The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson (1896)

This is an interesting novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson, with a story line that is referenced as much as Dracula and Frankenstein. I actually had to read this twice through in order to get a better appreciation of what happens, as TBH, it was a bit confusing as the explanations of the actions are held off until the end, by which time, I had got confused who was who. However, the second time around, I loved it, and really appreciated what Stevenson was trying to do.

Stevenson was a Scotsman but was taking a break with his family down in Bournemouth (Southern England), during which time he revised “The Child’s Garden of Verses” (which I had as a child), and “Kidnapped”, and wrote this novella. He called it a “shilling shocker” as it was supposed to be somewhat pulpy and sell quick and easy. It also was published close to when “sensation fiction” was all the rage, and that includes writers like Wilkie Collins, Mrs. Henry Wood et al.  Little did he know that we would be reading it in the 21st century.

The story is well thought out: foggy London, Victorian times, experimenting with human life (see also: Frankenstein and others), and the duality of humans with both good and evil in them. This last duality was a big deal for the Victorians, as they spent a lot of time and energy considering the role of good/evil in people. It seemed pretty cut and dry for them – Good = Godly; Bad = Satanly.

There have been arguments that Jekyll/Hyde suffered from schizophrenia, but I think that is just 21st century psychology talk really. I think it was just a story about a man who struggles between the two sides of himself: the moral good side, and the immoral bad side. (Not officially two personalities, but the tendency, perhaps.) The “good” Jekyll was
fairly handsome, tall, well dressed, well liked; the “bad” Hyde was shrunken, ugly, hideous so the imagery was a bit heavy-handed. However, this lack of subtlety  is also very Victorian as well. (They like to make sure the readers “got” the lesson…!)

But perhaps none of this is true, and Stevenson just happened to write a good story that took hold of popular culture. Who is to know? Different times mean different interpretations for different people. Wikipedia (I know, I know…) mentions that the story was meant as an allegory (which makes sense), and actually, for quite some time, the book and the story were mentioned in sermons and in various religious texts as it made a point in an easy-to-understand way for the masses who could not read then.

Overall, a fun and short read (even if I did have to read it twice to fully appreciate it.) Also didn’t seem half as wordy as Frankenstein. (And also, Avi Puppy didn’t eat this one.)

This was a library copy. Hooray for Texas libraries.

2 thoughts on “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson (1896)

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