Copyright 2018 by Gary L. Pullman
“When a doctor goes wrong, he is the first among criminals.” – Sherlock Holmes, “The Speckled Band”
Some believe Jack the Ripper was a medical doctor, perhaps a surgeon. Other serial killers are known to have practiced medicine, include H. H. Holmes, Harold Shipman, Michael Swango, Marcel Petiot, Shirō Ishii, John Bodkin Adams, Josef Menegle, Robert George Clements, Thomas Neill Cream, Louay Omar Mohammed ai-Taei, Maxim Petrov, and Kermit Gosnell.
As Sherlock Holmes (okay, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) observes, medical doctors make splendid criminals. They have the knowledge, the discipline, and the skill to kill, but they also often present the persona of a caring and humanitarian professional in whose hands patients are well-advised to place not only their trust, but also their lives. In fact, their victims often come to them, as patients who are both physically and emotionally vulnerable. They look upon their doctors as their best hopes for survival. Ironically, “when a doctor goes wrong,” he or she is apt to be just the opposite. Alas, patients sometimes learn too late that their trusted physician or surgeon is, in fact, a cold-blooded killer.
Horror movies have featured their share of diabolical doctors, some of whom are researchers, others of whom are medical practitioners or surgeons. Dr. Jekyll, of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, (1886) appears to be a chemist; Dr. Moreau, of H. G. Wells's novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), is a physiologist and vivisectionist; and Dr. Griffin*, of H. G. Wells's novel The Invisible Man (1897), is an optics researcher. (Mary Shelley's Victor von Frankenstein is not a doctor, but an amateur scientist of sorts. Likewise, Dr. Anton Phibes [of the 1972 movie The Abominable Dr. Phibes] is not a medical doctor; he has degrees in music and theology, one of which is a doctorate.)
Several other novels and movies also feature doctors of one type or another, but the ones we've identified are sufficient for our (or, rather, Sherlock Holmes's) thesis: “When a doctor goes wrong, he is the first among criminals.”
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In creating the dual character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson seems to have separated the private person from his persona. The former is the public face, the persona, presented to the world; the latter, the private person, known only to himself (and not entirely known, even then).
All of us are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We have private selves and public selves, and these split aspects of our personalities are not always in synchronization with one another. Privately, we desire and fantasize and, perhaps, in some ways act upon less-than-honorable, or even shameful, impulses and proclivities which, in our public lives, we would never dare to acknowledge, much less entertain or act upon.
We are hypocrites, all—or would be, had society not, in its wisdom, allowed us to a differentiate between our private lives, wherein ignominious and disgraceful thoughts, feelings, and secret behaviors are allowed without penalty, as long as they harm no one, and our public lives, wherein we are expected to conform to the mores, traditions, customs, and laws of civilized society.
Wanting to kill, or even entertaining fantasies about murdering, another person is permissible to us in our private lives, the lives that our counterparts to Mr. Hyde live, but such ideas, emotions, and dreams are strictly forbidden to us in our public lives, the lives of our Dr. Jekyll dopplegangers live.
In crossing the line between the private hell of his personal life and the public life of affected propriety, Stevenson's protagonist committed a horror more horrible than the murders he perpetrated. Stevenson's novel is a cautionary tale: this far, one may go, but not a step farther. The boundary between the vile, secret self and the acceptable persona must be respected at all costs. When it is, murders and other immoral acts are unlikely to occur; the monster within is kept at bay.
As we point out in another post, mixing human and animal perverts both natures, dehumanizing the former while objectifying the latter. Men and women, like animals, are better off as men and women or as animals than they would be as manimals or womanimals. By being hybridized as chimeras, neither human nor animal is improved.
Compared to humans animals are not, by nature, very bright. They live mostly by instinct, unable to comprehend the ways of men and women, whom, according to scientists, they regard as alpha members of the pack of which they themselves are lesser members. Unfortunately, with intelligence comes the capacities for treachery, infidelity, malice aforethought, and all manner of other evils. There are no innocent adults, and even children are often cruel to one another. They do not need teachers; such cruelty comes naturally to them. An animal, especially a domesticated one, is more innocent than any child.
By mixing humans and beasts, as Dr. Moreau did, both are made different and are devalued in the process. Indirectly, through is hybrid creatures, Dr. Moreau causes the deaths of others, but his greater crime is the immorality of vivisection as the means he employs for grafting human beings and animals. His means to his ends set him apart in his villainy, just as does Dr. Jekyll's means to his ends set him apart for the same reason.
Humans depend upon their five senses to perceive the world. Primarily, they depend upon sight. To render oneself or anything else invisible is to eliminate the sense of sight, at least as it concerns the persons or objects made invisible. Invisibility blinds us, and blindness hampers our powers to conduct reconnaissance or surveillance and to protect ourselves and defend others. To confer invisibility upon someone or something is to disable those who are thus deprived sight of the person or thing made invisible.
To use a unique and extraordinarily effective ability against others, leaving them vulnerable and defenseless is tantamount to betrayal. Dr. Griffin's invisibility allows him to accomplish just such an immoral act. Instead of using his power to benefit others, he abuses it, even committing acts of murder. Again, his ends to his means is worse than the deaths he inflicts upon his victims, because these ends set him apart from his peers as not only ruthless but also inhuman.
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Stevenson and Wells, although not, perhaps, in the first rank of literature, many might contend, are, nonetheless, superior to the vast majority of writers of their time or, indeed, of any time. The quality of their writing, its urbane and sophisticated style, the subtlety of their novels' various themes, their superb craftsmanship, their attention to detail, and the unhurried manner of their narratives, in which, most often, structure and function are so perfectly balanced as to appear to be one and the same thing, make their stories of such a character that the morality of the tales are not overwhelmed by the sensationalism of their plots. Directly, or by proxy, Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Moreau, and Dr. Griffin are serial murderers. Although their criminal deeds are described in lurid detail, the murders they commit, as extravagant as they are, do not cloud the moral implications of their heinous acts.