Sunday, August 11, 2013
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Posted by JaneGS
I've long been a fan of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels and poems, and have long wanted to read his horror story The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, published in 1886. I picked up an audio version at the library, and was surprised it was only 2 discs and 2.5 hours long. So much shorter than I expected that I doubled-checked that it was, in fact, an unabridged version.
While it was a short book, a novella really, I found it plenty long actually. The first part dragged a bit. It is a framed story, in which Dr Jekyll's lawyer and friend tells of his suspicions regarding his friend's protege, a Mr. Hyde, who is Dr Jekyll's sole beneficiary in his will and who strikes everyone who encounters him as evil incarnate.
I found the dancing around in this first half of the book to be tedious--I was eager to get to who Jekyll and Hyde were and found the lawyer's musings to be a trifle dull and a bit coy. However, once I got to the part where the lawyer read the letter Jekyll left to be read should something happen to him, the story got much more interesting.
While listening to Jekyll's story of his descent into hell, I couldn't help but think of both Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The former was published 4 years after Jekyll and Hyde in 1890, and the latter was published near the beginning of the 19th century, in 1818.
Jekyll/Hyde explores the idea of a person having two natures--one good and one evil (or the ego and the id, in Freudian terms). Jekyll, the doctor, experiments with drugs that enable the evil nature within him to come to the forefront of his personality, and when this happens his body undergoes a physical transformation as well. What this means is that when Jekyll takes the drug, he becomes Mr Hyde is personality as well as physical appearance. This means Jekyll can enjoy doing evil things because no ones knows that Jekyll has become Hyde. By taking the drug, he can put on a mask and let loose the dogs of war with no consequences to his reputation. His conscience, however, still functions, and as Hyde's devilry increases, Jekyll feels remorse and responsibility.
In a similar manner, Dorian Gray's beauty hides his true evil nature, which the portrait accurately reflects. Jekyll becomes Hyde when he lets his evil nature reign; Dorian's body masks his evil nature, which no one can see unless they view his portrait.
With regards to Frankenstein, both Dr Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll are talented scientists whose major character flaw is unbridled ambition, and their pursuit of glory leads to their downfall. Not only that, but their downfalls are very similar. The monster gets out of hand, assumes control of the situation, and will not be bridled.
I think it's so interesting the Frankenstein and Jekyll/Hyde and Dorian Gray bookend the 19th century--Mary Shelley really did anticipate many of the themes that increasing industrialization and scientific reliance that writers and other artists explored 80 years later.