Summary and Analysis
Chapter 5 - Incident of the Letter
Mr. Utterson goes immediately to Dr. Jekyll's residence and is admitted by Poole, who takes him out of the house and across a former garden to the "dissecting rooms." They enter, climb a flight of stairs, enter a door covered with imitation red felt and, at last, Utterson sees Dr. Jekyll, "looking deadly sick." He is alone and sitting beside a fireplace in a dim, dusty-windowed room. Utterson asks him if he has heard the news about Sir Danvers. Jekyll says that he heard the paperboys yelling about it earlier. Utterson is firm. He asks only one question of the doctor: Surely his old friend has not been "mad enough" to have hidden Hyde. Jekyll assures Utterson that he will never again set eyes on Hyde, that Hyde is "quite safe," and that he will never be heard of again. Utterson is concerned, however, and betrays his anxiety for his old friend Jekyll. At this, Jekyll takes out a note and asks Utterson to study it and keep it for him. Utterson opens the note. It is from Hyde, assuring Jekyll that he should not worry about Hyde's safety, for he, Hyde, has a sure means of escape. Utterson asks Jekyll bluntly if Hyde dictated the terms of Jekyll's will, particularly the clause that contains the words, "the possibility of Jekyll's disappearance." When Jekyll is seized with "a qualm of faintness," Utterson's mouth grows tight. He was sure of Hyde's part in making the terms of the doctor's will. He asks Jekyll if there was an envelope for the note, and the doctor tells him that there was, but that he burned the envelope. It bore no postmark, however. Utterson tells the doctor that he has had a narrow escape, for Hyde obviously meant to murder the doctor. Jekyll covers his face with his hands, moaning about the horrible lesson he has learned.
As Utterson is leaving, he questions Poole about the note that Jekyll gave him: What sort of messenger delivered it? Poole tells the lawyer that there has been no messenger. Furthermore, nothing came in the mail except some circulars. This news alarms Utterson. Clearly, the note came from Hyde. Thus, Hyde must have given it to Jekyll in the dissecting rooms.
Utterson leaves amidst the shouting of newsboys, still hawking papers about the murder of Sir Danvers. When he is at last at home, alone except for his head clerk, Mr. Guest, Utterson sits pondering the details of the case. And then, "insensibly," according to the narrator, the lawyer asks Guest, who happens to be a "great student and critic of handwriting," if he will study the note which Jekyll gave him and if he will comment on it. As the clerk is studying the note, he comments that the man who wrote it is "not mad" (earlier, Guest had commented that Sir Danvers' murderer was certainly mad), but that the note is written in "an odd hand." Just then, a servant enters, carrying an invitation from Jekyll to Utterson, asking the lawyer to dinner. Guest asks Utterson if he may see the invitation and compare the handwriting to the handwriting on the note.
After a pause, Utterson asks why Guest is comparing the two specimens of handwriting. Guest tells him that "there's a rather singular resemblance; the two hands are in many points identical; only differently sloped."
When Utterson is alone, he locks the note in his safe. He is horrified. Henry Jekyll, he is sure, forged the note that was supposedly written by Edward Hyde, the murderer of Sir Danvers. His old friend, the doctor, forged a note to cover up for a murderer!
At the beginning of this Chapter, when Utterson goes to visit Dr. Jekyll, he is admitted to Jekyll's laboratory for the first time. In fact, he was not even aware of the existence of this part of the property (and the three "dusty windows barred with iron" will later be the windows where Utterson and Enfield will see Dr. Jekyll sitting, in Chapter 7). Note that when Utterson meets Dr. Jekyll here, he is aware that an immense change has taken place in the doctor: Dr. Jekyll looked "deadly sick." He did not rise to meet his visitor, but held out a cold hand and "bade him welcome in a changed voice." Dr. Jekyll's sickness, of course, symbolically represents his sick conscience that is shocked that such a horrible murder could take place, for he, of course, knows that he (or a part of him) is responsible for the crime.
It is likewise ironic that when Utterson asks Jekyll directly, "You have not been mad enough to hide this fellow," the pun on hide is challenging, because the reason for the creation of Hyde was so that Dr. Jekyll could indeed hide his own debaucheries behind Hyde and still live his own respectable life as Dr. Jekyll. And when the doctor assures Utterson that "I swear to God I will never set eyes on him again. I bind my honor to you that I am done with him in this world," we assume (along with Utterson) that Dr. Jekyll is speaking the truth; however, this is an oath that will be impossible to keep because Hyde has too much of a grasp on Dr. Jekyll, who will indeed, as in the next Chapter, hide Hyde for awhile, but eventually Hyde will emerge on his own terms.
When Utterson again points out to Dr. Jekyll the possibility that he and his name would be dragged through a trial if Hyde is ever caught, Dr. Jekyll again insists that "I am quite done with him." Again, the point is that since his early youth, Dr. Jekyll has tried to outwardly live an exemplary life, and his creation of Hyde was done out of scientific curiosity and also so that Dr. Jekyll could participate in debaucheries without danger of detection; therefore, now, the fear of scandal makes the doctor resolve to never see Hyde again. As Dr. Jekyll says, "I was thinking of my own character, which this hateful business has rather exposed." And too, he has always feared that his distinguished reputation would be stained by his secret, dubious activities.
We should also note that when Dr. Jekyll's servant, Poole, assures Utterson that no letter was delivered by a messenger, we assume along with Utterson that Hyde must have delivered it by the laboratory door — the door which Enfield had observed in Chapter 1. It is, after all, fitting that such a person as Hyde would use only the back door.
While Utterson functions as the central intelligence of the first part of the novel, we should always be aware that much of the information by which we formulate our opinions concerning Jekyll/Hyde come from different sources. For example, written documents, such as Dr. Jekyll's will, tell us a great deal, but we also rely upon Utterson to theorize about it. And we should also note that Utterson's theories or conjectures will always be wrong — because his knowledge does not include the workings of an actual separation of a Jekyll/Hyde phenomenon. For example, in this Chapter, after the murder, he will confront Dr. Jekyll and ask him directly if it wasn't Hyde who forced him to make certain concessions in the will. Dr. Jekyll admits (by a nod) that it was. This, of course, is misleading, but — at this point — we accept Utterson's analysis. Likewise in this Chapter, we have another document — the letter in which Hyde writes that he is disappearing forever. Again, we are misled when Utterson's trusted, confidential clerk, an expert on handwriting, reads the letter and offers the proposition that both Hyde's letter and the invitation which Utterson has just received from Dr. Jekyll were written by the same person, only with a slightly different slope in the handwriting. Immediately, Utterson is alarmed, thinking that once again, Dr. Jekyll has forged the letter to cover up for the evil Mr. Hyde. And again, we accept Utterson's theory, but what is ironic is the fact that since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are one person, Utterson is, of course, right, but in a way that neither the reader nor Utterson could ever suspect.