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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Last night I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It was a short read and went quickly. I thought it was odd how well so many know the basics of the Jekyll/Hyde concept but not the story. Till last night, myself included I might add.

I had expected a more evil Hyde, but it’s a positively mild evil everyone in the story is up in arms about and I suppose most of the horror in the tale is lost over time as the novelty of the concept and the specter of medical miracles of that nature no longer holds sway.

In any case, it was an unremarkable story for the most part. I wondered how it might be different if I didn’t know of Dr. Jekyll’s alter ego but there is nothing I could do about that. I thought the ending, with Dr. Lanyon’s involvement was a nice little part of the plot but to me the story really boils down to Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case, the final chapter.

In it, Jekyll touches on the good and the evil within all, and puts a much more personal face on a psychological struggle within himself. The story is the better for it because it neither invoked horror nor excitement and the deeply tortured individual is the most interesting thing going.

Reading the final chapter I wondered if the book would have been better to have left the transformation the potion causes more ambiguous, leaving open the possibility of madness of a more clinical, and less supernatural, cause for his dual personalities. I also wondered if Stevenson had intended any parallels to alcohol in the transformative potion, whether he had himself put much importance in the philosophy or psychology behind his story or whether he was simply spinning a tale of terror.

In any case, the correspondence between the three friends, Utterson, Jekyll and Lanyon was ultimately the more interesting part of the book. The narrative was dull given the inadequacy of the plot to me but the personal letters opened much more personal worlds and put a much more human face on the story.

What spooked those of yesteryear may have changed, but putting a human face on a story seems to be eternal. I liked Jekyll’s tortured explanation for his plight and the rest worked well enough as backstory building up to it.

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