Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

June 1, 2007 at 12:20 pm (Book review, Eloquence)

Have I ever actually sat down and read this book? I don’t know for sure, but I just finished listening to a reading of it by Alexander Spencer. What is the word to describe the feeling it evoked? “Harrowing,” I think, sums it up best.

I have nothing original to add to the extensive critiques and analyses of this masterwork. I can only recommend the audiobook, this experience of listening to a story that is so genuinely frightening because it strikes so close to the most basic question of existence: Do all human beings, no matter how good, harbor a secret compulsion to do evil? How do we defeat the urge to commit acts of malevolence while assuring that the good in our nature prevails?

There is an interesting story about how this book came to be written. The time was October of 1885. The story had come to Stevenson in a nightmare, from which his wife Fanny awakened him. He told her that he wished that she hadn’t done so, because “”I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.” After he completed his first draft of Dr Jekyll, he shared it with Fanny and stepson Lloyd. Fanny had serious reservations; she felt he was spinning a tale that had profound allegorical implications, which he had neglected to bring forward. Supposedly Stevenson stormed back upstairs. (He was already partially bedridden with the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him at the age of 48.) Hours later, he returned to his family, telling Fanny she was right and chucking the manuscript into the fire. In the next three days, he rewrote the entire novel; that is the version which we have today.

The writing in this novel – more a novella, really; the Barnes and Noble Classic clocks in at 73 pages – is compelling and beautiful, and served to remind me once again of how eager I am to return to the classics (a major retirement project, methinks). Here is a passage that precedes the opening of a bottle of fine wine:

” The fog still slept on the wing above the drowned city, where the lamps glimmered like carbuncles; and through the muffle and smother of these fallen clouds, the procession of the town’s life was still rolling in through the great arteries wth the sound as of a mighty wind. But the room was gay with firelight. In the bottle the acids were long ago resolved; the imperial dye had softened with time, as the colour grows richer in stained glass windows; and the glow of hot autumn afternoons on hillside vineyards, was ready to be set free and to disperse the fogs of London.”

If I had to choose one sentence from this book that chilled me to the bone it would be this one:

“My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring.”

 

 

 

robert-louis-stevenson.jpg jekyll-mansfield.jpg

[Robert Louis Stevenson, and an eerie double exposure (1895) portraying the stark duality of Jekyll/Hyde. In the photograph, actor Richard Mansfield plays both parts, naturally – or unnaturally.]

3 Comments

  1. Amit said,

    Hi – Recently read this novella – half on my mobile and the rest online. Gripping tale based on an easily understood theme.

    What chilled me to the bone: the line — “I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; ”

    Can read my review here:
    http://www.myvoice.in/2007/06/dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-review.html

    regds,

    amit

  2. mrschili said,

    I’m teaching this story to my literature class, and enjoying reading it for the first time. There was much in it that I found intriguing, and I got a lot of mileage out of it in the classroom.

    One of my favorite lines? “I chose the better part and was found wanting in the strength to keep it.”

  3. “Walk on the Wild Side” « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] influence Stevenson has had on Scottish literature. I heartily recommend reading, or re-reading, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I did so last year and was amazed at the punch still packed by that slender […]

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