul for facts and figures relating to the pornography industry.     

Pornography the Fantasy of the Real
Unlike Modernism; which is agreed to have started in the late 19th Century as a rejection of the values of tradition and religion, catalyzed by the industrial revolution: Postmodernism is a disputed term with its beginnings placed variously from the end of the horrors of World War II to the 1970’s.  The theories used to define it are equally disputed and many of the things that have been ascribed to it can equally be thought of as modern.  It is perhaps easier to grapple with postmodernism by what is is not rather than what it is.  Frederick Jameson, literary critic, political theorist and university professor writes in his book The Cultural Turn ‘So now at last the fetishism of the New, the narrative obsession of the future, the infeodation of art theory itself, can be definitely abandoned.’ (Jameson, 1999:119)  Jameson points out the break of ideals that to him signify the division between the postmodern and the modern.  If modernism was driven by the avant-garde and the discovery of the new, postmodernism is defined by the pastiche, the copy and the reinvention of the old.  If modernism was the search for a truth and a utopia, postmodernism is an abandonment, a disillusionment with those ideals.  If modernism was an exploration for the real, postmodernism is a world where we have lost all ability to distinguish between the artificial and nature.

It is the last of these theories, reality, which is synonymous with French sociologist, philosopher, social theorist and photographer Jean Baudrillard.  Sean Cubitt (2001:6) in his book Simulation and Social Theory introduces this postmodern idea. ‘The Moderns (modern philosophers Kant, Hegel and Marx) thought history would conclude with the realisation of truth: for simulation theory, it has already ended in the mass illusions of the consumer society’.  What seems to stand out is the dystopian idea that truth can no longer be found not because it does not exist but because it has been usurped.  In the world of the internet, 24 hour television, billboard advertising and sensationalist newspaper reporting we have become saturated with images and the truth has become shrouded in layers of media illusions, creating a false reality. 

The layering of the truth with illusion is central to Baudrillards’ theory of simulacra and simulacrum (Sean Cubitt (Cubitt, 2001:1) defines the term as ‘a copy without source, an imitation that has lost its original.’) and he lays the blame squarely at the door of the media ‘One must think of the media as if they were, in outer orbit, a kind of genetic code that directs the mutation of the real into the hyperreal.’ (Baudrillard, 1994:30).  According to Baudrillard this mutation takes place in three stages or orders.  In the first order the image is the reflection of a profound reality and is recognised as just an illusion.  In the second order the image masks and denatures a profound reality, the distinction between the reality and the image start to blur as it becomes reproduced (for example a world summit that is staged especially for television).  In the third order the image masks the absence of a profound reality, it has no reality to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum.  He uses ‘reality’ television as an example of this third order, it can never be real because there are cameras there, what you are seeing is a frisson of the real, an excessive transparency, more real than real, hyperreality. (Baudrillard, 1994:6,28,121).   

Baudrillard refers to pornography throughout his theories both as a metaphor for this excessive transparency between the viewer and the viewed, particularly within advertising, and as a product of the hyperreal.  In his book Seduction he states ‘if there is a fantasy in pornography, it is not of sex, but of the real.’  (Baudrillard, 1990:29) The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that for Baudrillard the hyperreal of pornography is not the sex but the viewers desire for it to be true.  Using the theories of the three orders of simulacra we can examine this further.

 In the first Order of Simulacra the image (in this case pornography) is clearly differentiated from the real (sex with a partner).  In the 1950’s, in the days before internet access, pornography was only accessed through ‘top shelf’ magazines such as Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler and it was only after the invention of betamax in the 1980’s that pornography could be viewed in videos obtained through these magazines or through adult sex shops and adult movie theatres.  Pornography was rejected in art because it went against the classical rules of aesthetics ‘The principle of pure aesthetics was applied not only to exclude the actual body sensations of oral or erotic practices but also to criticize the literal and visual representations which tended to cancel the required distance to the object and thus desubliminate the pure experience into an impure and sensual one.’ (Falk, 1997:192)  Pornography in provoking desire and the urge to realize this desire with impure action removed any distance between the viewer and the representation.  It was viewed in private and was generally seen as smutty, something to be embarrassed about and separate from the reality of sex with a partner.  There was a clear line between soft core and hard core porn and between pornography and art. 

