Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Classics Advisory: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Happy Samhain, good readers! In honor of my all-time favorite holiday, I have a special Halloween treat for you all. Starting with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I will occasionally review old classics and advise which readers may be interested in them. Classics aren’t for everyone, and some of them are almost unpalatable to modern taste—but there are some that are as appealing today as they were to their original audiences. So without further ado, my review of Stevenson’s classic…

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886; Signet Classics, 2012, 144pp.)

There sprang up ... in the lawyer’s mind a singularly strong, almost an inordinate, curiosity to behold the features of the real Mr. Hyde.”
Two years before Jack the Ripper’s killing spree held sway over London’s East End, Robert Louis Stevenson penned a short, brutish tale about the darkness that lurks within even the kindliest of men. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a frame story, meaning that it’s a story within a story, within a story. It’s told partly through narration, and partly through a series of documents that characters leave for one another to read. It begins with Mr. Utterson, a lawyer and compatriot to the successful chemist Dr. Henry Jekyll, who is investigating his friend’s connection to one Edward Hyde. Hyde is a fiendish man who has made several memorable appearances in the neighborhood. He is “pale and dwarfish,” someone who “[gives] an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation...” He carries himself with “a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness,” and speaks “with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice...” (12). His is a frightening, almost caricatured portrait of the very epitome of ill will. He literally tramples people underfoot should they cross his path on the street, and at one point, beats a man to death in a senseless fit of rage. Utterson’s cause for concern stems from the sudden change Jekyll has made to his will, instructing that in the event of his “sudden disappearance,” his entire estate is to be put at the disposal of Mr. Hyde. As Utterson continues his investigation, he soon realizes that there’s an even stranger connection between the two men that he had ever dreamed possible...

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will of course know exactly what that connection is: Jekyll is Hyde (and vice versa)! Jekyll’s very transformation from mild-mannered doctor to fiendish “juggernaut” is a reminder that even the most pleasant and presentable among us could be hiding a foul interior. Stevenson’s tale is a marvelous little work, excellent for Halloween readings and other spooky occasions. While it has plenty of creep factor to it, it’s still pretty tame when compared to Stephen King’s stuff. The downside for Dr. J and Mr. H is that as a novella, it’s really too short to do anything other than explore its premise, leaving its characters as little more than bare sketches on the page.

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