Book Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Title: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Genre: Classics, Gothic horror

Our house has been a flurry of activity lately. Hurricane Matthew evacuees (my parents), triathlon training, and today, the beginning of a major master bathroom renovation. Demolition is happening as I write, our cats are freaking out, and I am trying my best to avoid the noise, calm the cats, and get a book review posted!

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Poor kitty. I feel bad for both of our fur-babies today, who have no idea why there are strange men and so many loud noises happening in their precious home. They are keeping me company in the home office today, which is as far away from the renovation area as you can get.

I feel so sorry for them.

Okay, on to the book review.

“With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”

Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic horror novel has been adapted so many times that I honestly had no idea what to expect from the original. So many books and movies have been influenced by this short novella: The League of Extraordinary GentlemenThe Incredible Hulk, Van Helsing, the many movie adaptations, and even an appearance in Looney Tunes, just to name a few. Was it going to be as timeless as its characters? Or will the frequent appearances in pop culture take away from the original storyline to this modern-day reader?

We start with Mr. Utterson – a sensible lawyer – listening to his friend Enfield tell a somewhat sinister tale about a mysterious Mr. Hyde. Mr. Utterson has heard Hyde’s name before, connected to his boyhood friend Dr. Jekyll, and sets out to find the relationship between the two.

I feel as if I have been familiar with the “good” Jekyll and “evil” Hyde my entire life, but I haven’t. Not really. And the first thing I realized was that despite appearances, Stevenson does not make the good versus evil divide that clear-cut. No…just like real life, there are multiple shades of grey in between. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Dr. Jekyll.

Dr. Jekyll is deeply conflicted about hidden vices that stem back to his young adulthood, but the precise nature of these vices are never named. The Victorian era is known for its social constraint, so one has to wonder if these “vices” were truly immoral acts, or just an alternate lifestyle condemned by Victorian sensitivities. This inner turmoil influences his scientific work, as he seeks to develop a potion that will separate the evil side of himself from the good part.

When he successfully creates this potion, the split did not happen as he thought it would:

Hence, although I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll, that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had already learned to despair. The movement was thus wholly toward the worse.

Stevenson’s prose is engaging, but I am generally not a fan of much of the plot happening in the form of a written letter, as it does in the latter part of the novella. I probably will not rank Jekyll and Hyde at the top of my list of favorite classics, but it is certainly an interesting, thought-provoking book to read. What is the nature of good and evil? Is human nature inherently a duality, as Stevenson suggests in this novel? Were Jekyll’s scientific experiments ethical? How did the expectations of Victorian society influence Jekyll’s decisions?

What I liked best about the The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  was the questions that it raised for the reader.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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