The second Order of Simulacra sees the blurring of the lines between pornography and reality.  Talking about the blurring of those lines Pasi Faulk states ‘The link between the beautiful – or more broadly that representing ‘good taste’ – and the aesthetic was fundamentally problematized in the traditions of literary and visual arts.  The classic principles emphasising the close relations between the beautiful and the order were inverted: art begins with the transgression of taboos and norms.’ (Falk, 1997:197)  The problematization of which he speaks was caused by the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, the introduction of the contraceptive pill for women, the advent of mass production Pop art followed by the aesthetic permissiveness of the feminist ‘happenings’ in the 1970’s freed art and society from the old order.  In pushing taboos and discussing sexuality pornography became a tool to shock.  Carolee Schneemann used this in her performance work Interior Scroll (1975) in which she undressed, painted her body and produced a scroll from her vagina which she read to the audience. Austrian artist Valie Export  performed Action Pants: Genital Panic (1968) in which she walked unannounced into an art film (pornographic) theatre in Munich wearing crotchless pants, challenging people to look at the real thing instead of passively consuming pictures of women. 
Key figures in the pop art movement David Hockney and Andy Warhol also began to explore their sexuality in art through pictures such as Queer (1960) David Hockney and Andy Warhol’s Sex Parts (1978).
Fig. 1 Sex Parts

It is for this reason that it can be argued the 1970’s were the beginnings of postmodernity for if as Frederick Jameson theorizes, ‘Postmodernity ‘is the effacement of some key boundaries or seperations, most notably the erosion of the older destinction between high culture and so called mass or popular culture.’ (Jameson, 1999:1), the Pop Art and feminist movements were the first to use pornography as high culture and the pornographic image originally seen as shocking and immoral came to be seen as acceptable and commonplace.         

To enter Baudrillard’s third order of Simulacra, pornography would need to mask the absence of a profound reality, it would need to be more real than real.  Indeed pornography has blended seamlessly into popular culture.  With the advent of the internet and the saturation of our social space with images, pornography and all its fetishes are only a click away.  Life imitates art, in his ironic billboard for The Whitney Museum, Jeff Koons portrays himself as a porn star in a fake advert for a film featuring himself and the famous Italian porn star Cicciolina, whom he later married.

Fig. 2 Made In Heaven

Pop stars emulate pornographic moves, celebrities date porn stars, glamour models such as Jordan and porn star Jenna Jameson are the new role models, men’s lifestyle magazines such as Loaded have content that once would have been classed as softcore and Cosmopolitan gives advice on how to replicate porn star moves in the bedroom to spice up your sex life.  But have we lost sight of the real?  In her book Pornified, Pamela Paul commissioned a large survey (the Pornified/Harris survey) of a representative spectrum of American men and women to find out what effect if any pornography has had on our lives.   Women, particularily teenage girls, are feeling the pressure of conforming to the unrealistic images presented to and consumed by their peers ‘the number of 18 year olds who got breast implant surgery nearly tripled from 2,872 in 2002 to 11,326 in 2003 – a far greater increase than the 12 percent rise in such surgery among adults overall, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic surgery.’ (Paul, 2005:184).  It is not only breast surgery but genital surgery that is increasing both in America and the United Kingdom, one in particular is solely aesthetically oriented: a labiaplasty reduces the labia by removing fatty tissue around the vagina, giving the area a neater more childlike appearance.  These statistics seem to show that women have lost sight of the distinction between pornography and real life.  In trying to emulate that which could never exist naturally, large breasted prepubescent women, we enter the hyperreal.

For men as well there is a sense of loss, in Pornified the effect of these images on men’s perception of ordinary women is described by Donovan, 55, CEO of a large corporation ‘You don’t see the reality, just the ways in which that human being doesn’t live up to the ideal.’ (Paul, 2005:228).  Further proof that pornography has entered the hyperreal is its fascination with the ‘money shot’, ejaculation.  We are fascinated by the real as a lost referent, Sean Cubitt in his book Simulation and Social Theory uses the words of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacon to desribe this fascination ‘This is because the true object of desire is neither Imaginary nor Symbolic…it is Real.  The Real is the impossible.’ (Cubitt, 2001:14)   This desire to repeatedly produce the ultimate proof of the reality of the sex, the reality of the pleasure is integral to Baudrillard’s theory.  ‘It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle’. (Baudrillard, 1994:12).    

