A Truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true
Oscar Wilde, “The Truth of Masks”
- 1 Our translation. The page references are to the French edition. The same goes for Lector in fabula(...)
1Writing fiction is about creating a world, narrative worlds. In The Limits of interpretation1, Umberto Eco distinguishes between several narrative worlds, the dividing lines of which being of course not as clear-cut as they may seem:
2(i) “possible worlds which seem likely and credible”, that we may conceive of. Thus, he argues, “I may conceive of a past world in which Lord Trelawney and doctor Livesey have actually sailed along with Captain Smollett, bound for Treasure Island”. I would add that this past world can be conceived largely because Jim Hawkins omits the bearings of the island “and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted” (1), thereby suggesting that if the bearings had been appended to the map of the island, the reader might have used them in his real world, i.e. sailed over there himself...
3(ii) “possible worlds which seem unlikely and hardly credible given our present experience, e.g. worlds in which animals speak”, like in Little Red Riding Hood. “Seem”, since “flexibility and superficiality” enable the reader to adapt to this “small, local, non-homogeneous world” (227).
4(iii) “inconceivable worlds [...] beyond our grasp, since their putative inhabitants violate our logical and epistemological habits.” Eco quotes Penrose’s drawing as the “archetype of many pictorial impossibilia” – but also Max Escher, science-fiction and Robbe-Grillet’s La Maison de rendez-vous, where “internal contradictions” are the rule. Those inconceivable worlds can however be mentioned by language or conceived of as impossible possible worlds, “worlds that the Model Reader may conceive of just enough to understand that it is impossible to do so” (228).
- 2 This paper was given at the University of London during the “Cultural Identities: Noir Fiction and (...)
5I would like to show here2 how Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde oscillates, as early as 1886, between likely, unlikely and inconceivable, or possible impossible worlds – an apparent oxymoron corresponding to an impossible geometry. Then I will talk about my re-writing of Stevenson’s, and to a lesser extent, Doyle’s texts in Le Crime étrange de Mr Hyde, and my more explicit cross-breeding of two literary worlds, that of RLS and Doyle, in my second, recently published novel, Les Hommes de cire. I will finally try and define, in retrospect, my own conception of literary writing and rewriting in terms of switching from one literary world to another, but also of stitching, patching up and collage, using pigments and fragments taken from predecessors – whether belonging to literature, painting or cinema – in order to weave a kind of literary Harlequin costume.
6In The Limits of interpretation, Eco explains:
Many literary texts (e.g. detective stories) offer an astute narrative strategy, which generates a naive Model Reader apt to fall into the narrator’s traps (being frightened or suspect the innocent), but, in general, they also devise a critical Model Reader able, on second reading, to take stock of the narrative strategy which had devised the first-sight naive reader (229).
7Among other reasons, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is interesting because this distinction is blurred as the story develops, way before the end. Out of ten chapters, eight are told within the frame of a third-person narrative which probes into and follows the actions of the main agent or protagonist of the tale, Mr Utterson the lawyer, who quite early on has set himself to hunt down Mr Hyde, which he expresses by a lethal pun: “If he be Mr Hyde [...], I shall be Mr Seek” (40).
8He is the main investigator who steals the show from his Scotland Yard colleague, Inspector Newcomen, who briefly enters the detective stage after Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers Carew – and then exits for good. Without anybody asking him to do so (and certainly not Jekyll, who on the contrary repeatedly tries to deter him), Mr Utterson will track down (“haunt” is the word used here) Mr Hyde through the streets of London, and gradually grope his way, in an ever inward-moving spiral, through the labyrinth of Jekyll’s house, down into his cabinet or sanctum, where Hyde has eventually found shelter (see Naugrette 1991). By breaking the door of the cabinet, Utterson brings about Hyde’s suicide – which is understandable enough, since Hyde is wanted for murder. Once inside the cabinet, the lawyer looks around for the body of his friend and client Dr Jekyll. A sheer waste of time, of course. Instead, he will find a bunch of sealed, embedded documents and papers, including Jekyll’s new will, on which he discovers, to his utter amazement, that his name has ousted Hyde’s. He will also find other papers requiring him to open up Lanyon’s and Jekyll’s first-person retrospective, post-mortem narratives on which The Strange Case ends (see Dury’s diagram 72).
9Mr Utterson’s, or Mr Seek’s investigation can thus be summarized as follows:
he promotes and defines himself as Mr Seek (40).
he breaks his promise to Jekyll, to help and protect Mr Hyde, should Jekyll be “no longer here” (62).
he brings about Jekyll’s death when bringing about Hyde’s.
he replaces Hyde on Jekyll’s will. Thus does he inherit Jekyll’s fortune (a quarter of a million sterling), and remove a clause which had been his “eyesore” (32) for quite a long time, and had partly motivated his self-styled investigation. A narrative loop is looped here: at the end of the story, Utterson’s mind may rest in peace, since he has totally removed Hyde from the scene by succeeding him – and Jekyll. This may constitute an interesting variation on the “transferential story” motif analyzed by Peter Brooks (61 ff), whereby a tertium quid (the lawyer keeping Jekyll’s will mentioning Hyde) replaces the other two after bringing about their deaths in a toppling, domino-like move: first Hyde, then Jekyll, into whose shoes he has stepped.
