The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson

May 27, 2018

5 / 5 Stars 

 

A life of normality and pent-up resentment, or a life of pure, unadulterated evil...which would you choose?

This is the third time I've revisited this book - namely because I have a major obsession with Gothic horror and can't resist returning to it on occasion!

 
Most people feel that they're familiar with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde even without reading it, thanks to the way it's permeated modern culture. From Warner Bros cartoons to rip-off books and movies, the central concept is one that's known by all - man drinks bad potion, man turns into monster. And that's that, right?

But of course, the book (or novella, I should say) is so much more than that. For starters, the composition never fails to amaze me. It starts by focusing on Utterson, a well-meaning lawyer who also happens to be friends with Dr Jekyll. He witnesses a hideous, deformed little man attacking a child one night, only to learn that the assailant is called Mr Hyde, and that he's somehow connected with Dr Jekyll. Naturally, Utterson digs deeper, but fails to uncover much; only that Dr Jekyll is behaving very strangely indeed. 

It's only when Poole (Dr Jekyll's butler) calls on him in desperation, that he goes to Jekyll's house, breaks into the man's private chambers, and learns the terrible truth. 

Part two then commences - the narrative of Dr Lanyon. Hyde visits him one day, and in this scene, the phrase 'curiosity killed the cat' is well and truly proved. Turns out that some things are better left unknown. 

The last (and in my opinion most beautifully written) section is Dr Jekyll's account. This is where the reader finally gets to dive right into the psyche of a fractured mind, and where we're challenged to ask the key question - if we had the choice between unleashing our inner badness without fear of repercussion, or living a civilised half-life...which would we choose? 

Without spoiling the ending, it's a decision that costs Jekyll his sanity and his life. 

There's so much more that can be said about this novella - which is remarkable given how short it is; the author really knows how to pack it in there! There's the whole question of what is real and what is not; and whether this is actually a study of split-personality disorder. There's also big questions about the nature of man itself. Are we all base, selfish creatures deep down? Is this what would emerge, if we drank such a potion? 

Best of all, Stevenson manages to make this not just another monster story. There's pathos in there too, and along with the creeping sense of dread, there's also a sense of pity. Clever, clever writing indeed.

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