Postmodernism is difficult to define, its beginnings are disputed and so are its theories.  By looking at what postmodernism is not it is easier to isolate key attributes such as pastiche, recycling of the old, disillusionment with utopian ideals and hyperreal experiences more intense and exciting than everyday life.  Jean Baudrillard, French social theorist and philosopher uses his theory of Simulation to explain the loss of the real and the manipulation caused by the simulacra of the hyperreal.  Exploring this theory in relation to pornography as an example of contemporary visual culture has led us through the three orders of simulacra and Baudrillard’s assertion that ‘if there is a fantasy in pornography, it is not of sex, but of the real.’  (Baudrillard, 1990:29).  Pornography has travelled from the marginalised smut of the early 20th Century, through the high modernist artistic and sexual revolution of the 1960’s, breaking the boundaries between high art, mass culture and classical aesthetic purity.  In 21st Century society it has changed from acceptance to prevalence with the arrival of the internet and the ‘pornification’ of mass culture and, in influencing women to reinvent ourselves as unnatural, entered the realm of the hyperreal.  Pornography’s own obsession with the lost referent of the real, repeatedly asserting the reality of the sex through the proof of ejaculation, leads me to conclude that Baudrillard’s statement is indeed true.               


Fig. 1 Warhol Andy (1978) Sex Parts [Screenprint on HMP paper] At: (Accessed on: 3.12.11)  

Fig. 2 Koons Jeff (1989) Made In Heaven [lithograph on paper on canvas 314.50cm x 691cm]  At: (Accessed on: 3.12.11)


Baudrillard, J. (1990) Seduction. London: Macmillan

Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation – Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser. USA: The University of Michigan

Cubitt, S. (2001) Simulation and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications Ltd

Dwyer, S. (1995) The Problem of Pornography.  USA: Wadsworth Publishing Company

Gibson, P, C. (2004) More Dirty Looks – Gender, Pornography and Power. (2nd ed.)  London: British Film Institute

Jameson, J. (1999) The Cultural Turn - Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998. London: Verso

Jobling, P. (1999) Fashion Spreads – Word and Image in Fashion Photography since 1980. Oxford: Berg

Paul, P. (2005) Pornified – How Pornography is Transforming our Lives, our Relationships, and our Families. New York: Times Books

Zurbrugg, N. (1993) The Parameters of Postmodernism. London: Routledge

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Kill Bill Vol.1 - Quentin Tarantino

In an attempt to get better aquainted with the subject I have decided to do a film review of each screening and try to relate it to the content of the weeks lecture.  This is slightly outside my comfort zone as I prefer to analyse and mull content over before forming my own opinions (an inbuilt defense mechanism perfected to stop me looking like an idiot) however as I am a product of a postmodern age my views should, in theory, be my own reality and therefore as valid as my tutors!

I lifted the following quote directly from the lecture and in picking its content apart I hope to gain a greater understanding of how Kill Bill sits within the term postmodern.

Postmodernism - a disputed term that has occupied much recent debate about contemporary culture since the early 1980s. In its simplest and least satisfactory sense it refers generally to the phase of 20th
century Western culture that succeeded the reign of high modernism, thus indicating the products of the age of mass television since the mid 1950s. More often, though, it is applied to a cultural condition prevailing in the advanced capitalist societies since the 1960s, characterized by a superabundance of disconnected images and styles, most noticeably in television, advertising, commercial design, and pop video. In this sense…postmodernity is said to be a culture of fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality, and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirl of empty signals… the term is notoriously ambiguous, implying either that modernism has been superseded or that it has continued into a new phase. Postmodernism may be seen as a continuation of modernism's alienated mood and disorienting techniques and at the same time as an abandonment of its determined quest for artistic coherence in a fragmented world: in very crude terms, where a modernist artist or writer would try to wrest a meaning from the world… the postmodernist greets the absurd or meaningless confusion of contemporary existence with a certain numbed or flippant indifference, favouring selfconsciously ‘depthless’ works of fabulation, pastiche, bricolage, or aleatory disconnection.