- 3 In Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (1999), the transformation is materialized and conveyed by a (...)
he is placed by Jekyll in a reading position, i.e. that of the reader himself, since the last two chapters are found and read by Utterson and the reader at the same time. Robert Louis Stevenson thus operates a final, but crucial duplication here. On the one hand, Utterson-reader, whose act of reading can only be deduced after he brings back home the two manuscripts at the end of the chapter: “and Utterson, once more leaving the servants gathered about the fire in the hall, trudged back to his office to read the two narratives in which the mystery was now to be explained” (146). In the next two chapters, which contain the two narratives, Utterson as a character thus gives way to Utterson as reader, a silent, untold action which the reader can imagine, but cannot see since Utterson’s act of reading coincides, en abyme, with the reader’s own discovery of Dr Lanyon’s and Dr Jekyll’s embedded narratives. Utterson as character and the reader of The Strange Case tend to merge here. The reader of the last two chapters of the novel can only imagine the lawyer’s surprise, and perhaps dismay at learning that he failed as a detective or ‘Mr Seek’, since he is apprised, first by Lanyon’s narrative (where Hyde changes into Jekyll), then by Jekyll’s (where Jekyll changes into Hyde), of the existence, in many respects inconceivable, of a possible transformation from Jekyll to Hyde and back3. This silent act of reading – Utterson is never described as such, since his reading coincides with the reader’s – thus ironically defines the self-styled amateur detective as “naive Model Reader” apt to fall into the narrator’s trap (Eco’s extreme case in point being probably The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), at least into the unobtrusive third voice’s, which never enables him to grasp that no separate Hyde and Jekyll exist, but more often than not, such a hybrid creature as Jekyll-Hyde.
10As Gordon Hirsch puts it, quoting from Cawelti’s emphasis on three elements “making up the formula for the detective story”:
11(1) there is a mystery – certain key facts are concealed; (2) the story is structured around an inquiry into this mystery, usually with the aid of an inquirer-protagonist; and (3) the concealed facts are made known at the end (229).
12But of course, those elements are subverted when compared to the standards of the genre – if any, in 1885-1886, a time when Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was still in the making (A Study in Scarlet, 1887). The crime does not take place before the investigation, but after, since Hyde kills Sir Danvers only after Mr Utterson has promoted himself Mr Seek, while Hyde, so far, has simply “trampled over” the little girl: he is not a serial killer, and never will be. This kind of inversion announces such “Nouveaux romans” as Butor’s L’Emploi du temps (see Naugrette 1991). The crime will remain forever mysterious and unsolved, in the sense that Mr Hyde kills Sir Danvers without any apparent motive, and if any, it will remain unknown. Utterson promotes himself Mr Seek at nobody’s request, simply because he has made a frightful nightmare: after having been “haunted” by Hyde (38), it is he who will “haunt” him down in the streets (40). It is he, the supposedly sedate lawyer – the image will be taken up in the opening lines of Les Hommes de cire – who is frightened in the first place, he who suspects the innocent, in the sense that Mr Hyde is far from being interested in Dr Jekyll’s will: at least from a mere criminal perspective, i.e. kill him to inherit the money, the standard sordid motivation of detective stories which constitutes Mr Utterson’s starting-point. The assumption made by the lawyer at the beginning of his investigation, that of blackmail or even of a murder attempt by Hyde on Jekyll, proves completely wrong when confronted to the final resolution of the case given by Dr Jekyll in his final statement, where the transformation is described at length. From a strictly criminal perspective, there is even worse: indeed, it is Mr Utterson’s cane, which he had presented to Jekyll many years before, which is instrumental in Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers, the latter being about to post a letter to Mr Utterson himself.
13“Utterson-->Jekyll-->Hyde-->Danvers--> Utterson” constitutes a chain of signifiers (the cane, the letter) at the loose end of which Mr Utterson, loop-wise, is to be found, being thus ironically involved in the murder into which he is about to investigate, as if his were a narcissistic, mirror-like investigation into part of himself, perhaps what he was trying to hide (54). What was the content of Sir Danvers’ letter to him, for instance? This we will never know.
- 4 In April 1954, Sylvia Plath admitted that she had reread Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and other fantastic (...)
- 5 Compared with the Holmesian canon, Stevenson’s story would be as marginal as “The Adventure of the (...)
14Last but not least, the final, retrospective reworking of events, as it is achieved in the last two chapters, hardly bears on the sole crime committed in the novel, but on a “strange case” which should rather be read as a case history. As a mere criminal investigator, Mr Utterson never understands what happened to his friend and client, whose death he brought about. The final Chinese-boxes embedding of narratives is but the image of a dive into the depths of the human psyche, as the remark on the cheval-glass in Dr Jekyll’s cabinet suggests: ““This glass has seen some strange things, sir,” whispered Poole. / “And surely none stranger than itself,” echoed the lawyer” (140), as if the glass had gained an independent, Narcissus-like status, and could mirror itself. In Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mirror”, the mirror speaks in the first person and describes what it sees, an ultimate fantastic inversion of perspective4. Mr Utterson thought he was moving and acting in a detective story (case taken as murder case, like in “The Carew Murder Case”) while he was involved in a pre-Freudian case history of duplication and split personality5.
15A kind of criss-cross and inverted mirror-effect seems to take place here between Mr Seek-reader and the reader-Mr Seek, who read the final narratives at the same time, in the same place. The reader has indeed a considerable advantage over Utterson: he reads a novel entitled The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. As such, he appears as Eco’s “critical Model Reader” as opposed to Mr Utterson’s first-sight naive reading of the case. After having read the last two narratives, the reader-Mr Seek may re-read the preceding chapters in a new light. Mr Seek-reader cannot, and for a very good reason, since he is a character of those chapters. A second reading will indeed confirm Utterson’s oversights and blunders, while the reader, as a newly-promoted textual investigator, will pick up a series of clues which he may decipher, on retrospect, as obvious. The reader’s reading of the last two chapters, completed by a re-reading of the first eight, enables him to fully grasp the trompe-l’oeil structure of a text whose vanishing-points curve into the infinite. The two retrospective first-person narratives bear out the Jekyll-Hyde metamorphosis on the threshold of which – whether down below Jekyll’s window or outside the cabinet door – the lawyer is doomed to remain. Note that Lanyon’s and Jekyll’s statements also mirror each other in a kind of criss-cross effect (Hyde -->Jekyll, Jekyll -->Hyde) in the sense that Jekyll confirms what his diffident colleague Lanyon has witnessed.
