The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

jekyll and hydeThe eternal battle of Good v Evil…

A man and a child accidentally bump into each other at a street corner – a normal everyday incident. But when the child falls down, the man deliberately tramples over her, ignoring her screams of pain. When he is stopped by passers-by, he shows no remorse. This is the reader’s first introduction to Mr Hyde, a man who has no obvious deformity but gives off an air so repellent that strangers passing him in the street shudder without knowing why. But this man has some kind of hold over the eminently respectable and well-known scientist, Dr Jekyll, who not only pays compensation for Hyde’s actions, but also gives him the run of his own house, and has made out his will in Hyde’s favour, leaving him everything should Jekyll die… or disappear. Jekyll’s friend and lawyer is at a loss to understand, but feels it his duty to discover more about the mysterious Mr Hyde…

Mr Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr Utterson regarded him.

Because the story has become so phenomenally well-known, the reader is way ahead of Mr Utterson, the lawyer. In the novella, it’s not till near the end that it’s revealed that Mr Hyde is the result of a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong. But it’s so well written that knowing the story doesn’t hamper enjoyment in any way. Stevenson builds up the tension and horror beautifully, with one of the best uses of London fog I’ve come across, both as providing a cloak for wickedness and vice, and as a metaphor for the darkness within each human soul. Darkness features throughout, with fog rolling into houses, and Mr Utterson having to face the terrifying climax with only the feeble flicker of a candle to light his way.

The Fredric March version from 1932. Hmm... no obvious deformity?
The Fredric March version from 1932. Hmm… no obvious deformity?

A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr Utterson beheld a marvellous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths. The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful reinvasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer’s eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare.

Dr Jekyll refuses to tell Mr Utterson anything about his strange friend, but assures him that he could get rid of Hyde any time he chose. Mr Utterson has to accept that and let the matter rest. But one day, months later, a woman looking out of a window sees a horrifically brutal murder take place. The description she gives of the murderer could only be of Hyde. Mr Utterson races to Hyde’s address in sleazy Soho, but too late! He has vanished! Dr Jekyll seems nervy and upset, but after a while begins to get back into his old routines. Then some weeks later, Mr Utterson receives a visit from Dr Jekyll’s servant – it appears that Mr Hyde is back…

The Spencer Tracy version from 1941
The Spencer Tracy version from 1941. Ah, much better!

I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two… If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path… no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.

There is more than an element of morality tale about the story. Dr Jekyll has always liked to indulge his vices – mostly left, incidentally, to the reader’s imagination, which works so much better than lengthy graphic descriptions would have done. But now that he has become a well-known figure, he has to think about his reputation. So he decides the solution is to split his personality between good and evil. But the experiment doesn’t work the way he hopes – the Hyde side is indeed purely evil, but the Jekyll side doesn’t change – he still retains all his vices and weaknesses even when in that guise, and gradually the Hyde side begins to take control. The suggestion is that, if one gives in to one’s evil side, it will always become dominant, so we must guard against it at all times. It’s not nearly as preachy as I’ve probably just made it sound, though. First and foremost, it’s a thrilling, chilling tale of horror!

Great stuff! I hereby forgive Stevenson for boring me in Kidnapped! And now to watch the film…

* * * * * * *

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

 

It's a fretful porpentine!
It’s a fretful porpentine!

54 thoughts on “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

  1. I am pleased to hear you enjoyed this so much; particularly after you didn’t enjoy Kidnapped. Sadly I found this rather disappointing when I read it quite a few years ago now. Since then I have loved Treasure Island and I found Kidnapped pleasant. So perhaps I need to give this another chance; especially as you’ve made it sound far more tense and multi-layered than I ever remember!

    • I think I enjoyed this more than when I read it years ago, maybe because I’ve been so steeped in horror stories over the last year or so that I now look at them a bit differently to see how they’re written, as much as for the actual chills. I loved the whole fog and darkness thing in this, which I might not have paid as much attention to before. Definitely worth a re-read, I think – and it’s nice and short! I loved Treasure Island but really found Kidnapped dragged, especially in the middle.

  2. Yay! I love Mr The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and so happy you like it too 🙂 One wee thing that has always stuck in my head is RLS’s figurative use of “juggernaut” to describe My Hyde – i think it’s in the scene you describe with the child, in the original anyway. Until that point I’d always thought of juggernaut as a more modern word. It pretty well summed up Mr Hyde. Great stuff indeed 😉

    • It’s a great one, isn’t it? It’s odd – I always think of Stevenson as coming from an earlier time than he did for some reason. I’m always surprised to remember that, as classics go, he’s actually fairly modern. He uses descriptive language so well – he really makes you visualise what he’s describing! And Mr Hyde is a great creation – he could have overdone it with descriptions of his evil acts, but leaving it mostly to the imagination works brilliantly…

  3. One of the finest books ever written and the fact that the story is so well-known is testament to its brilliance! I was never taken with Treasure Island, I must say – even though I desperately wanted to love it. Good to see the fretful porpentine making an appearance – he is a splendid chap!

  4. I read it long years ago. When I was … ummm maybe 12? The story was more interesting then my age. It was horrifying to me. Things like that had never happened where I lived. Things have changed. It’s almost like some of these authors have a prophetic bent.

  5. Thanks for posting! I was riveted by this book when I read it a few years ago. It’s such a gripping read. I’m glad you mentioned the London fog description as that was something that really stayed with me after reading this book. It might be due a re-read following your review! Bronte Turner

    • It’s great, isn’t it? I recently read a book about London fog (called London Fog surprisingly!) and how it was used by writers and artists to create atmosphere, so I’ve become very conscious of any references to fog at the moment. And Stevenson really uses it brilliantly! If you do get a chance to re-read it, I hope you enjoy it just as much again!

