Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The third book in my look at Victorian genre fiction is Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is by far the shortest, but also most famous, book I’m looking at. While the story itself is a novella and thus not very long, I have the Norton Critical Edition, which gives very helpful annotations, particularly on words that have become archaic, or changed in meaning in the 125 years since the story came out.
Mr. Utterson is a local lawyer who happens to be good friends with both Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll, both of whom he has known since childhood. However, into their daily lives another man, Mr. Edward Hyde, becomes embroiled, and with each passing day seems to be more entwined than anyone ever suspected. And when Dr. Lanyon dies, Mr. Utterson is left with a complex web of terror that involves his dearest friend, Dr. Jekyll.
While the story itself may seem very familiar to modern readers, those who have never read the novella before will be in for a bit of a surprise. The story varies dramatically at times from that of popular legend. Stevenson’s characters feel incredibly real and human, and his evil Mr. Hyde becomes horrific not out of visceral violence and gore, but out of his deep uncaring for his fellow man.
An easy day’s read, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not just worth the time it takes to read it, but is far more than that. As far as early horror stories go, this one works because it relies not on the gross-out but on the psychological suspense. A wonderful tale.