Catching Up on the Classics is a new feature on the blog where I’ll be doing some much needed catching up on classic novels.
Dr. Jekyll has lived a life of high-minded respectability and scientific aspiration among friends for many years, so when, gradually and inexplicably, he begins to withdraw from society and presents his lawyer with a bizarre new will, his associates are baffled and suspect blackmail. The key to the mystery appears to lie with the sinister Mr. Hyde, who has begun to stalk the foggy streets of London, producing an inexpressible terror in those he encounters, and exerting a powerful control over the helpless Dr. Jekyll.
Inspired by a feverish dream and composed in a matter of days, Stevenson’s classic horror fantasy has held an unparalleled fascination for generations of readers. Whilst playing on the peculiarly Victorian fears of animality and regression, and contemporary anxiety over the hubristic advance of science, Stevenson contrives to create and ambiance of pure tragedy. The result is a tale an involving and poignant to a reader today as at its time of writing, and a shocking warning of the savage beast sleeping within us all.
Year Published: 1886 (130 years ago)
Evolution – man was suddenly not divine, but closely related to animals
Regression/Repression – in the Victorian Era, people were expected to repress all their ‘animal’ urges to be ‘respectable’. Hence, this novel explores the fine line between emotion and composure
Science – The Victorian Era marked huge scientific advances, but also fear of what this experimentation may lead to
“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.”
Referenced just about everywhere, everyone has heard of Jekyll and Hyde. But if you have managed to avoid someone ruining the ending for you, this review does contain some spoilers.
The story has always fascinated me, so I decided it was about time I read Stevenson’s novel. It’s not what I thought it would be, not what all the adaptations make it out to be, but in a lot of ways this version, about the evils lurking within every person’s soul, is the most chilling.
There’s an excellent article on Tor about what everyone gets wrong about Jekyll and Hyde that I’d recommend reading after completing the novel, or, if you have no desire to read the original, then it’s a great way to understand the complexities of these characters.
Coming in at under a hundred pages, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is fast read. The mood is unsettling and fearful, restricted in setting and character so that it reads almost like a play. Despite knowing the ending, it is still suspenseful, so I can only imagine how tense it must have been to read it when it first came out.
What I found most surprising is that the real horror is not finding out that Jekyll is Hyde, but why. This is cleverly revealed in a two-part conclusion: first, it is disclosed that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same, then immediately after, Jekyll’s motives are explained from his own perspective. And, without returning to the narration, that is how the story ends, leaving you to figure things out for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Ultimately, Jekyll and Hyde is a fascinating, if not rather disconcerting, examination of human nature, one that leaves you questioning good and evil, and asks you to question your own duality. Highly recommended.