Apocalypse revisited: The role of the abject in Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' and the millennial zombie outbreak narrative


  • Rebecca Stafford


This article analyses how sociocultural anxieties are evoked through representations of the abject in the horror genre. Evaluating deeply held sociocultural fears and concerns, as they emerge through horror texts at the turn of the century (fin-de-siecle and millennial), has identified shared preoccupations at these times. These include fear of disintegration of the self and loss of individual agency, and fear of invasion, the collapse of society, and an overall loss of purpose and order. These themes are expressed through the literature of both these periods as states of madness, infection and degradation. This research locates the zombie resurgence in the gothic, rationalising the cyclical nature of millennial sociocultural anxieties, and the way these can be mapped through extant horror texts. A focus on the gothic and its perennial expression of sociocultural anxieties serves to draw parallels between Victorian and millennial horror narratives, demonstrating a historical continuity with its culmination in the hollowed-out walking dead of modern-day zombie apocalypse narratives.

With a view to examining continuity, this essay will consider parallels between fin-de-siecle and millennial horror narratives, with a focus on the gothic and its perennial articulation of sociocultural anxieties. Persistent preoccupations are mapped historically and further highlighted by an exploration of prominent examples from the Victorian and the millennial periods. Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Zack Snyder's 2004 reimagining of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead are closely analysed, demonstrating marked connections between fin-de-siecle fiction and the current resurgence of zombie fiction and film, which can be located within the gothic tradition. Recurrent themes of fear of collapse and disintegration of both society and the self, loss of agency, and invasion are common to the literature of both periods. These themes are articulated as sites and states of infection, madness and decay.