The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Despite being a slim novel of only ten chapters, this novel packs a punch. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is an unsettling, nerve-inducing exploration of what it is to give into your base desires, and the inability to escape them once you have succumbed.
The tale is largely narrated by Mr Utterson, a lawyer. His good friend Dr Jekyll has been acting strangely of late, and our story opens with Mr Utterson and his cousin Mr Enfield discussing the matter of their mutual acquaintance.
It transpires that a certain Mr Hyde has been terrorising the streets of London. Mr Enfield tells of how he saw the man trample a girl’s head and has been seen causing mischief around the area of Dr Jekyll’s residence. He later beats a man to death. Mr Utterson is horrified to discover that his friend, Dr Jeykll, has named Mr Hyde the sole beneficiary of his will. When he confronts his friend, Dr Jekyll assures Mr Utterson that he has nothing to worry about and promises he is back to his normal self.
For a few months, Dr Jekyll does seem to be back to his old self, but it is not long before he starts refusing visitors again. When Jekyll’s butler comes calling for Mr Utterson in the middle of the night, begging him to come to the doctor’s laboratory, Mr Utterson discovers the true extent to what Jeykll has been up to.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is cemented as one of the defining horror stories of English literature, so much so that the title is even casually bandied about to describe someone who’s behaviour is a volatile, a little ‘Jekyll-and-Hyde.’ Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel is short and therefore claustrophobic, a feature of its contemporaries in the horror genre.
The setting of London on the cusp of scientific and industrial breakthroughs is the perfect backdrop for this unsettling tale. Issues of morality, good and evil and scientific progress are all explored in a city that encapsulated both progress and historical depth. The gloomy, smoggy streets of London by night are the perfect stomping ground for the likes of Edward Hyde to cause havoc.
For fans of horror who have not previously read the tale from which so many tropes originate, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a must-read. Though the prose might seem a little inaccessible to the modern reader more used to break-neck pacing and first-person narration of contemporary literature, the compelling tale and dark characterisation of its protagonists are sure to resonate regardless.
Is it true that this drew a larger contemporary audience as a stage play than as a novel? And your review reminded me that I’ve never read it! Might be time to correct that oversight.