Superabundance of disconnected images and styles - Kill Bill is Quentin Tarantino's fourth film preceded by Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997).  His films are now instantly recognisable for their distinct format and flavour, they are also known for their depiction of extreme violence.  Tarantino's unconventional storytelling has the film shown out of sequence (in retrospect or in chapters) so you are never completely comfortable where in the story you are.   Add to this his tendency to flit from black and white (the opening scene of the bride) to animation (the origin of O-Ren Ishii) to silhoutte (fight scene at the club) and this film definately has an abundance of disconnected styles and images.

Eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra and promiscuous superficiality - Tarantino borrows from film genres in either a deliberate homage to previous directors or to create mood, his genius is in how he mashes them together.  In Kill Bill he pays homage to the martial arts film, action films, Star Trek and japanese anime.  The soundtrack continues this eclectic mix with 60's pop tracks mixed with spanish guitar evocative of the mexican standoff in western films.  This review from the website Jumpcut - A Review of Contemporary Media shows just how intricate and layered this is:
Nearly everything in Kill Bill operates in part as homage to other films. For instance, the opening credit sequence and music evoke memories of Hong Kong’s legendary Shaw Brother’s films of the 1970s. Several actors were chosen in part because of their links to famous martial arts stories. In particular, Bill is played by David Carradine of Kung Fu television series fame—even Bill’s flute in Kill Bill is the same instrument Caradine played as Caine in that series. Hatori Hanzo is played by Sonny Chiba—who played several incarnations of that same character in the 1970s series Shadow Warriors / Kage No Gundan; in fact it was Tarantino’s intention that Kill Bill’s Hanzo would essentially be the “100th incarnation” of that same character. And the characters Jonny Mo and Pai Mei are both played by Gordon Liu—of The 36 Chambers of Shaolin fame; there is also an additional significance that some film fans might note in that some of Liu’s early films with Shaw Brothers involved his fighting against the same character Pai Mei that he plays in Kill Bill. There is thus a certain connoisseurship at work even in the casting. In this way, Kill Bill is strikingly postmodern in the sense that it deliberately plays with the audience’s knowledge of its source material. For certain audience members, a large part of the pleasure of watching the films is therefore the sheer frission of recognizing the references. As one review of Kill Bill: Volume 1 noted:

“While you don't have to recognize a single reference to enjoy the movie, the very nature of the film also makes it a parlor game for hardcore film geeks. Ooo, is that strikingly designed shot from Hideo Gosha or Seijun Suzuki?... There’s an element from Once upon a time in the West... that fight concept is from King Hu... Wait a minute, what is an early Brian De Palma scene doing here???” (Klein)   (accessed 27/9/11)

I was not certain what disposable simulacra might be let alone how it might fit!  So I looked up the meaning.

Simulacra or simulacrum - a copy of a real person/place/object often altered or distorted to make it appear more real or true than the original.  Examples of this could include trompe l'oeil, virtual reality, reinactments, caricatures, disney theme parks and robots.   Modern French social theorist Jean Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real but becomes truth in its own right, the hyperreal.  Certainly in its use of copying genres and exaggerating their traits, such as the fountains of blood in the fight scenes building on the already bloody genre of martial arts films, the impossible numbers of foes the bride has to face building on the action film and indeed in its one dimensional caricature like characters Kill Bill can be said to use simlacrum.

All of Tarantinos films certainly have an abundance of superficiality, the story lines are basic; in Kill Bill the Bride seeks revenge against her attackers, she recovers from a coma makes a list and kills them all, simple non cerebral stuff, the magic happens in the mixing of the story, the soundtrack and the referencing.  Tarantino's films make it cool to be a geek.     

Fabulation, pastiche, bricolage, or aleatory disconnection - The very definition of these words make it clear how they label Kill Bill as a postmodern film so I have not elaborated further.

Fabulation - To engage in the composition of fables, especially those in which the element of fantasy comes into heavy play.  Fiction that delights in self-concious verbal artifice, thus departing from realism.

Pastiche - an artistic work consisting of a medley of pieces taken from various sources.

Bricolage - something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available.

Aleatory - relating to or denoting music or other forms of art involving elements of random choice or chance (sometimes using statistical or computer techniques) during their composition, production, or performance.