16As to the final solution of the case, it is undermined here by Jekyll’s statement, which dissolves the simplistic lines of the geometry along which the lawyer has moved his pawns, on the wrong chessboard as it were. This announces Borges’ famous detective story, “Death and the Compass” (Fictions), at the end of which the detective finds himself trapped by the murderer, the mirrored adversary who will presumably kill him – the story does not tell, the end being suspended to the firing of the bullet. At the end of the spiral, i.e. the cabinet of the doctor which normally should have provided all the material information to solve and close the case (the catching of the murderer, the finding of the murdered man’s body, the material evidence, etc.), Mr Seek will only find embedded texts and narratives throwing an illuminating, retrospective light on his own awkward, ironic, destructive police investigation.
17The structure of The Strange Case has thus to do basically with geometry, fake perspectives (“depraved perspectives”, as Baltrusaitis would put it), divergent vanishing points and trompe-l’oeil. Beyond standard film adaptations, and F.W. Murnau’s Januskopf (1920)being unfortunately unavailable, the best equivalent of Stevenson’s text on the screen would probably be Robert Wiene’s expressionistic Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), at the end of which the spectator realizes that all the story had been viewed through the distorted focus of a mad doctor. As far as illustrations are concerned, S. G. Hulme Beaman’s black-and-white expressionistic version (Bodley Head, 1930), the exact contemporary of Fritz Lang’s M (M le Maudit, 1931), also plays on broken lines, dead angles and non-Euclidian geometry. In Rouben Mamoulian’s version of Stevenson’s tale, which is also contemporary (1931), images of a blurred, foggy city partake of this kind of impossible geometry. After Hyde has committed his murder, he flees into the labyrinth of the city while his shadow is projected and amplified against the walls. Mamoulian was extremely aware of the light and shadow effect thus achieved:
Dans certaines scènes, les ombres peuvent intensifier la signification dramatique. Dans la scène où Hyde s’enfuit dans les rues, par exemple, les ombres évoquent des chauves-souris sur les murs en augmentant beaucoup l’effet. (269)
18A similar disquieting effect is introduced in the opening image of Murnau’s Nosferatu, subtitled Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). This interpretation and vision of Stevenson’s tale as a pre-expressionistic text (and vice-versa: German expressionistic novels and films as post-Stevensonian) may be bolstered by the comparison with Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, in which a Viennese “dual” doctor meets with strange, disturbing night adventures which can bear comparison with Jekyll’s as Hyde, or at least as interpreted on the screen by Hollywood in the 1930-1940s. Lang’s Woman in the Window, in which a sedate University professor, after he has dozed off, leads an eventful double life, would also be a strange case in point. Kubrick’s adaptation of Schnitzler’s story in Eyes Wide Shut throws an eerie, retrospective light on Stevenson’s tale, in which the dividing lines between official and unofficial adaptation tend to blur. More recently, Lorenzo Mattotti’s illustrated version of the novel draws on the garish pigments of German expressionism (Grosz, Dix, Schiele) as well as on Francis Bacon’s blurred contours of the human body to build up a paroxystic world of distorted, vanishing perspectives where, in keeping with Wiene, the spectator’s and the doctor’s visions seem to merge. Compared to Beaman, Mattotti’s use of violent reds, yellows and blues, implies a sharp contrast with black elongated shadows which seem silhouetted against a Chirico-like urban landscape – I have in mind here, for instance, Mistero e malinconia di una strada (Mystère et mélancolie d’une rue, 1914), with its subtle play on contradictory planes and surfaces, the spectator’s line of vision alternating between low and high angles, light and shade, an absent sun projecting exaggerated shadows on the ground and darkness pervading the wings of street arcades like on a stage. The little girl rolling her hoop on the left I am even tempted to read as a trace of Stevenson’s tale. In Mattotti’s version, the red colour, especially, which is that of blood, is contrasted with the black one, the one used by Lang in his film where murder and rape are just to be deduced from the urban landscape.
19Le Crime étrange de Mr Hyde, which opens on a homage to Lang’s film, will equally play on the violent contrast between a “noir” mood and the use of a colourful palette taken from Impressionism this time, from Monet’s Le Parlement: soleil perçant à travers le brouillard (44) or Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (96). In the opening pages, the doctor tailed by a suspicious Mr Hyde presents a little girl with a ball he has ironically enough bought in Hyde Park, but this ball is red – the colour of blood. A more expressionistic echo of this image will be found in Les Hommes de cire, where Sherlock Holmes trapped in his Indian labyrinth dreams of Mr Hyde who “rebondissait lourdement sur une fillette puis repartait dans les airs accroché à un ballon rouge les jambes gesticulant de plaisir” (152).
- 6 See the beginning of Doyle’s “The Lord of Château Noir”: “The black château lay in front of them. (...)
- 7 In his Introduction to The Woman in White, J. Sutherland, quoting from Allen J. Hubin’s Crime Fict (...)
