Book #20

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

In this harrowing tale of good and evil, the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll develops a potion that unleashes his secret, inner persona—the loathsome, twisted Mr. Hyde.

Imagine the reaction when this novel was released in the late 1800s – horror, repulsion, women fainting all over the place. I truly wish I had been alive to read it.

Nowadays, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is widely perceived as a horror. With so many adaptations and nods in popular culture (The Incredible Hulk, anyone?), it’s difficult to be completely ignorant of the story. Although there are undoubtedly horror elements contained within the pages, this reads more as a study of the human mind. The curious Dr. Jekyll was undertaking such a study when he developed the potion to separate his psyche into two – purely the good and the evil. It’s interesting to consider the implication that we are only a mix of good and bad, with no grey areas, and Stevenson separates Jekyll’s duality to the extreme.

Even more interesting is the exploration of this upstanding, well-respected doctor harbouring the same temptations to vice as would be usually associated with more poorly judged members of society. Stevenson implies no one is inherently good, and we all experience shaming thoughts. The crux of Jekyll’s downfall, however, is that once given a taste of sin, he succumbs mercilessly to its pleasures.

The story is told primarily through the eyes of Jekyll’s lawyer, who becomes suspicious of Jekyll’s decisions and behaviours from the first. This technique is a crucial element in the book, allowing the doctor’s mystery to seep into our bones and create a delicious tension given the lack of viewpoint into Jekyll’s thoughts. To then switch the narrative to Jekyll in the final chapter was an utter masterstroke, connecting us with Jekyll’s thought processes and emotions, solving the mystery, and ultimately, wiping the slate clean.

A true work of art from my favourite classic Scottish author; my only complaint is how famous the tale is. When I think how glorious it would be to read the novel without prior knowledge of Mr. Hyde’s origins, I wish I was born into the smoky London streets of 1886.