Kill Bill also superficially embraces the Postmodernism empowerment of women, previously marginalised in both life and action movie/martial arts genres as the 'love interest', his female characters are strong, independant and sexy.  Gogo Yubari, O-Ren Ishii's personal bodyguard, dresses as a Japanese schoolgirl (also the costume of a popular sexual fetish). She is also one of Kill Bill’s most psychopathic characters, her slaying of the man at the bar is disgusting, liberating and very darkly amusing. 

This trend of showing women as empowered and powerful only through their ability to do violence is a recurrent theme in not only Tarantino films but other postmodern films such as The Matrix.  In its recognising of different truths and realities postmodernism supposedly empowers previously marginalised cultures and people such as Afro-Carribeans, Indians and women.  While the former have an ever increasing role both in government and film depiction it seems that women are only emancipated if they can get their weapons off.   

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Essay for Time Machine


Figure 1 – Poster for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde


In my essay I am going to look at the book The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Loius Stevenson.  Focusing on the scientific discoveries of the Enlightenment era that would have influenced the content of the book and the theories of persona and alter egos that have been richly documented in film and literature since its publication.

The Story

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a story by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, reputedly written in three days following a dream in which two scenes of the story came to him, first published in 1886 in England and the following year in America.  Stevenson had long been intrigued by the idea of how to incorporate the interplay of good and evil into a story, Claire Harman in her introduction to The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde describes Stevenson’s fascination with duality in the Scottish criminal Deacon Brodie.

‘The story of Deacon Brodie held a particular fascination for Stevenson.  Brodie was a famous criminal in eighteenth century Edinburgh; by day an upright tradesman and town councillor, by night a common thief.  A carved cabinet made by Brodie was in the possession of Stevenson’s family and stood in his own bedroom, a constant reminder to an impressionable small boy of this doyen of the double life.’ (Introduction p.xi)  

The book was an  immediate success and one of Stevenson's best-selling works, the story lent itself to the stage and adaptations began within a year of its publication, it has gone on to inspire scores of major film and stage performances.  Its impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next. The book has also been described as an accurate insight into the Victorian era with the hypocrisy of outward respectability and inward lust.

Synopsis of the Story

The story is about a London lawyer, Gabriel John Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his friend, Dr Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde.  Hyde is seen doing despicable things, paying off one victim in gold and a cheque written by Dr Jekyll.  When questioned Jekyll tells them to think nothing of it but acts increasingly strangely.  It is when Hyde murders an MP by bludgeoning him with a cane that he disappears altogether leaving a note with Dr Jekyll apologising for all the trouble he has caused.

For a few months Jekyll seems more like his old self, engaging in charitable work, but then increasingly he becomes more and more of a recluse eventually shutting himself completely in his laboratory.  The one person to have seen him in this time, Dr. Hastie Lanyon, dies suffering from shock, leaving a letter only to be opened if Dr Jekyll dies or disappears.  His butler eventually goes for help as the voice in the laboratory does not even sound like Dr Jekyll anymore.

Utterson and the butler break into the laboratory to find the body of Mr Hyde in Dr Jekyll’s clothes and a letter from Dr Jekyll promising to explain all.

Lanyon’s letter describes how he saw Hyde transform back into Jekyll after taking potion, the shock of which caused his deterioration and death.

Jekyll describes his experiment with potions to create a good version of himself but the original ingredients were impure and created a creature of evil, Mr Hyde.  He describes how elated he felt initially with the moral freedom it gave him but soon the experiment got out of control.  He begins to transform spontaneously in his sleep, then in his waking hours, requiring more and more of the potion to become himself again. 

Eventually the potion began to run out and Jekyll was unable to find a necessary ingredient to make more. His ability to change back from Hyde into Jekyll slowly going, Jekyll writes that even as he composes his letter he knows that he will soon become Hyde permanently, and wonders if Hyde will face execution for his crimes or choose to kill himself.  He ends the letter (and the novel) saying "I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end."


The various plays of the story soon became detached from the original plot with romantic interests added and the dual characters of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ceasing to look physically different and only donning a wig or wild expression on transformation, thus removing a lot of the mystery as to whom Hyde could be.  Claire Harman gives us Stevenson’s reaction to an early stage adaptation he saw in America in 1887 which depicted Hyde as an unbridled womaniser.

