Story of the Door

Poetry / derek beaulieu

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From the writer

:: Account ::

Oscar Wilde argues, “lying, the telling of beau­ti­ful untrue things, is the prop­er aim of Art.” In his 1891 essay “The Decay of Lying: An Obser­va­tion,” he embeds with­in his Socrat­ic argu­ment a tale of a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter who is the vic­tim of an uncan­ny acci­dent, which con­flates Stevenson’s 1886 novel­la The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

Short­ly after Mr. Steven­son pub­lished his curi­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal sto­ry of trans­for­ma­tion, a friend of mine, called Mr. Hyde, was in the north of Lon­don, and being anx­ious to get to a rail­way sta­tion, took what he thought would be a short cut, lost his way, and found him­self in a net­work of mean, evil-look­ing streets. Feel­ing rather ner­vous he began to walk extreme­ly fast, when sud­den­ly out of an arch­way ran a child right between his legs. It fell on the pave­ment, he tripped over it, and tram­pled upon it. Being of course very much fright­ened and a lit­tle hurt, it began to scream, and in a few sec­onds the whole street was full of rough peo­ple who came pour­ing out of the hous­es like ants. They sur­round­ed him, and asked him his name. He was just about to give it when he sud­den­ly remem­bered the open­ing inci­dent in Mr. Stevenson’s sto­ry. He was so filled with hor­ror at hav­ing realised in his own per­son that ter­ri­ble and well-writ­ten scene, and at hav­ing done acci­den­tal­ly, though in fact, what the Mr. Hyde of fic­tion had done with delib­er­ate intent, that he ran away as hard as he could go. He was, how­ev­er, very close­ly fol­lowed, and final­ly he took refuge in a surgery, the door of which hap­pened to be open, where he explained to a young assis­tant, who hap­pened to be there, exact­ly what had occurred. The human­i­tar­i­an crowd were induced to go away on his giv­ing them a small sum of mon­ey, and as soon as the coast was clear he left. As he passed out, the name on the brass door-plate of the surgery caught his eye. It was ‘Jekyll.’ At least it should have been.

Com­pound­ing the uncan­ni­ness of Wilde’s fic­tion­al retelling is the fact that his para­graph-long sum­ma­riza­tion of one of the most shock­ing inci­dents in the novel­la can be found embed­ded with­in the very let­ters of Stevenson’s orig­i­nal. As I have exhib­it­ed, Wilde’s text can be found, in order, with­in Stevenson’s. Much as the text of Hyde is found encod­ed inside the larg­er nar­ra­tive of Jekyll’s life, these two texts nest with­in each oth­er, ready to be unleashed. “The Decay of Lying: An Obser­va­tion” pre­dates Wilde’s 1895 con­vic­tion for gross inde­cen­cy and sodomy—pataphysically we can con­nect the encod­ed lifestyles of the “Black Mail House” on “Queer Street” (despite the con­tem­po­rary use of the word “queer” not enter­ing the lex­i­con until 1900) in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the cod­ing of one text with­in anoth­er. Alan Turing’s infa­mous code-break­ing efforts at Bletch­ley Park coin­cid­ed with his reveal­ing of his sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion to his fiancé and the sub­se­quent can­cel­la­tion of their pend­ing nup­tials. Turing’s encod­ed, clos­et­ed sex­u­al­i­ty would even­tu­al­ly lead to his own 1952 arrest and con­vic­tion for gross inde­cen­cy and court-ordered hor­mon­al ther­a­py includ­ing injec­tions of stil­boe­strol (a syn­thet­ic oestro­gen), which bod­i­ly changed Turing’s appear­ance. Short­ly before his death, Tur­ing wrote, in an uncan­ny echo­ing of Jekyll: “no doubt I shall emerge from it all a dif­fer­ent man, but quite who I’ve not found out.” Wilde’s own Steven­son ref­er­ence can be found with­in Steven­son him­self by pro­ce­du­ral­ly eras­ing irrel­e­vant let­ters from the ini­tial chap­ter of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; with each unveil­ing we get clos­er to the enig­ma.

 

Dr. derek beaulieu is the author or edi­tor of six­teen books, the most recent of which are Please, No More Poet­ry: The Poet­ry of derek beaulieu (Wil­frid Lau­ri­er Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013) and Kern (Les Figues Press, 2014). He is the pub­lish­er of the acclaimed No Press and is the visu­al poet­ry edi­tor at UBUWeb. Beaulieu has exhib­it­ed his work across Cana­da, the Unit­ed States, and Europe and is an award-win­ning instruc­tor at the Alber­ta Col­lege of Art + Design. He is the 2014 – 2016 Poet Lau­re­ate of Cal­gary, Cana­da.