20This contrast was after all also to be found in The Strange Case, where Robert Louis Stevenson seems to draw on the murky clichés of noir fiction for the introduction of “The Carew Murder Case” (62) while depicting the city, seen through Mr Utterson’s eyes in the same chapter, as a pictorial conflagration where “swirling wreaths” are the key image (70). We could thus be tempted to make a distinction between the clear-cut, cut-out images and stereotypes of noir literature6 and the ever-moving, shifting hues and colours of a palette which belongs, more profoundly, to a fantastic, distorted vision of the world. But this is a temptation we should perhaps resist if we bear in mind that it is still blurred in the second half of the xixth century. Like Collins’s The Woman in White, Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet sounds like the title of a painting by Whistler or Sargent7, a title which Holmes reproaches, in the first chapter of The Sign of Four, with being tinged with “romanticism”, while Watson admits it is “somewhat fantastic”: the emerging detective story is still at a cross-roads between several literary genres – the sensational, Gothic novels, etc. The detective would probably prefer a less pictorial one, and mentions the fifth proposition of Euclid in response (13), thus showing that writing is also a question of geometry: as an inverted echo of A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four sounds more like a mathematical treatise written by Professor Moriarty than an Impressionistic painting. In Cornell Woolrich’s standard noir stories like “Rear Window” (1942) or “The Light in the Window” (1946), the careful, almost monomaniac use of perspective and geometry suggests a narrative world along whose lines characters move like pawns in a well-regulated game of chess. In “The Light in the Window”, the two major male characters, the soldier returning home to his girlfriend and the lover who has just gone out of the flat, thus move along the same diagonal line drawn across the street. After the soldier kills his former girlfriend and steps back into the street, he follows “a mechanical trajectory” (111), “a straight, unerring line” (112). It is only when he is caught up with his war trauma that the lines of his inner landscape tend to blur: “His mind was like an exposed photographic plate, still clear in the centre but beginning to blur all around the edges” (111). And later: “The swirling blur had all but closed over the clear space in the centre now” (112).
21The same “swirling” image can be found in The Strange Case – but also at the beginning of Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” (His Last Bow), where the fog is described by Watson as a “heavy brown swirl” (97) – is suggestive of a vortex, not of a clear-cut geometric division of the world. Woolrich’s story revolves on this tension or “bias” between straight, parallel and curved lines, between clear-cut contours (that of the pavement, the street where he is standing and waiting opposite the flat) and the blurred features of his mind: “He would even continue stiffly facing in the one set direction, while the halt lasted; even though it might be on the bias to the guiding-lines of pavement edge and building base” (111).
- 8 Also see Lector in fabula, where Eco evokes the “fine narrative surprises” attached to the bullet (...)
- 9 The cinematic use of specific stylistic effects often contributes to undermine Euclidian geometry (...)
- 10 In LF, Eco compares a narrative to a chess manual (147-150).
22The fascination for, and focus on architecture, the structure of buildings and blocks of flats has to do with the building of a solid, concrete outside world against which the characters’ mental world tends to jar. The traumatic explosion of shells which takes place in the soldier’s mind only introduce a different kind of geometry, of which a pictorial equivalent might be found perhaps in some surrealistic paintings, like those of Miró, where stars and blotches of colour seem to explode along erratic lines (see Étoiles en des sexes d’escargot, 1925). The opening page of Les Hommes de cire pays a tribute to the “noir” novel by introducing a shootout scene, but the gap between the moment when the shot is fired and when it reaches its target is spaced out by the description of the infinitely postponed “trajectory” (a word used by Woolrich) of the bullet, like in Miró’s Personnage lançant une pierre à un oiseau (1926). This is also the case at the end of Borges’ “Death and the Compass”, the last sentence of which is taken up in the last sentence of the first chapter of Les Hommes de cire (17). In “The Secret Miracle” (Fictions), Hladik, while waiting for the firing-squad’s bullets to strike him, is able to weave a mental labyrinth in the dimension of time and to complete – merely mentally of course – his unfinished work8. The impossibility for the bullet to reach its aim has to do with a basically flawed arrangement of time and space9, when elements belonging to distinct planes and scales cannot be safely bridged or made to overlap: this is also the case in Miró’s Carnaval d’Arlequin (1924-1925), where the ladder on the left handside is an “impossible” one. In Les Hommes de cire, the game of chess on board the steamer, which is probably, though unwittingly influenced by Zweig’s Schachnovelle (1942), is also ruled by trompe-l’oeil and deception, since one the players10, no less than Sherlock Holmes, turns out to be an automaton, as we learn after his victory, when a murder attempt is made by his defeated arch-rival. The problem is that even after this revelation has been made, Holmes does not dispel the doubts as to his, or the automaton’s participation in the game: did he, or the automaton play from the start? How can the automaton talk out loud in Holmes’s cabin and recite his chess lessons? Later, the motif of the labyrinth, already present in the description of London sewers in Le Crime étrange, is obviously taken from Borges in the chapter entitled “The Labyrinth of Babel”, but again, the outlines of Euclidian geometry are blurred as the labyrinth is finally flooded, a reminder perhaps of Paul Klee’s Zerstörtes Labyrinth (Destroyed Labyrinth, 1939).
23In writing Le Crime étrange de Mr Hyde, I am aware of having worked along the main lines of Stevenson’s geometry. Or at least some of the lines that he sketched, and left unfinished, probably because his final text, as we know from its genesis, results from a repression, i.e. the destruction of the original manuscript which, according to Fanny, had “missed the allegory” and was probably too ‘hard’, not Victorian enough. It is generally agreed that Robert Louis Stevenson had to rewrite a second, ‘softer’ version, where, for instance, Hyde’s “undignified” pleasures (186) are mildly put and strongly repressed.
24As far as plot and narration are concerned, it had always seemed to me that two kinds of scandals resulted from this literary compromise with Victorian morality:
25(i) the fact that Mr Utterson should inherit Dr Jekyll’s fortune by stepping into Mr Hyde’s shoes thanks to Jekyll’s final will. Stevenson’s reader doesn’t know what happens to him after he (Utterson) has read the two manuscripts: my basic idea was that he could never decently survive, after having acquired this fortune in such a morally debatable and detestable manner, bringing about the death of his friend irrespective of the latter’s repeated demands and warnings. I had thus decided to put the lawyer to death as the villain of the piece. “He is a servant of the law and he escapes justice”, Kafka writes in The Trial.