‘Great Gods!’ he wrote to one John Paul Bocock, ‘a mere voluptuary.  There is no harm in voluptuaries…..The hypocrite let out the beast in Hyde….who is the essence of cruelty & malice & selfishness & cowardice, and these are the diabolical in man – not his poor wish to love a woman.’ (Harman Introduction p.viii)

Figure 2 - Richard Mansfield as Dr Jekyll from the stage production 1895

This story can be said to represent many things, the inner conflict of humanity's sense of good and evil, repression of homosexuality in the Victorian era, the mental condition of split personalities, an examination of the duality of human nature (that good and evil exists in all) and that the failure to accept this results in the evil being projected onto others.

William Ian Miller, author and Professor of Law, touches upon this dichotomy in his book ‘Faking It’ 

‘Don’t we wonder whether our self control is in two parts cowardice – the fear of getting caught and rendered ridiculous – and one small part virtue?’ (p.16) 

With this quote he examines the duality of our natures, we are good not because we are naturally good but because we are afraid to be bad.

The Enlightenment

The book draws from the great explorations into human nature, human ancestry and medical breakthroughs of the Enlightenment Era of the 18th Century. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science.  Popish superstitions and practices were rejected and long held beliefs in the right of rule that had been supported by the church were called into question. 

Describing this climate the philosopher and mathematician d’Alembert (1717-1783) wrote in 1758;

 “ ……..from the principles of the natural sciences to the foundations of revealed religion, from metaphysics to taste, from music to morals, from theological disputes to questions of trade, from the laws of princes to those of peoples: everything has been discussed, analyzed, or at least brought up” (Eitner:3)

Their ideal was a renewal of society through the application of scientific methods and a return to moral health.  This desire to start anew and the belief in the perfectibility of man were reflected in both theories and art.  In his famous essay "What is Enlightenment?"(1784), Philosopher Immanuel Kant described it simply as freedom to use one's own intelligence.  Developing simultaneously in Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and the colonies, the movement culminated in the French and American Revolutions.  Ideas were quickly spread due to the Industrial Revolution which allowed consumer goods to be produced in greater quantities at lower prices, encouraging the spread of books, pamphlets, newspapers and journals. 

Debate was encouraged at formal gatherings such as the Royal Society of London and the French Academies, debating societies that were open to all and also at informal coffee houses or penny universities as they were sometimes called.

Robert Boyle

One leading natural philosopher of the time whose ideas would have influenced the portrayal of Dr Jekyll was Robert Boyle.  He was a founder of the experimental world in which scientists now live and operate, best known for his Boyle's Law on the behaviour of gases, Boyle's method based knowledge on experimentation, which had to be witnessed to provide proper legitimacy.   He was helped by The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge which he cofounded in 1660, who spread his experimental philosophy around Europe.  The society’s motto was ‘Nullus In Verba’ – Take Nobody's Word For It.

This extract from an article in The Telegraph by Richard Alleyne about the display of a wish list made by Robert Boyle in the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary exhibition details how far reaching Boyles ideas and the ideas of the Enlightenment were.    

‘Boyle's own handwritten "wish list" was found in his personal papers which had been donated at his death in 1691 to the Royal Society.

They range from the more obvious and sensible such as "The Prolongation of Life", the "Art of Flying" and "perpetual light" to the more bizarre – "Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing" – scratch and sniff – and "attaining gigantick dimensions" – supersizing.

Boyle also predicted Kevlar body armour with "making armor light and extremely hard" and unsinkable motor boats – "A ship to saile with All Winds, and a Ship not to be sunk".

Navigation at sea was predicted with the "practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes" as well as sleeping tablets, artificial stimulants and antidepressants with the "potent druggs (sic) to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory and other functions and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams etc".’

Cataloguing Mankind

The interest in natural science extended not only to the elements of nature but to the elements of mankind.  Studies of skulls and phrenology resulted in categorizing and cataloging mankind. 

In 1857 Josiah Clark Nott and George Robert Gliddon wrote ‘Indigenous Races of the Earth’.  In the chapter The Cranial Characteristics of The Races Of Men they tried to show through scientific demonstration of measurements of the skull that a negro is as distinct from a Caucasian as a chimpanzee. 

