‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson [Book Review]

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There are some many things I love about this novella and, I will admit, most of it has to do with my love of Gothic fiction. I’ll also admit that the surprise twist to this story has pretty much been screamed from the rooftops by pop culture so I’m going to make the assumption that you know what I’m talking about (whether through Loony Tunes or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and talk about it. If you have not idea what this story is about, just go read it and come back later–it’s a wonderful read.

I’m going to use the original title since I think the lack of definite article adds to the universality Stevenson was going for in this novella. Stevenson is really trying to show the complexity of the human-psyche in a way no one really had before him. It became really big in the Modernist movement, with writers like Woolf, but this is more of a horror take in what can be coming on in someone’s mind.

This familiar that I called out of my own soul, and sent forth alone to do his good pleasure, was a being inherently malign and villainous; his every act and thought centred on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture to another; relentless like a man of stone.

I love how Jekyll describes Hyde as both a part of his soul and yet uses all this animistic imagery too. There is something other about Hyde but he is simultaneously fundamental to who Jekyll is–they are two halves of one soul. And this is just what Jekyll has to say about himself. The way other characters describe him has a wonderful, terrifying instinctual feel to it of both the wholly other and instantly recognizable.

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The use of narrative perspective is brilliantly used in this novella. Most of the story isn’t told by Jekyll but when it is pay special attention to the pronouns.

The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified; I would scarce use a harder term. But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn toward the monstrous.

Jekyll starts by using the first person pronoun for himself and refers to Hyde in the third person. Also interesting in this quote is the lack of acknowledgement as to what vices Hyde indulged in. There are all kinds of theories about this if you want to check them out. But as the paragraph progresses, the person changes:

Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde; but the situation was apart from ordinary laws, and insidiously relaxed the grasp of conscience.

Same narrator (same paragraph) but both subjects are now being referred to in the third person, as if Jekyll/Hyde is no longer sure which one he is, which personality is the true one–if either of them. This is just one instance in which Stevenson is able to bring the physiological state of the narrator into the writing. It’s subtle but boy, does it show the mastery of his craft–am I fan-girling too much?

I’ve read this novel a few times now and I keep discovering little things about it that make me like it more. Even if it isn’t revolutionary as it was when it was first publish, I still think it deserves to be read more.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

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