Written by Simone Steadman-Gantous
for Prof. Kristopher Woofter
In both The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Stevenson, and The Confusions of Young Törless, by Robert Musil, the main characters feel split between the rational side of themselves and the side that is the more impulsive and desire driven. Dr.Jekyll is a doctor who creates a potion so as to separate these two sides of himself, which results in his transformation into Mr. Hyde. Törless is a school boy who goes along with his friends’ torture and degradation of another boy named Basini, once they find him stealing money, only to discover that this boy releases something previously left unexplored within them. In The Confusions of Young Törless, Törless and his friends find that Basini is their own version of Mr. Hyde. This is shown through: Dr. Jekyll transforming himself into Mr. Hyde, who is described as more animalistic and less than human, and the boys, especially Beineberg, using Basini in order to separate themselves from their own ties to humanity, while at the same time dehumanizing him; Dr.Jekyll creating Mr. Hyde so as to fulfill the desires that he cannot express, and Törless giving in to his sensuality and desires while with Basini; and through Törless and his friends using Basini as an escape from their monotonous school days, just as Dr.Jekyll creates Mr. Hyde in order to have freedom from his suffocatingly uniform life. Both of the novels have very different settings and characters, yet through the analysis of the roles Basini and Mr. Hyde play in the other characters’ lives, it is possible to uncover major similarities between the novels and the struggles of their “protagonists”.
In The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde is described as animalistic, and is compared to a lower life form several times; in The Confusions of Young Törless Basini is also considered a lower life-form, and just as Jekyll uses Hyde, the boys, especially Beineberg, try to use Basini as a way to escape their own humanity. Everyone who sees Mr. Hyde understands that there is something wrong with him, and as Mr.Utterson tries to figure out this deformity, he observes, “God bless me, the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say” (Stevenson 25). In several ways, when Dr.Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde, he is becoming more like an animal or a troglodyte, as Mr.Utterson puts it: he is hairy, and acts on instinct and impulse rather than logic. In The Confusions of Young Törless, Basini also seems to act on impulse more frequently than reason. However, he is further comparable to Hyde in that the boys use him to become animals themselves. Beineberg compares Basini to a worm, or a stone that can be crushed upon their whim, yet still he knows he can’t forget that Basini is a human being. He uses this to justify his torment of Basini, calling it a necessary learning experience, saying that “I [Beineberg] owe it to myself to learn from him [Basini], day by day, that simply being human means nothing—it is merely an imitative, external similarity” (Musil 65). Both Törless and Reiting also view Basini as below them; however Beineberg takes it to a new level in that he consciously wants to use Basini to forget his own link to humanity, and even to devalue that link. Part of this process involves the dehumanization of Basini himself, in which “he [Beineberg] also makes me [Basini] grunt like a pig, and keeps on telling me I’ve got something of that animal inside me” (Musil 118). Beineberg is not only trying to degrade Basini, but also prove that there is an animal within us all. The boys, in particular Beineberg, see humanity as a weakness, and through the use of Basini transform themselves into something that is no longer human so as to play out their darkest fantasies. Still, Basini is not an animal, just as Mr. Hyde is not an animal, and in the end, Beineberg’s torture and cruelty towards Basini only serve to prove his own brutishness, as his actions have no more noble purpose than to destroy a boy who is in trouble. In the way that Dr.Jekyll uses Hyde to ignore his rational and compassionate self in favor of an animalistic and impulse driven self, so too do the boys use Basini to do away with their compassion and empathy in favor of the more animalistic emotions of desire and violence.
