Published in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson drafted The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in his sickbed, where eventually, an iconic tale exploring the complexities of the human nature was born. The novella is, in essence, a chronicle of the age-old ideology of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ personified in the form of the respectable Dr. Jekyll, and his terrifying alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, a troglodytic entity with a predilection towards acts of ‘moral turpitude.’ Penned in the gothic fashion, the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one that sheds much light upon Stevenson’s thoughts on ambition and the excesses of scientific rationalism, and is a riveting psychoanalytical study on the various facets of man.
The story itself, however, is told through a man of reason, a Mr. Utterson. The tale itself begins when an account of a “juggernaut” callously trampling a young child reaches Utterson’s ears, the first description of Mr. Hyde. Throughout various encounters, he discovers that Hyde is in fact closely connected towards his dear friend Dr. Jekyll, and eventually, he learns that the decorous Jekyll and sinister Hyde are in fact one and the same. In due time, the mystery is cleared. Jekyll, a zealous chemist, armed with his ‘truth’—that “man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson, 65)—had discovered a way to separate the ‘good,’ from the ‘evil.’ And thus, Mr. Hyde was born through a dangerous exploration of science with the gulp of a chemical concoction. The remainder of the book is devoted to a battle of good and evil, of Jekyll versus Hyde and ends ultimately with the demise of both.
This book was quite interesting as it took on a Victorian perspective of day-to-day life, which allows the audience to fully explore the differences between present-day ideologies and Victorian principles (an example being physiognomy, the perhaps outdated ‘science’ of deducing character from physical features, and thus, Hyde, with his malformed features, must be the embodiment of evil). One realizes just how much society centuries before had valued social conduct, propriety, and above all, reputation. Another particularly interesting attribute of the book is Stevenson’s choice of the primary narrator. While Utterson is a delightful ‘commentator’ in his own way, would it not have been easier to make his point on the duality of human nature in the perspective of Dr. Jekyll or perhaps even Hyde? Nevertheless, Utterson is a pleasant contrast towards the character of Dr. Jekyll, and being very much of a self-disciplined man, he provides a unique window towards life in the Victorian era.
An important aspect of the writing within the novella is Stevenson’s portrayal of setting. The setting is described in astounding detail, with each image as if shifting from one emotion to the next through Stevenson’s masterful manipulation of words. The book appears to be divided in to sections each comprised with its unique style. While some may bear a sense of foreboding—an example being the passage from page 42 where Stevenson writes “…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, [it] seemed…like a district of some city in a nightmare,”—most others are composed in a more factual manner (one reputably compared towards that of a police report). It almost seems as if Stevenson had purposefully placed the two varying styles side by side so as to emphasize certain points of his novella. One can then able to truly comprehend what each character experiences as we devour page after page, and discern the individuality of each passage. Vivid imagery, regardless of its ‘tone,’ is never at a loss within this timeless classic.
In a sense, this is a narrative of the struggle for identity, a fight between what is ‘civilized’ and what is socially unacceptable—essentially, the liberation of one’s true self rather than the public’s perception. The book therefore, might appeal towards an audience composed of teenagers and adults with its somewhat frightening philosophical stand and moral implications. However, it is remains very much of a timeless classic with its fascinating points on the power of one’s conscience and mankind’s engrained predilection towards evil.
“In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.” —(Robert Louis Stevenson)