The violent Mr. Hyde versus feminism: horror cinema's response to female sexuality in film adaptations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
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As one of the most adapted literary works of all time, filmmakers throughout the twentieth century have tried to answer one inexplicable question in Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Why does Mr. Hyde "weep like a woman?" While the novel appears to exclude a female presence, Mr. Hyde's rebellious nature symbolizes the feminists who Victorian men believed threatened the very balance of fin de siècle English society: the New Women. These feminists sought personal liberties, including sexuality, and shook the definition of gender roles and domesticity in the nineteenth century. The New Woman's actions were negatively and heavily scrutinized by men writers and she continues to appear as a complex phenomenon throughout films of the twentieth century. I will argue that in the novella, Hyde represents the stereotypical “evils” assigned to the New Woman by men to restore gender roles and domesticity. But in five of the film versions from the twenties, thirties, forties, seventies, and nineties, Hyde gradually transforms into the suppressor of feminism, still representing male fears, but now utilizing a more masculine voice of violence. From the silent twenties version with limited and withdrawn female roles to the nineties film told entirely from the made up perspective of the novella's minor maid character, the critique of women in Jekyll and Hyde and its successors reveal the true fear behind the horror genre: redefined gender roles and femalesexual liberation. My paper will argue that the evolution of horror in the Jekyll and Hyde adaptations depends on and critiques the history and evolution of sexuality. The more liberated women became through time, the more horror films exposed them (both physically and mentally) to violence, idealized roles of “good” and “evil,” and largely critiqued their presence altogether.
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