Dr. Jekyll created Mr. Hyde so that he could fulfill his darkest desires while maintaining the “good” and noble natured part of himself; similarly Törless is constantly tortured by his overflowing sensuality, which he uses Basini to express. Beineberg, Reiting, and Törless all have sexual relations with Basini, something for which they would get expelled if caught. Törless does not approve of relationships between the boys at his school, yet at the same time had always been looking for something similar to this, as he says that his entire life he had the feeling that he was waiting “for something of awful, animal sensuousness that would grasp him, as if with claws, and tear him apart, starting with his eyes” (Musil 16). He does not understand this sensuality, yet “it made him feel ashamed” (Musil 17), just as Dr.Jekyll is ashamed of being such a well respected man and yet still given to basic impulses. Törless had also been ashamed about the way he felt for Basini, and the emotions Basini awoke in him. He felt both cruelty and sensuality directed towards Basini at the same time, yet had no idea what he could want from him. He argues with himself that, “he [Törless] didn’t want to beat him up, God Forbid! How then should his sensual excitement be assuaged through him? He automatically felt revulsion when he thought of the various unchaste acts boys indulged in. Compromise himself in that way with another person? Never” (Musil 113). In this passage, it can be seen that Törless is conflicted over his feelings for Basini, and his rational mind is fighting against what he wishes to do. When he does sleep with Basini, his mind continues to fight before he allows himself to become wrapped up in the moment, and he thinks, “This isn’t me! … Isn’t me! … Only in the morning will it be me again… in the morning” (Musil 125). Törless is separating himself from his rational thought in favor of giving in to his sensuality, and while doing so, is denying that he would actually do something like this. When Dr.Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde, he describes it as being “conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a millrace in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul” (Stevenson 78); in contrast Törless does not enter allow his desires to overpower him without some trepidation. However, like Dr.Jekyll, he must separate himself from his desires in order to fulfill them. Basini evokes new feelings within him, feelings that he had previously tried to ignore. In this way, Basini is to Törless what Hyde is to Jekyll: a force that unleashes his deepest desires and sensuality, while he tries to keep his sense of self at a distance.
Dr. Jekyll is dissatisfied, and almost trapped in the monotony of his noble life and high position, which is similar to how Törless, and to a lesser extent, Beineberg and Reiting feel while attending W. school. Just as Dr.Jekyll uses Hyde to escape from this monotony, the boys use Basini to bring about change in their usually very uniform and steady lives. Dr.Jekyll held a secure and high position in his society, yet did not enjoy this, and “had not conquered my aversions to the dryness of a life of study” (Stevenson 87). When he felt his life was too oppressive, Dr. Jekyll would turn into Hyde in order to break free from his societal bonds, even when doing so was not in his own best interest. Törless is also haunted by the unchanging life of a boarding school attendee, often consumed with the feeling that “There was nothing happening in his life, it continued sluggishly on its ever dreary way, but the bell [school bell] added scorn, leaving him quivering in impotent rage at himself, at the life he led, at the day that had just been laid to rest” (Musil 15). For him, Basini offers a change, an actual physical event in his life that he can throw himself into rather than focus too heavily on his time at school. As a result, he reacts excitedly to the news of Basini stealing, even realizing that it creates completely new feelings within him. He describes these new feelings, saying that it’s “as if from now on his life would be spent under a grey, overcast sky—with heavy clouds, monstrous, changing figures, and the ever repeated question: are they monsters? Are they just clouds” (Musil 52). He also observes that he is too far in at that point to back out and was vaguely curious about how the situation would develop. This curiosity eventually becomes an obsession with Basini and yet another means of escape from his regular day to day routine. Just as with Dr. Jekyll’s inability to stop himself from transforming into Mr. Hyde, the obsession that Törless used to escape his life ends up becoming his prison, as he often cannot stop thinking about Basini, even though he wishes to remain unattached. Both Dr.Jekyll and Törless were looking for freedom from their normal lives that would still allow them to maintain their highbrow self-image. Dr.Jekyll found this in Mr. Hyde while Törless found it in Basini; and although the end results of these escapades were much darker than any of the characters had imagined, they did at least succeed in discovering new and more exciting parts of themselves.
In conclusion, Basini in The Confusions of Young Törless represents a Hyde-like figure to Törless and his friends, who use him as both a being that allows them to express their sensuality, become more animalistic, and escape from their unchanging lives. He allows Törless and his friends to fulfill their darkest and most frowned upon desires in an environment free from the pressures of their school lives and upper class lives in general. In many ways, they abused this freedom, stooping to monstrous lows in their torture and cruelty towards Basini. However, through this torture, just as Dr.Jekyll learns about who he truly was through transforming himself into Mr. Hyde, the boys, especially Törless, learned about feelings deep within themselves and what can happen once these feelings are set free.
Musil, Robert. The Confusions of Young Törless. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.
Stevenson, Robert. The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004. Print.