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.