Bookworms: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1886) R. L. Stevenson
“Son, you’ve got a condition.” – Security Guard
Dr. Jekyll is mild mannered, intellectual, quiet, and known for his impeccable taste in wine. Mr. Hyde is short, loathsome, and thoroughly evil. So why does Jekyll’s will clearly state that Hyde is to inherit Jekyll’s entire estate upon his death…or disappearance?
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was the first to explore the dual nature of man in a scientific and fantastical way. Dr. Jekyll, a chemist, stumbles upon a formula and ingredients, that when mixed, allow him to completely suppress his good nature and to embrace his inner darkness. Long before Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk, there was Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson is perhaps most well known for his poems and his novels, Treasure Island and Kidnapped!
Many are familiar with the overall plot and general characters of Jekyll and Hyde. Surprisingly, the novel is more of a novella as it is quite short. The strange case is revealed entirely through the perspective of Jekyll’s friend and lawyer Mr. Utterson. Rather than draw out a mystery and a hunt for answers, Stevenson rather plainly sets the location, the plot, quickly precipitates the action, and then follows all of that to its natural conclusion. Jekyll and Hyde has every earmark of being an early draft of what could be a much longer novel. Stevenson dips briefly into introspection as he explores the duality of humanity, good and evil, restrain and revelry, but doesn’t allow himself to actually ponder such things for any length of time. I compare this novel to Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stoker’s Dracula and while both belabored their main character’s inner turmoil and analyzed the nature of humanity to death (literally) Stevenson merely seems to brush up against his themes and thoughts.
I really enjoy Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and find it to be an exemplary form of early science fiction. What frustrates me is the lack of depth to the story, and the fact that everything is related second or third hand through an outside observer. The story could have been much more visceral and meaningful were it told, or even included, direct observation from Jekyll. Sure, there is a letter in which he reveals the mystery, but a letter is necessarily a condescension of the happenings and feelings. The story, and import, lacks immediacy and potency. Put us inside Jekyll, inside Hyde, and let us feel the rush of evil and remorse of restraint and make us wrestle with our own inner Hydes.
If you haven’t actually read the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you owe it to yourself to do so. I just wish there was more to such a great story.