They are often identified as proponents of “scientific racism” but their key concept was that of the permanence of types…..they more or less agreed in presenting man as a genus divided into types which in effect were species. They believed that each type was permanent and was suited to a particular zoological province of the earth’s surface, but they recognized that the actual races of the contemporary world were all mixed. They accounted for this by arguing that hybrids were ultimately sterile so that though because of human foolishness, races might deviate from their type, nature kept the deviation within bounds. (Theories of Race and Racism:p80)

Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859 putting into writing his theories of evolution from a common ancestry with natural selection as the basis for evolution.     He further explored this theory in 1871 with The Descent of Man.

Francis Galton an anthropologist, explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, and statistician was gripped by The Origin of Species and devoted himself to exploring variation in human populations and its implications.  He wanted to know if ability was hereditary and explored the question of heredity and environment , nature versus nurture by devising a questionnaire for the Fellows of the Royal Society publishing his findings in his book (1874) English Men of Science: their nature and nurture.

Sigmund Freud

Building on these ideas and further exploring the workings of the mind in the areas of dreams and psychology was a contemporary of Robert Louis Stephenson’s, Sigmund Freud.  Freud’s theories would have had a deep impact on the formulation of the double character present in the book. 

In early Freudian Theory there was the conscious mind and the unconscious mind, the thoughts and desires banished to the unconcious mind motivate the behavior of the conscious mind. If someone banishes all evil to the unconscious mind in an attempt to be wholly and completely good, it can result in the development of a dark aspect to that person's character.
Later Freud expanded his theory to include three layers to personality;  The Id, an unconscious drive that wants instant gratification to instinctual basic drives, anger, hunger and lust; The Ego, present in both unconscious and conscious, an organised realistic part who seeks to please the Id’s drives in realistic ways that will benefit rather than bring grief; The Super-Ego, sometimes referred to as the conscience, the Super-Ego aims for perfection in ideals and spiritual goals and punishes misbehaviour with feelings of guilt.  All three are in a balancing act with the Id opposing the Super-Ego and the Ego trying to reconcile the two.

This idea of a layered personality resonates throughout Stevenson’s story with the potion supposed to turn Dr Jekyll into an idealised combination of the Ego and Super Ego, but infact creating merely a creature of the Id, Mr Hyde who eventually succeeds in defeating the others in the war for control.  

Yet the book has more subtleties than this straight comparison, it explores the roles that we play our ‘persona’ that we present to other people.  The Victorian era was full of hypocrisy and double standards which are explored in the book through the character of Richard Enfield a gentleman man about town who is by day accepted into polite society and by night trawls the brothels and opium dens.

Even the term polite society has double meaning, in the words of William Ian Miller taken from his book Faking It;

‘Politeness is the most acceptable form of hypocricy.  It means making a show of attention, veiling boredom, wearing a mask that manifests amiability or routine concern for their concerns.  It means making the interaction safe for others, with the expectation that they will return the favour.’ (Miller p.36) 

One person can have many personas that they choose to use throughout the day depending on whose company they are in.  Personally I am Fiona the mother, lover, student, entertainer, farmer, reluctant cook, daughter, sister, widow, gardener, stylist and granddaughter.  Erving Goffman discusses the roles we present to others as being actors on or offstage in his book ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’ and how we are hemmed in by who we pretend to be.

‘The individuals initial projection commits him to what he is proposing to be and requires him to drop all pretences of being other things’ (Goffman p.22)

Wiliam Ian Miller also discusses this in Faking It ‘We find ourselves at times feeling put upon to play an allegorical version of ourselves because that is what the company expects from us.  Time to be the me they invited me here to be, and that means, generally, they want an overstated version of the type, just to make sure that it is utterly recognizable and what they bargained for.’ (Miller p.123)

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are of course not the different faces of one person but a split personality of two separate identities and this has perhaps been the major influence of the book on modernity.


The use of an alter ego, one person presented as two different people has been fertile ground for story writers and film makers since The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published. 

Figure 3 – Marvel Superheroes

The split personalities of comic superheroes have used this theme to great effect with characters such as Batman, Spiderman and Superman being one character in their everyday life and a superhuman character fighting crime when they are needed – a force for good – however they like Mr Hyde are forced to live a lonely existence feared as much as they are admired for their abilities.   

The story is most closely mirrored in The Hulk with a scientist, Dr Bannister, taking a potion to develop superhuman strength, the experiment goes wrong with Dr Bannister unable to control his metamorphosis into the Hulk every time he gets angry.  Unlike Mr Hyde the Hulk is not the embodiment of evil but rather a noble savage, a child like mentality with a superhuman body, Id not completely in control.

