Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable. . . . He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theater, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years. But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove. . . . [I]t was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of down-going men.
This passage is taken from the first paragraph of the novel, in which Stevenson sketches the character of Utterson the lawyer, through whose eyes the bulk of the novel unfolds. In a sense, Utterson comes across as an uninteresting character—unsmiling, “scanty" in speech, “lean, long, dusty, dreary" in person. As we know from later passages in the novel, he never stoops to gossip and struggles to maintain propriety even to the point of absurdity; the above passage notes the man’s “auster[ity]."
Yet this introductory passage also reveals certain cracks in this rigid, civilized facade—cracks that make Utterson an ideal person to pursue the bizarre case of Jekyll and Hyde. For one thing, the passage draws attention to Utterson’s “lovab[ility],” his tendency to “help rather than to reprove.” This geniality and approachability positions Utterson at the center of the novel’s social web—all of the other characters confide in him and turn to him for help, allowing him glimpses of the mystery from every point of view. Both Lanyon and Jekyll confide in him; his friendship with Enfield gives him a salient piece of information early in the novel; Poole comes to him when Jekyll’s situation reaches a crisis point. Utterson even serves as the attorney for Sir Danvers Carew, Hyde’s victim. Second, the passage notes Utterson’s keen interest in individuals with dark secrets, in those who suffer from scandal. Indeed, the text observes, Utterson sometimes wonders with near “envy” at the motivations behind people’s wrongdoings or missteps. It is this curiosity, seemingly out of place in a dully respectable man, that prompts him to involve himself in the unfolding mystery.