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Free Study Guide-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson-Synopsis
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CHAPTER 5: Incident of the Letter


Late in the afternoon, Mr. Utterson visits Dr. Jekyll. He is admitted by Poole and led to the laboratory, a part of the house he has not seen before. Dr. Jekyll is gloomily sitting there looking very sick. He holds out his cold hands as a gesture of welcome to Utterson.

Utterson asks him whether he has heard about the murder, and Jekyll responds that he has. He tells him that Sir Danvers Carew was his client. He also hopes that Dr. Jekyll has not been "mad enough" to hide Hyde. Dr. Jekyll swears that he is "done with" Hyde: the latter is safe and will not be heard of again. Utterson says that he hopes this is the case, as a trial might sully Jekyll's name.

Jekyll then tells him about a letter that Hyde had hand delivered; he is not sure whether he should show it to the police, not because he cares about what happens to Hyde, but because he is worried about his own character. Utterson is surprised at his friend's selfishness, but he is somewhat relieved by it. The letter thanks Dr. Jekyll for his generosity and states that he need not worry about him, as he has a proper means of escape. Jekyll gives the letter to Utterson to do with as he wishes, as he feels that he has lost the ability to make any judgments. When Utterson asks him if Hyde had dictated the terms of the will, Jekyll nods in affirmation. Utterson then tells him he has had a lucky escape, and Jekyll moans that he has learned a terrible lesson.

On his way out, Utterson talks to Poole, who is sure that no letters had come, except by post. This concerns Utterson, who believes that the letter may have been written in the house itself, which would make things much more delicate for Jekyll.

That evening, Utterson is sitting at home with his head clerk and most trusted companion, Mr. Guest, who is a handwriting expert, pondering whether he ought to confide in him. Finally, he decides to do so: He brings up the murder of Danvers, and Guest remarks that the murderer must have been mad. Utterson then shows him the letter, and Guest, after studying it, says that the murderer was not mad, but had "odd hand." Just then a servant enters with a letter. It is an invitation from Dr. Jekyll for dinner. Guest thinks that he recognizes the handwriting and asks if he may see it. After studying the two notes, he declares the handwriting is quite similar, only differently sloped. Utterson asks Guest not to say a word about this, and he agrees. As soon as Utterson is left alone, he locks the note in his safe. He is terrified to think that Dr. Jekyll has forged a note to protect a murderer.


Stevenson takes the reader back to Jekyll now. Jekyll has managed to preserve the secrecy of his double identity. As will later be revealed, Jekyll has decided never to take the drug that turns him into Hyde again, and he assures Utterson that Hyde has disappeared forever. Regrettably, Hyde will appear again, as his character takes over Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll is indeed hiding Hyde as Utterson fears, though the latter cannot imagine the full truth of the matter.

Utterson is especially concerned about the source of the letter. If it were mailed from some distance, it would suggest that Hyde had indeed fled after the murder and perhaps need not be feared any further. If it were hand delivered, that would be worse. But Utterson learns from Poole that no mail was hand delivered, leaving him to suspect that the letter was delivered sneakily by the laboratory door or, most chillingly, that it had been written in the laboratory itself.

Utterson is a careful, methodical, and ethical lawyer, and Stevenson uses the scene with Guest to underline this. Although he has shared more secrets with Guest than any other man, he still ponders long and hard whether to share the letter with him. When he does, he reveals as few details as possible. Though Utterson trusts Guest, he does not ask the questions he wants to ask. Guest, in return, seems to guess what Utterson suspects and is afraid to ask. Out of respect for his friend and employer, he too, says no more than is absolutely necessary to convey his thoughts. When both men agree to say no more on the matter, it is perfectly clear that they are thinking the same unthinkable thing. Their conversation is a masterpiece of understatement and inference. It adds to the reader's sympathy for Utterson, who is torn between conflicting values. The evidence against his friend appears to be conclusive, yet he cannot betray him.

Is the letter truly a forgery, designed to protect Hyde, as Utterson suspects? Some readers have seen it as a foolish attempt by Jekyll to throw Utterson off the scent. Others feel that it is unlikely that Jekyll is attempting to fool or merely placate Utterson and that the letter was written in the character of Hyde. In any case, if Jekyll truly felt that Hyde were no longer a concern, the letter would not be necessary. Indeed, rather than hide Hyde, in some ways, the letter suggests a strong desire to confess. At this point, Jekyll is feeling tremendous guilt, knowing that, he, in the form of Hyde, has committed a terrible murder. That he gives Utterson what he knows could be a crucial piece of evidence linking him, if not to the murder than at least the murderer, suggests how desperate he is feeling and how much he trusts Utterson and values his friendship.

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Free Study Guide-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson-Summary


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