Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Just finished reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  I’m reading this book to include as part of my Vintage Sci Fi being hosted by the Little Red Reviewer and also the Sci Fi Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings.

This is the classic story of a man who experiments with his own nature with disastrous results.

I do have mixed feelings about this story.  I can’t say I didn’t like it but at the same time I felt a little bit underwhelmed, I think perhaps I was expecting something a bit more horrible and dastardly.  It may also partly be due to the fact that the twist in the tale is already known to me.  Perhaps reading this story when it was originally written and not at that point knowing that Mr Hyde was in fact Dr Jekyll I can imagine the surprise you would receive.

What the story is really good at is looking at people’s nature.  I suppose you could say that Dr Jekyll struggles in keeping himself on the straight and narrow.  He comes up with the idea that by experimentation he can separate his two identities – the good and the bad – and with this in mind he basically develops a drug.  At this point I’m not quite sure that the drug really worked in the way he intended.  It allows him to roll back the years and become a less inhibited version of his self where he has no reserves or rules, Mr Hyde.  Nobody likes Hyde.  People shy away instinctively from him.  He seems to ooze evil.  Now, this is one of the parts I wasn’t sure of – did Jekyll really intend to just release the ‘bad’ inner self – the nature of which soon starts to dominate the ‘good’?  Or was he hoping that by separating the two he would have more control over both sides.  Effectively he develops two personas, Dr Jekyll himself does indeed seem to become more gentle and reserved but in splitting the two aspects of his nature the bad side seems to have the upper hand and Dr Jekyll begins to struggle in maintaining a presence at all.  Again, is this because Jekyll was already more predisposed to the evil side of his character – it does make you wonder.

The start of the story is told through Jekyll’s solicitor who has recently rewritten the Dr’s will to ensure that Hyde inherits his fortune.  The solicitor suspecting fowl prey begins to insist on seeing more of Jekyll to satisfy himself that the gentleman hasn’t become the victim of some scheme of Hydes.  Of course, it becomes more and more difficult to see Jekyll as he is rapidly losing control to the bad side of his nature.  Things spiral more out of control after Hyde is witnessed committing a murder which necessitates him going into hiding – difficult to do as the drug taken by Jekyll to induce the split seems no longer to work effectively and Hyde has become the dominant one.

At about two thirds into the story we then change tack in the way the story is told as we read a memoir written by Jekyll before his ultimate and untimely demise in which he writes of his experiments and subsequent struggles.

I did like the way this makes you think about human nature.  Clearly Jekyll seem more predisposed to commit wrongs and struggled to remain on the side of good – in taking this drug he appears to have indulged not just in his own guilty pleasures but also in his own addictive nature.  By the time he realises the damage he’s causing it’s already two late for him and he seeks solitude in a desperate attempt to remain undiscovered.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading this – it’s only a short story and very readable.  I think personally I had some misguided notion about spending time with Jekyll as he tries to uncover his serum and works into the early hours, pent up in his laboratory and also maybe being more of a witness to the struggles he encounters during the change.  I also hadn’t quite realised just how literal the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde change would be – I always kind of imagined it was almost like a dual personality – but in the actual story Jekyll physically changes – his looks, his age, even his stature.

Anyway, I’m glad I read this but I think it’s probably one of those books where it’s own fame has outreached the actual story itself.

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13 Responses to “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson”

  1. TBM

    I read this a year ago. I think my experience was a bit more enjoyable–maybe because I read it in one night in London when it was rainy and spooky outside. The mood was perfect. I do have to agree that either the story is a little dated or we know too much about it before starting since it was as intense as it may have been when it was first released.

    • lynnsbooks

      I think having too much fore knowledge of the story probably spoiled it for me. I might have enjoyed a different style really – perhaps a bit more from Jekyll. Overall, not a bad book – probably more enjoyable with a spooky day outside.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Carl V.

    I don’t remember the story well enough to know now what I think about the story itself. Like you the main twist of the story is well-known and that could be part of what lessened the excitement for you. I’ll have to go back to this one some time. I’ve read Dracula many times over the years and I know I love the old language and the way the story builds up the creepy atmosphere. I like Phantom of the Opera for that reason too. I’d be curious if my experience echoed yours or TBMs.

    • lynnsbooks

      Well, thinking on it some more, probably the first two thirds of the story is told by the solicitor who is consumed with anxiety and suspicion about Hyde – but it is difficult to share that feeling when you already know who he is. I really enjoyed the latter part which is a memoir by Jekyll and I would really have liked it if it had been told in a more linear style – by Jekyll. Having said that I’m saying that from the present era and also because I already knew the story so I’m thinking I would have enjoyed that style more – but, like I said when it was originally released it must have come across as really suspenseful.
      Lynn 😀

      • Carl V.

        I can imagine it was. That is the one thing about living in an age when we know so much more and have seen ideas like this explored so much, it is hard to be surprised by anything. But when we are…wow!!

        So glad you are enjoying Wool! That ending of the first story just sucks you in and you have to know what happens next.

    • lynnsbooks

      BTW – reading Wool – wow! Need to go on email and chat loads about what’s going on. The start was just brilliant. And now – the Sheriff! OMG!
      Lynn 😀

  3. jessicabookworm

    I read this many years a go now when I first made a conscience effort to read classics. This was my first story by Stevenson and it put me off him for some years as I was like you said ‘underwhelmed’. Fortunately I read Treasure Island last year and so my faith in Stevenson was returned.

    • lynnsbooks

      Treasure Island is great! I don’t dislike Stevenson’s writing I just think I was expecting something different with this story. I’m sure though that it would have been quite gripping if the outcome wasn’t already known to me!
      Lynn 😀

  4. Redhead

    I’ve seen so many references to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in movies and comics and other books, that it would be a shame for me to not read the original story. Even if I already know the twist at the end. 😉

    I love how a lot of early speculative fiction deals with human nature. at the time, was fantastical stories the only safe way to explore human nature? could questions like the ones posed in Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde not be asked in polite society?

    • lynnsbooks

      Certainly not!! Imagine the shock. 😉 Part of Jekyll’s whole problem was that he liked his darker nature but was afraid of being ousted from polite society and by splitting his more evil side Hyde got to enjoy himself completely without any inhibitions or recrimination. Unfortunately for Jekyll that was clearly the stronger part of his own nature which was maybe why it started to take over.
      Lynn 😀

  5. cherylmahoney

    How odd…I can’t remember if I’ve read this! I *think* so…but if so, years and years ago. It’s been overshadowed in my memory by movie versions! Rather like the cultural impression of the book, I think…

    Fascinating discussion on personality and human nature. Great review!

    • lynnsbooks

      I think I went into this with some rather naive feelings that it would all be about the experimentation! I was expecting dark and gothic and spending time with Jekyll in some sort of dark laboratory! I think now I’ve had a little time away from it I probably appreciate it more – the thing with this is that the whole premise is based on the whole mystery around who Hyde is and of course it’s a redundant question these days.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Vintage Sci Fi: Book No.5 | Books and travelling with Lynn

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