Three windows looking on the court on the first floor

Amateur Reader (AR) offers his thoughts on architectural features of Dr. Jekyll’s house, in particular the “dissecting room, the hiding-place of the hideous Hyde.” Regarding Stevenson’s precision as a prose stylist, AR says, “…the fact that any good reader can reconstruct this map [of Jekyll‘s house], is a good part of what makes Jekyll and Hyde the best thing he ever wrote.”

After reading AR’s post, I began thinking about Stevenson’s precision, on the one hand, and the role that windows play in the narrative, on the other. Like wine, windows are everywhere in the story. I came up with a host of fine questions, but no good answers. Zero. I hate getting blanked. Perhaps you should dust off your copy and help a fella out, this fine autumn season.

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a set of three windows make precisely three appearances. Not more, not less. Three. Why? Tantalizing symmetry, for sure. The first appearance comes when Mr. Enfield describes the house from the street.

“There are three windows looking on the court on the first floor; none below; the windows are always shut but they’re clean.”

Interestingly, the windows are described as “clean.” But when the lawyer Utterson visits Jekyll’s “cabinet,” the narrator describes
the interior thusly:

It was a large room fitted round with glass presses, furnished, among other things, with a cheval-glass and a business table, and looking out upon the court by three dusty windows barred with iron.

The windows are clean from the outside (from one point of view); dusty on the inside (from another). Note also that the windows are barred. Why? It’s a two-story structure. The first floor is not the ground floor. This means that the first floor, which looks down on the courtyard, is barred—from intruders with ladders? How very strange.

The set of three windows makes a third and final appearance when the lawyer Utterson, worried about Jekyll’s condition, drops in for another visit.

The court was very cool and a little damp, and full of premature twilight, although the sky, high up overhead, was still bright with sunset. The middle one of the three windows was half-way open; and sitting close beside it, taking the air with an infinite sadness of mien, like some disconsolate prisoner, Utterson saw Dr. Jekyll.

Why not in the left window? Or the right one? Why the middle? Stevenson makes a choice here, and I would like to know why he positions Jekyll between two windows, one on each side of him.

Why three windows? Why three appearances?

As a footnote, why windows at all? —Remembering of course that the maid servant witnesses the murder of Sir Danvers Carew from, aye,
a window.

Windows as perspectives? As lenses? Narratives? Anti-Leibnizian monads?

Good questions in wait of answers.

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One Response to Three windows looking on the court on the first floor

  1. Oh, those bars? The previous doctor, the one who built the dissecting theater, put those in. His “patients” were escaping out those windows. (Vincent Price laugh).

    Yeah, I’d wondered about those bars myself. Another creepy little detail.

    This whole post again shows the control Stevenson had over this story. I’ll bet that central scene – the glimpse of Jekyll-to-Hyde at the window – was an early idea, part of the germ of the story, with the rest of the windows then built around it.

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