Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily
I think it is almost impossible to have reached adulthood without having seen one version or other of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I am no exception. That means that I took in quite a few unfounded assumptions about the novella.
It was first published way back in 1886 and has become firmly embedded in our culture where we sometimes find people described as “Jekyll and Hyde” in character. So what is this slight, 75 pages in my edition, novella all about?
Gabriel Utterson is a London lawyer and friend of Dr Henry Jekyll. It is through him we learn the terrible tale of the doctor and his experimentation. He is taking his regular weekly walk with his cousin, Richard Enfield, when they pass by a door that evokes a disturbing story from his companion.
Two doors from one corner on the left hand going east, the line was broken by the entry of a court; and just at that point a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two stories high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower story and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence.
And there begins the sinister overtones that continue throughout.
The story that Enfield relates is about one Edward Hyde and his callous treatment of a child in the street. It arouses Utterson’s interest as he has in his possession the very unusual and recently amended will of his friend, Dr Jekyll, in which Edward Hyde is now a beneficiary. Out of concern that Jekyll is being blackmailed, Utterson seeks out Hyde, and despite the sinister overtones Stevenson manages to put in a small dose of humour. I wonder if he smirked to himself as he wrote this line.
“If he be Mr. Hyde,” he had thought, “I shall be Mr. Seek.”
Upon confronting Edward Hyde, Utterson like all who come in to contact with him find him to be repellent and in some way deformed. Utterson describes him thus.
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.
We follow Utterson as he takes us through the varying behaviour of his friend Jekyll, and that of Hyde. Eventually Hyde’s behaviour becomes so outrageous that the inevitable happens and a man is murdered. It is only the last twenty-six pages that we finally get to find out about Dr. Jekyll’s experimentation and experiences as well as his musing on what his transformation is about.
It is very easy to say that this novella is about humanity’s duality – good vs evil, civilised vs primitive – and no doubt there is a lot to read in to it should you wish to. Personally I found that it spoke more to our own conscience and how we come to control those aspects of our character which are ‘base’, wild or, putting it mildly, antisocial.
For modern readers it is also the foundation of our ‘superhero’ dual lives, and more than one ‘superhero’ character.
It is not the easiest of the Stevenson works that I have read. The language feels much more Victorian than Treasure Island, which I wrote about briefly on my own blog a few years ago, and required me to work a little harder while reading, but at a mere 70-odd pages it is a very quick and interesting iconic story to read. If you’re looking for a quick and easy ‘classic’ for a few hours of your time, then this one would be a good choice.