26(ii) the fact that Hyde should be deprived of any narratorial voice of his own, even if his voice seems to growl for licence behind Jekyll’s final speech – an urge felt by Jekyll himself, but left unfulfilled by Robert Louis Stevenson. Hyde is always perceived from the outside by Enfield, Utterson and the others, including Jekyll, who speaks in his stead. After all, even Frankenstein’s anonymous creature has a voice and narrative of his own! It was about time, I thought, that Hyde’s voice should be heard, and not simply as that of a cornered rat. But which voice should, could he have? Certainly not that of the other narrators, who use the standard language of upper-class well-to-do Victorian patriarchs. Obviously, Hyde couldn’t speak like the rest. He was to appear like a hunted animal, speaking in, during and from the gaps of the original plot, i.e. between the moment when he takes refuge into the doctor’s cabinet and when the door is broken down by Utterson and Poole, a time gap which must be a week or so, according to Poole (110). He was to be panting, persecuted, besieged. His speech should have a specific punctuation, a punctum which would be his characteristic or linguistic signature, i.e. the absence of commas. The repeated use of “hein” (“Umpf”) was supposed to impersonate a kind of shuffling, ungainly gait, even a lame foot which, as we know, is more metaphorical than literal in Stevenson’s text, where the phrase pede claudo is used metaphorically by Utterson (52).
27(iii) the combination of those two elements provided me with the mainspring of the plot: Utterson had to die, Hyde had to write his own first-person version of events to Utterson, this confession had to bring about the latter’s death. Hence the title as an echo of and homage to the original one, with the same deceptive criminal connotation.
28This sordid affair of poetic justice basically relied on a treatment of language and narrative, moving from the panting voice and breath of Mr Hyde as a narrator, to the result of the narratee’s reading of the manuscript – which he accidently finds hidden behind the cheval-glass when moving into Jekyll’s house a few months later. Mr Utterson had not only to die, but his death had to do with the act of reading, which is neutralized as it were in Stevenson’s narrative. The motif of a poisoned manuscript which the reader might lick came to me consciously from La Reine Margot and the story of a poisoned French king, unconsciously from The Name of the Rose at the end of which Brother Jorge eats up a poisoned manuscript. In other words, I had to evoke, through the – to me – infernal couple Hyde & Seek, two literary activities which are completely lacking in the original, Hyde dying but writing, Utterson reading but dying, literally poisoned by the narrative he has just read.
29But I also had to devise and include my Model Reader. Obviously, the one I had in mind wa supposed to have read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, since the first chapters of my novel followed in the tracks of the original. In the first chapter, being able to identify Hyde’s “Mr Enfield your kinsman” as an address to Utterson (whose name appears at the end of the chapter only) meant that you had read Robert Louis Stevenson. Mr Hyde’s version of the “Story of the Door” and the incident of the little girl, in which he exonerates himself and accuses the Scottish doctor (an echo of The Body-Snatcher), can only be fully understood when compared to Mr Enfield’s version of the same events. In Le Crime étrange, Mr Hyde speaks in the first person and defends himself by arguing that he is the victim of a persecution led by Mr Seek, the only willing player of a deadly game. In the same way, Sir Danvers Carew’s murder case as seen by Hyde is justified by the MP “recoiling” in horror (46: “mouvement de recul”) from the misshapen form, an instinctive reaction which Hyde, as a Victorian drop-out, cannot tolerate.
30But the sheer rewriting of The Strange Case from another point of view, that of the underdog, was not a real innovation in post-Victorian rewritings – think of Wide Sargasso Sea or Mary Reilly. My basic idea had provided me with a certain range of freedom – that of Hyde’s unheard-of voice – as well as a certain constraint, following into Stevenson’s steps, which led me, for example, to divide the novel into ten chapters, like the original. This mixture of freedom and constraint had inevitable drawbacks:
31(i) it seemed to me difficult to devise a plot which would rely solely on Stevenson’s. The risk was to put off any reader who hadn’t read The Strange Case, and the question “Is it possible to read your novel without having first read The Strange Case?” was a relevant one.
32(ii) the innovation in punctuation was hardly tenable in the long run. Unless I intended to write a long, delirious poème en prose or breathless stream of consciousness (see “La Dernière Nuit”, where Hyde describes his fall into the Thames, and where the first sentence of the chapter is 5 pages long), the risk was to write a mere short story or create an unlikely world which again might discourage readers. I also intended this, my first novel, to be readable, even enjoyable, and not just a literary attempt. In order to keep up the interest and suspense, maybe I was reminded of Chandler’s famous advice, according to which, if you feel that the book you are writing is getting boring, you should introduce a man carrying a gun – a sound piece of advice, which I will remember in Les Hommes de cire, where Holmes’ rather theatrical entrance with a gun triggers off the swooning of Dr Watson: “Il arborait un large sourire, il avait à la main un revolver pointé dans ma direction, et je m’évanouis” (48).
- 11 Doyle makes the whole story revolve around the “points” of the line and those of the case: “the po (...)
