Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Title: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hydge

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Review by Jennifer Thomas

The approach of the annual spooky season affords a good opportunity to revisit classic horror fiction and Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1887 novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is as good a place to start as any. The eponymous Dr Jekyll (and Mr Hyde of course) is deeply embedded in our consciousness as literature’s first split personality. As such, even though modern readers will likely know the chilling novella’s conclusion, Stevenson’s brief horror tale continues to shock and thrill.

The tale is narrated by Gabriel John Utterson, Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, who becomes increasingly worried when he learns that Mr Hyde has trampled a young girl and paid off her distressed family with a cheque, signed by Dr Jekyll. Furthermore, upon reading Dr Jekyll’s will, Utterson learns that should the Doctor disappear for ‘any period exceeding three calendar months the said Edward Hyde should step into the said Henry Jekyll’s shoes without further delay’, or in death, Mr Hyde will inherit Jekyll’s fortune. Following this reading, Utterson is drawn into the mysterious relationship between the respectable Dr Jekyll and the violent and evil Mr Hyde who, without motive, subsequently bludgeons an MP to death.

Utterson’s confusion and distress mounts when he sees Mr Hyde entering and leaving Dr Jekyll’s residence at night and he seeks to discover the nature of their connection for as Utterson warns Poole, the butler, it made his ‘marrow cold and thin’ and ‘Evil – I fear, founded – evil was sure to come – of that connection.’

The duality of man

The novella moves rapidly to its shocking conclusion with the revelation that via an elixir, both men are indeed just one, and the draught manufactured by Dr Jekyll is the means of transforming from one man into the other. This chilling conclusion where Jekyll recognises the ‘thorough and primitive duality of man’ was one of the first attempts by a Gothic writer to explore the notion that man’s demons could be within him and his own mind. The monster may lay within and not necessarily come from an external or supernatural force.

Jekyll and Hyde ITV adaptation

‘Jekyll and Hyde’ – the ITV adaptation

Indeed, for many pages Dr Jekyll confesses that he wages a battle to control the forces of good and evil within him. The creation of Hyde enabled him to indulge his desire for ‘vicarious depravity’ and he admits to sharing ‘with a greedy gusto, the pleasures and adventures of Hyde’. Hyde provides the opportunity for Jekyll to fulfil his desire for depravity and vice without impunity or moral censure. This struggle is the cornerstone of Stevenson’s novella. Its exploration of man’s conscience and the battle between and good evil ensures the story’s timeless appeal.

It is easy to understand why The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde sold 40,000 copies in its first six months. Like Frankenstein before, and Dracula after, it is worth considering how much of the modern reader’s enjoyment is lost knowing how the story ends. These Gothic tales have been told and reworked so often that their plots, characters and endings are renowned; their dramatic punchline has been delivered many times. Having said that, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can still be enjoyed on many levels. A classic horror tale with abhorrent Hyde fulfilling the role of monster – more comic than Gothic, said one reviewer of ITV’s latest adaption. Or, at a more profound level exploring man’s conscience and the battle between good and bad that lies within us all.

By Jennifer Thomas

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