Today I’m going to talk about Cesare Lombroso’s theories and their possible application to “The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, the famous novel by Robert Louis Stevenson.
I begin this post saying “thank you” to my English teacher, who suggested this reflection to my class.
Cesare Lombroso, an Italian physician and criminologist of the second part of the nineteenth century, formulated a theory according to which there is a strong connection between a person’s physical aspect and his psychological features.
This theory, that influenced all aspects of people’s social life, was considered important by the intellectuals of the Victorian Age, that believed in the validity of its criminological part.
According to Lombroso, a criminal can be identified through features like deformations of the cranial bones, a small brain, left-handedness, stuttering, or scowling.
All these features in a person were considered “unusual” in that period, so that theory, that connected them to criminal behavior, was part of the process of repression and “normalization”.
Robert Louis Stevenson certainly knew Lombroso’s criminal physiognomy, because his character Mr. Hyde is a synthesis of these characteristics: Hyde is physically deformed, almost simian.
Lombroso’s physiognomy is still studied by modern intellectuals, but today it’s considered only a pseudoscience, while in XIXth century it was used to justify some beliefs without evidences: for example men suffering from Jacobs’s syndrome, caused by the presence of two Y chromosomes and which causes mental retardation, abnormal height and big teeth, were considered guilty with no need of a legal procedure.
Incredible, isn’t it?