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 🙂

  6. Isn’t this a fantastic story, FictionFan? I’ve always loved the way Stevenson was able to create such a moody, even gothic atmosphere. And of course, the story itself is really chilling. Love it!

    • Brilliant, isn’t it? it shows how good it is when it doesn’t matter that the story is so familiar. I loved the way he built up the atmosphere – after recently reading the factual book about ‘London Fog’ I was really aware of how great his descriptions of it were. And Mr Hyde is such a fantastic creation… 🙂

  7. An outstanding story, one I remember reading years ago. I particularly enjoy Stevenson’s writing style here — chilling to the bone, you know. Glad we finally found one we agree on, too! And seeing that porpentine with its little paws clasped prayer-like is a special treat!

    • Ha! Yes! It’s always great to agree about a book – though sometimes disagreeing can be fun too… 😉 It’s brilliant, isn’t it? I thought I might be so familiar with the story I’d find it dull, but he builds up so much atmosphere that it’s still amazingly tense. Great stuff! And I love that little porpy…!

    • Yes, indeed, I was worried I might find that knowing the story so well might make it a dull read, but it’s written so well that he really manages to build up the atmosphere and tension, even if we do know what happens! And it’s short… 😉

  8. Love this book! He’s one of the most evocative writers I’ve ever read…which sticks out to me because most description in a book is wasted on me. I just can’t see it…but I can with him!

    Though I didn’t take as much note of the fog last time I read it. I’ll have to go back and look for that.

    • It’s great, isn’t it? Yes, I’m the same – I rarely actually visualise the things writers are describing unless they do it incredibly well – and Stevenson had me peering through that fog and seeing the dark sky… I recently read a book all about how writers used London fog in their work, so I suspect I’m more aware of it than usual at the moment. And now for the film… or possibly the films… I’ve seen the Spencer Tracy one before, but I don’t think I’ve seen the Fredric March version…

    • Haha! No, I fear it must be your mind! Probably trauma brought on by lack of bookshelves – I knew you were taking a risk! I did review Thrawn Janet, another of his horror stories, but very different from this one. The sad news is I’ll be reviewing the film of this soon – but I fear that may drive you completely over the edge…

    • Ooh, I’d like to see that! I’d think it’d be quite hard to do. Well, don’t let Kidnapped put you off, because from what I’ve read of him, it’s the one I liked least. This one is great…and short! Always an advantage in horror stories, I find…

  9. Great review. I of course am a Stevenson “nut” – I loved all his books, even the less well known ones like Prince Otto and The Black Arrow. I can’t believe I didn’t force-feed you J & H at a much earlier age – what was I doing? I started much earlier: I got Kidnapped and Catriona as a school prize when I was nine and was hooked for life. I read everything else within a year or two.

  10. Since you mentioned the movies, did you ever see Mary Reilly? It’s the J&H story told from the perspective of a housemaid. I started watching it fully prepared to hate it and maybe not even finish it, but it was surprisingly good.

    • No, I haven’t heard of it – must check it out. Thanks for the rec! I’ve just watched the two classic films with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March so I’m kinda steeped in the whole thing now! It’s such a great story – so much they can do with it…

      Ooh, just looked it up and see it’s Julia Roberts – one of my faves… 😀

    • I’ve just watched the two classic film versions over the last two nights so I’m kinda drowning in it now! They’re so old they’re a bit creaky but both still very enjoyable…

  11. Oh cool! I like that the reader–if they didn’t know the story–wouldn’t know what Hyde was about really. That’s really neatio.

    You should watch Abbot and Costello’s version, haha.

    I think that’s a fake stuffed animal!

    • Yes, I wish sometimes it was possible to read these books the way the first readers did, knowing nothing about them. Maybe you should knock me on the head with your shillelagh…

      *laughs* Oh, I was so hoping it would be available on youtube, but sadly not…

      *gasps* I don’t believe you! You canNOT be jealous of that sweet little thing just because it’s nearly as c&a as you…

      • I won’t knock you on the head! What a thought. Still, it’d be cool to forget all about it. But it speaks volumes that it was still interesting even though you knew about it. My shillelagh! That is like so hard to spell.

        I grew up watching that, can you believe! i think I have it memorized.

        Well, you call it c&a, but what about all the spikes on its back?

        • Awww! Well, I won’t stamp on your foot, then! (For a while.) Indeed! The best stories are the ones that can stand re-reading. *laughs* I think I just kinda make the spelling up every time and assume no-one will know if it’s right or wrong…

          I really want to see it now! I must track it down…

          If you can be spicy, I don’t see why it can’t be spiky! See? You’re almost twins…

          • Hahahahahahaha. Funny you admitted that. It’s so odd, in truth. Tell you what, just abbreviate it from now on… I’ll know what it is, promise. Abbrev: Sh.

            Oh no! Don’t do it. *shudders*

            Well, I probably have spikes, too. *nods*

            • *laughs* That sounds like a plan! I wonder if I should replace my peashooter with a sh – what do you think? Less ladylike perhaps, but maybe cooler…

              Haha! OK!

              But is your nose as cute? *considers*

            • Lizio would always look cool whatever she did, but I’m glad you’re finally beginning to appreciate her… *nods*

              Hmm… I don’t know. The porpy’s is sweet, I grant you, but it’s not pink…

    • I re-read Treasure Island a couple of years ago for the first time since I was a kid, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it – rollicking stuff! I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic about Kidnapped unfortunately…

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