Alter egos have been used in reality to confound the labels that we have placed upon us and give us a chance to escape.  Artists have used alter egos to present radical work in this way they are able to make their statements without any fear of reprisals or critical analysis of their art work.

Figure 4 – Rrose Selavy picture taken by Man Ray

Marcel Duchamp submitted his Fountain, a radical new idea in 1917 of a ready made piece, under the name of R.Mutt to avoid the scandal that was created.  He also developed a female alter ego called Rrose Selavy in 1920 as a chance to not only change identity but change sex.  He used her to explore his interest in androgeny, make art and write explicit bon mots, spoonerisms and puns that were occasionally published. 

This freedom is also enjoyed by modern Street Artists such as Banksy whose real identity is unknown, allowing him to deal with an array of political and social themes outside the law.

The freedom that this gives us is commented upon by William Ian Miller ‘ Something about openly donning masks or posing as another frees the character from moral constraints.’ (Miller p.202)

Modern computer gamers also create their alter egos in the shape of Avatars, living their fantasies of perfection or domination in a fantasy environment.  This freedom is a double edged sword however, in cyberspace the creation of alter egos is not only used for creative urges but darker ones with paedophiles stalking their prey posing as a friend, a true reflection of the Mr Hyde that Stevenson wanted to portray.

This cynicism in action is discussed in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman.

‘At one extreme, one finds that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality………At the other extreme we find that the performer may not be taken in at all by his own routine……Coupled with this, the performer may be moved to guide the conviction of his audience only as a means to other ends, having no ultimate concern in the conception they have of him or of the situation…..we may call him cynical….It should be understood that the cynic with all his professional disinvolvement, may obtain unprofessional pleasures from his masquerade, experiencing a kind of gleeful spiritual aggression from the fact that he can toy at will with something his audience must take seriously.’ (Goffman p.29)         


In conclusion with his book Stevenson tapped into our fascination for the difference between our true inner selves and our outward personas.  What would happen if we decided to let it all out?  Our modern potions of alcohol and soft drugs allow us to go wild every now and again with the safety net of redirecting the blame, ‘it wasn’t me it was the booze talking’.  What if there was no sobering up, no control, a frightening thought indeed. 

The novel contains no reference to God or Satan as being the source for good or evil, in the portrayal of Hyde he makes it clear that both good and evil are contained within ourselves.  This, as much as the scientific experimentation he explores, is a product of the philosophies of the Enlightenment, where reason rather than mysticism was used to answer questions of life.

The theme of the novel is repeated with endless comics and films rehashing the symbol of the alter ego to magnify both good and evil in superheroes or supervillains.  Its impact is such that it has become a part of the language with the phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ meaning someone who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.


  • Stevenson, R.L :The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories (Selected and Introduced by Claire Harman) (1992) Published by Everymans Library, London 
  • Miller, William, Ian: Faking It (2003) Cambridge University Press, New York
  • Cohen, Stanley & Taylor, Laurie: Escape Attempts – The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Everyday Life (1976) Penguin Books Ltd, London
  • Goffman, Erving: The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1990) Penguin Books Ltd, London.
  • Eitner, Lorenz: Neoclassicism and Romanticism 1750 – 1850 Vol 1 Enlightenment/Revolution, (1971) Prentice-Hall International Inc, London
  • Manco, Tristan: Street Sketchbook (2007) Thames and Hudson, London
  • Gombrich.E.H, The Story of Art, (1995), Phaidon Press Ltd, New York
  • Honour, Hugh: Neo-classicism (1991) Penguin Books, London
  • Dawn, Ades; Cox, Neil; Hopkins, David: Marcel Duchamp (1999) Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
  • Cassirer, Ernst: The Philosophy of the Enlightenment (1979) Princeton University Press, USA
  • Solomos, John; Back, Les: Theories of Race and Racism : Reader (1999) Routledge, USA (
  • Darwin, Charles: The Illustrated Origin of Species: Abridged and Introduced by Richard E. Leakey (1979) Faber and Faber Ltd, London
  • Mink, Janis: Duchamp (1995) Benedikt Taschen, Germany



(Accessed 1/5/11)


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