33Hence the idea, which came quite naturally, of devising a crossing of several narrative worlds. That of Stevenson, along whose lines I had worked by providing Hyde with a narrative: this still belonged to the unlikely. But I also needed more likely ones, which might justify my title and make Le Crime étrange look more like a detective story – even if this was but another trompe-l’oeil. The crossing with a Conan Doyle plot seemed, at this new stage, a welcome option, maybe another manner of devising and including the reader, whose presence Eco views, in Lector in fabula, as implying the possibility of a choice between several types of plots. Eco defines the “possible world” as being reasonably prefigured by the reader: see his metaphor of the railway timetable and network defined as a “system of scenarios” (LF 146-7). I felt I might use the end of Doyle’s The Sign of Four in that perspective. My story, so far, was devoid of any detective, since Utterson was basically a reader. I could use the best detective in Victorian fiction to act as a prime mover of my otherwise fantastic, unlikely plot. At the end of Doyle’s novel, he is tracking Jonathan Small and Tonga along the Thames. Tonga and Hyde, those two Victorian underdogs (one exotic, the other troglodytic, shall we say?), could easily be substituted. The crossing of the two narrative worlds would imply the rewriting of Doyle’s fiction by creating a junction – to use, after Eco, another railway metaphor. Like many Victorians, from Dickens to Kipling, Conan Doyle was obsessed by trains: some of his Sherlock Holmes stories hinge on a train connexion or network, like “The Bruce-Partington Plans”, where the finding of a body “just outside Aldgate Station on the Underground system in London” (100-01) is related with the points11 and a curve of the line. His “Story of the Lost Special” (Round the Fire Stories) is a strange case of railway hijacking for political purposes, as the final statement explains:
34The side line which we had chosen had once joined the main line, but it had been disconnected. We had only to replace a few rails to connect it once more. These rails had been laid down as far as could be done without danger of attracting attention, and now it was merely a case of completing a juncture with the line, and arranging the points as they had been before. The sleepers had never been removed, and the rails, fish-plates, and rivets were all ready, for we had taken them from a siding on the abandoned portion of the line (48-49).
- 12 “Wooden beam or piece of other material used as support for rails” (OED).
- 13 The very unexpected introduction of Mycroft into “The Bruce-Partington Plans” is expressed by Holm (...)
35I would be tempted to take up this description as the metaphor of literary recreation and rewriting, whereby the writer allows himself of the opportunity to reconnect old lines with new ones, to complete junctures, to arrange the points, to awake “sleepers”12 and play with his literary trains in the same way as he used to play with his toy trains as a child. This process of course implies a certain amount of manipulation and hijacking, but also the restoration of old story-lines by connecting them with new ones, or connecting them with one another13. The end of the line described by Doyle’s narrator is “rusted and corroded, red and yellow with disuse and decay” (49) in the same way as the key of the door leading to the by-street from Jekyll’s cabinet is found out by Poole and Utterson “already stained with rust” during the “Last Night” (138), while the door itself is locked. I conceive part of my task as reviving those disused lines, taking off the rust from the keys, opening the locked doors of narrative, making sewers, underground passages and secret winding-stairs meet, like at the end of Les Hommes de cire.
36In Le Crime étrange, Hyde meets Small in a tavern after Tonga’s death, and prepares his flight along the Thames. In an opium-den named “The Blue Dragon”, he meets an old man who babbles fragments of a German poem. At the end of the chapter, the police barges in and searches the place, so that when Inspector Lestrade introduces himself, I expect my reader to expect a connexion with a Sherlock Holmes story. The old opium-eater is of course Sherlock Holmes in disguise, like in “The Man with the twisted lip.” The lines he quotes in German are Goethe’s, the very same quoted at the end of The Sign of Four (140), an extra clue given to the reader. They seem particularly well-adapted to Jekyll-Hyde: “Schade dass die Natur nur einen Mensch aus dir schuf, / Den zum würdigen Mann war und zum Schelmen der Stoff”.
37The introduction of Holmes was thus devised as a help to both author and reader: an agent capable of getting the action going for the former, a narratorial model or matrix along whose lines the reader may more safely move.
38If I tried to switch the likely detective world of Holmes onto the unlikely fantastic world of Hyde, maybe I would be able to create an inconceivable world ruled (in the graphic sense) by an impossible geometry, where parallels could meet and divergent vanishing points taper out in the distance – like in the Stevensonian original: rewriting Robert Louis Stevenson has always seemed to me a kind of fidelity to the letter of The Strange Case. In Les Hommes de cire, I worked again along those lines, starting this time from the rational geometry of detective fiction and warping its rules in the process: this time, the use and abuse, on Holmes’s part, of a man of wax, his perfect double in the shape of an automaton, gradually becomes even more disquieting than the evil metamorphoses devised by Hyde’s ally, the notorious Dr F. By amplifying Holmes’s uncanny side to be found in Doyle (also author of horror and ghost stories) and turning his research on the multiplication of bodies into a potential evil activity, I paradoxically brought him closer to Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde than he or Dr Watson thought – Watson being here the unwitting victim of Holmes’s repeated practical jokes, until he rebels in the last lines of the novel.
- 14 In “The Man with the watches” and “The Lost Special”, Holmes appears under the guise of an anonymo (...)
39In Le Crime étrange, the creation of a crossing or junction between The Sign of Four and “The Man with the twisted lip” already implied a condensation of stories which undermined the likelihood of the two originals, as if Holmes could be at the same time in one story and another14. What Roubaud calls “The way of the tale”, which enables two contradictory propositions to coexist, while one of the elementary rules of a possible narrative world is that “if p is true, then non-p is false” (LI 215), a premiss Eco also uses in Lector in fabula as a preliminary definition of a possible world: “We define as a possible world a state of things expressed by a group of propositions whereby, for each proposition, either p, or non-p” (165).
- 15 Note that in Lector in fabula(7.2), “possible worlds” are related to the capacity, on the reader’s (...)
40Gradually, other points and switches appeared, not only as so many tributes paid to my favourite authors, but as potential narrative possibilities, a “possible world” understood this time15 as a state of things that the reader may (or may not) anticipate: for example a series of allusions to The Moonstone and the Wheel of Fortune, an inn where Hyde spends one night not far from unnamed Godfrey Ablewhite along with mysterious Oriental characters, without being able to identify them. Why should he, since this narrative line was but a side line or siding, a decoy which played no part whatsoever in my plot, or what Eco calls “a fake request of cooperation. The text provides the reader with clues aimed at disorienting him, leading him on the track of previsions that the text will never verify” (LF, 156 note 3).
41Yet I needed this décor and those characters as potential places and people in my literary world. Other allusions to Conrad’s Lord Jim and Kipling were needed to create this atmosphere of late Victorian exoticism (79). In Les Hommes de cire, where I needed an Indian traveller and specialist of Indian religion to escort Holmes and Watson all the way to India, Mr Murthwaite seems to return from and out of The Moonstone, and is given a new literary life: he is presented as a former College chum of both Holmes and Jekyll, a clear literary impossiblity, but an exciting cross-breeding of different worlds, and this time the two trains are coupled.
- 16 His “Two kings in England cannot reign at once” (V, 1, 58) may sound as a pre-Jekyllian dilemma. A (...)
- 17 “Unreal City, Under the brown fog of a winter dawn...” (“The Burial of the Dead”, 60). Also see, o (...)
42What went for plot and scenario, which I devised as open to a plurality of possible narrative worlds, also went for language. The uniqueness of Hyde’s writing and style had to coexist with a plurality of quotations, a collage of references, in my text, my texture. The issue here was not so much switching as stitching, crossing as weaving together, sewing unlikely words onto the likely Victorian world I had recreated, and thus create an inconceivable text, an impossible possible conceived of as a literary and intertextual construct. It was perfectly inconceivable, in a given narrative world, for Hyde to repeat Edward II’s protests against his persecutors in Marlowe’s play (“Must I be vexed...” V, 3, 6)16, that he should repeat “The river! the river!” like Martha in David Copperfied, that he should speak like Rimbaud in “Le Bateau Ivre” when describing how he fell into the Thames (127: “je ne me sentis plus tiré vers les profondeurs”), or Kafka when he describes the London sewers as a gigantic burrow. Other sundry quotations and allusions may be found, such as the evocation of Falstaff’s death (“and a babbled of green fields”, p.81), quotations from T.S. Eliot describing London in The Waste Land as “Unreal City” (80)17, from Schwob evoking an opium-den in his tale “Les portes de l’opium” in Coeur double (88), echoes of Mallarmé and Whistler as well as of Jacques Brel’s Port of Amsterdam when the Thames is described (84) as a possible waterway of escape. Maybe as a compensation for Hyde’s silence in Robert Louis Stevenson, this implied a rather literate Hyde (again, like Frankenstein’s monster) except that this learning was not so much unlikely – but after all possible, he seems interested in Dr Jekyll’s library at the end –, as inconceivable: as a late Victorian, he could perfectly well quote from Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dickens, Mallarmé, Wilde, Whistler or Schwob, but hardly from Conrad, Eliot, Brel, Bacon or... Tintin. His and Small’s use of quotations sounded not so much as a wish to restore their cultural identities, as a rather desperate attempt at mastering their inescapable fate. Their quotations sound like fragments they have shored against their ruins, but in the inconceivable world they move in they couldn’t be fully aware of the voice speaking behind them, prompting their cues from the end of the XXth century: mine.
- 18 In Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying”, Vivian asks “Where, if not from the Impressionists, do we get tho (...)
- 19 Alfred Hitchcock’s 1926 adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Lodger is aptly subtitled A Story o (...)
43I was fully aware here of writing in keeping with Stevenson’s “A Gossip on Romance” or Eco’s Postille alNome della Rosa where they respectively advocate the influence of décors and sceneries on the production of stories and scenarios (Robert Louis Stevenson), and that of past stories on the production of new ones given a certain standard context (Eco). Hence Eco’s choice, in The Name of the Rose, of a blind librarian called Jorge, because of Borges. Librarian + blind man = Borges, he argues (34). As far as I was concerned, my description of the Thames implied fog, not because fog was to be found in Victorian London, but because it is to be found in Victorian art and literature18. “The Bruce-Partington Plans” is a choice hypotext here, since it combines a story of switching and a story of fog19, a crossing of lines and a blurring of contours: Holmes is “cross-indexing” his “huge book of references” (97) as the fog prevents him from going out, he is asked by Mycroft to “cross-question railway guards” (104) as a starting-point for his investigation, and he will “See some light in the darkness” as his “line of thought” (109) follows “the line of rails” (101). For the same reasons, it also required that of an opium-den and other labyrinthine houses overlooking the Thames, cultural clichés of the London Docks and Lower Thames Street, hence the presence of Doyle, Schwob, Tintin’s Blue Lotus, but also, more unconciously, Eugène Sue, Hugo’s description of Paris sewers as a labyrinth in Les Misérables, Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Man-Chu, Jean Ray’s Harry Dickson, etc. Where could I find an opium-den, if not in former descriptions of opium-dens, i.e. in a culturally-built world, a literary, cliché-ridden construct to be found in my own library and literary space alone? Where could I find, for Les Hommes de cire, a sly, uncanny Indian servant except in The Master of Ballantrae, out of which Secundra Dass re-emerges, a clear impossibility since Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel is set in the 1750s and mine in the 1880s? Not only could different spaces, but times also connect. In order to describe the fear of being hunted and tracked down, where, except in some of Hitchcock’s film titles like Vertigo or To Catch a Thief, could I find the right words? As Eco puts it in his Apostille, “It is the already built world that tells us how the story should move on” (34).
44It will be objected that in so doing, my Model Reader was supposed to have read all those texts, and not just Stevenson’s Strange Case, in order to fully grasp and taste the novel. This I will try to meet by several arguments:
45(i) that used by Eco in Lector in fabula, when he argues that each narrative text builds its own Model Reader. In the same way as I had reworked and renewed the plots of The Strange Case and The Sign of Four by creating a kind of inconceivable literary crossing or cross-breed, I had also, by stitching fragments of sundry quotations onto my basic texture, created a kind of particoloured literary Harlequin, an impossible Miró-like (see his Carnaval d’Arlequin) or Picasso-like world: this kind of novelistic surrealism or/and cubism enabled me to interweave one world with another in the same way as Miró’s view of the ladder is contradictory or Picasso’s portraits offer one side of a face and the other at the same time. The mixed metaphor of colour and clothes is that used by Julien Gracq in order to define the effect of literary allusions:
L’allusion littéraire, qu’un simple mot peut suffire à éveiller, communique à un texte – rien qu’en signalant en lui l’affleurement, tout prêt à émerger, de la masse de la littérature pré-existante – une sorte de miroitement. Miroitement qui témoigne, sous le texte apparent, de l’existence d’une universelle doublure littéraire, se rappelant par intervalles au souvenir comme une doublure de couleur vive par les “crevés” d’un vêtement. (15)
46The Model Reader is devised and built-in as it were, but is perfectly free to find his way through the network of quotations or allusions, or lose it. It is up to him to co-operate or not with the text, to choose one angle instead of another: as far as the opium-den is concerned, some readers said they were reminded of Tintin, others of Doyle’s “The Man with the twisted lip”, others of Fu-Man-Chu, none of Schwob... In the second chapter of Les Hommes de cire, when Hyde’s corpse is described as floating in the Thames and gradually changing course, gathering speed as he ebbs to the sea, he floats by ships named the Narcissus, the Rescue, or the Lord Jim (22) obvious allusions to Conrad’s novels which the learned reader will pick up, but this doesn’t mean that the same reader will necessarily pick up other less obvious allusions: the next scene is highly reminiscent of “The Secret Sharer” (which also inspired Eco for L’isola del giorno prima), but the title, this time, is not quoted, and some readers of mine, although belonging to the same literate class, failed to see the allusion, which is highly forgivable.It is the reader’s own angle of “intertextual competence” (Kristeva quoted by Eco in LF 101) which is supposed to build his own competence, like that of a spectator viewing a Picasso portrait, not the other way round. All kinds of “shimmerings” are devised and included, but the reader’s role consists in making his own reading produce its specific effect. Shimmering, in that sense, is to the texture of the tale what fog effect is to its décor: a textual fog effect which blurs the contours of text and intertext. What is important here is not the identification of the source, but the emergence of the allusion, its ability to show at brief intervals, like a figure in a carpet, a more vivid blotch of colour or lining which can (or cannot) be seen for a fugitive moment of time. “Tout prêt à émerger” says Gracq: the readiness is all, in the sense of an advent and not an event (Jankélévitch), the feeling of something-in-the-making, an aptitude to show through the fibres of the text, not a full-scale or full-blown image.
47(ii) as the time of writing gradually wears off, I tend to forget where I have inserted which quotation or allusion. The examples I have just given are but “fragments I have shored against my ruins”, those I can still remember. Thus, the lining underneath tends to weave itself back into the text, or to take up Doyle’s railway image in “The Lost Special”, the “jolting of the points appears to have been entirely unnoticed” (49). In other words, I become more and more of an author, less and less of a reader: I tend to see fewer and fewer allusions, not to notice the jolts, while the reader tends to detect more and more, thus acting out the text, or co-operating with it. This is the case for the identity of my mysterious Dr F–, who reappears in Les Hommes de cire, and whom some passionate students and friends of mine have tended to overinterpret (see Eco 1992), which is not a surprise, since the initial is rather an apt one, from Faustus to Freud via Frankenstein or Fantômas – a funny thing since I had no idea whatsoever, when I wrote the novel, of what it stood for, and still have none. Maybe this is what Eco’s co-operation is all about, which blurs the boundary between the author who is supposed to know everything about his text and the reader who is supposed to ignore everything, while it is perhaps the opposite.
48(iii) last but not least, the narrative worlds of Le Crime étrange and Les Hommes de cire are also those where narratives are produced. Not only “self-disclosing meta-fiction” (Dolezel), but also metatexts – newspaper extracts, conflicting narratives within the narrative, etc. At the end of Le Crime étrange, Holmes becomes the author of a book called Pocket Manual of Homoeopathic Materia Medica, with Repertory and Indian Drugs published by B. Jain Publishers, New Dehli. The book exists: I have seen it on display in a Paris bookshop. It is true that it was not written by Sherlock Holmes, but by saying he is, I transform an impossible into a possible, which cannot be simply apocryphal, since the book exists. The fact that Hyde says he has read the same book in Jekyll’s library tends to bear out its existence, and connect his unlikely world to Holmes’ likely one, and the latter to the real one: another piece of stitching together sundry worlds by fiction, a device I found in some of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s novels, in which a fictious treatise on fencing mentioned in a first novel is borne out in the next (see Naugrette 1998). My library is not simply outside the novel – whether shared or not by author and readers – but inside, shared as it is by characters belonging to separate worlds: Hyde, Jekyll and Holmes are linked together by the book the latter is supposed to have written. In Robert Louis Stevenson, characters are both writers and readers: in The Strange Case, Hyde writes to Dr Lanyon by forging Dr Jekyll’s hand, and Utterson finds a packet of embedded narratives confirming the existence of Jekyll-Hyde. In Les Hommes de cire, a narrative supposedly written by Holmes – or is it his automaton? – is handed over to bemused Dr Watson by a crew of monkeys paddling on the swollen waters of an Indian river. By switching and stitching the unlikely onto the likely, I have, I feel, recreated not only the letter, but also the subject matter of the inconceivable narrative world I had started from, in which the issue of identity and duality, “man’s dual nature”, is also expressed in terms of debatable authorship. At the end of the novel, when Holmes and Watson step into former Dr Jekyll’s, now Dr F.’s cabinet, they find two books among others, Holmes’ Pocket Manual again, which is thus borne out by a second allusion, but also Le Crime étrange de Mr Hyde, which is attributed to Dr Watson, whom Holmes rebukes for having turned once more his scientific investigations into sensational exploits (204): thus, by this narcissistic self-quotation, is my first novel embedded into the second, a book of fiction in a fictitious library, or a library of fiction, which suggests it is not a fiction.