By Yvonne Blackwood ~
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written by Robert Louis Stevenson, was published in 1886. A late Victorian novella in the Gothic genre, it has less than sixty pages, but the length should not deter readers. This novella is one of the most powerful and unique books I have read. While Gothic stories tend to have rural settings, this one has an urban setting where the entire story takes place in the city of London.
It has been said that Stevenson was inspired by visions from a dream to write the story and that his first draft was written in three days, however, he burned it at the insistence of his wife. We do not know what was so terrible about that first draft, but we do know that Charles Darwin had published his On The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man by the time Stevenson wrote this novella, and that evolution was a regular topic of conversation causing fear and anxiety at the time. In the end, the second draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde became a bestseller in England and America.
The story is uniquely told as a frame narrative and incorporates three narrators using first-person points of view: Mr. Enfield, Dr. Lanyon, and Dr. Henry Jekyll’s written statement. In addition, Stevenson plays around with time so that the narrative is not linear. Instead, the versions of events selected, are presented to the reader in a certain order and length so as to elicit the effects of suspense and intrigue.
The story begins with Mr. Utterson―Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer―and his distant relative, Mr. Enfield, enjoying their usual Sunday walk. Mr. Enfield points out a certain door and tells his companion that he witnessed a little man trample a child early one morning, caught him, and with a crowd that had gathered, demanded that the man pay one hundred pounds for the abuse. The man went to the said door, opened it and provided Mr. Enfield with gold and a cheque for ninety pounds. According to Enfield, “It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut. . .. It was a man of the name of Hyde.”
The name Hyde arouses suspicions in Utterson because Dr. Jekyll had recently revised his will and had left all his possessions to a Mr. Hyde in case he died or disappeared for more than three months. Since Utterson had never met Hyde, he embarked on a quest to find him and visits Dr. Lanyon, a mutual friend of Jekyll and himself. But Lanyon knew little about Jekyll’s activities because they had lost touch for ten years.
Obsessed with finding out who is the mysterious Mr. Hdye, Utterson haunts the square near the mysterious door, hoping to see the little man entering it. One night after the shops are closed, Utterson meets the fugitive, requests to see his face, and after hesitating, Hyde complies. Now Utterson knows what Hyde looks like. Armed with this knowledge, he visits Jekyll immediately, but the butler tells him that his master is not home. Utterson learns one thing, however, Mr. Hyde has a key to the doctor’s home.
A year later, the high-profile murder of Sir Danvers Carew occurs and a witness states unequivocally, that the murderer is Mr. Hyde. The hunt is on to find Hyde and bring him to justice.
Intrigue builds when Utterson finds Dr. Lanyon’s appearance significantly changed within a week after both men had dined with Jekyll. When asked if he had seen Jekyll, Lanyon replies, “I wish to see or hear no more of Dr. Jekyll.” A week later, Lanyon dies. Through a letter Lanyon leaves behind, Utterson learns that Hyde had transmuted into Jekyll before his very eyes and that had caused a shock and Lanyon’s eventual death.
At the end of the novella, Lanyon’s story is corroborated and the mystery solved by Jekyll’s own written statement in which he explains his past obsession with duplicity and his experimentation with drugs which allowed him to transmute into an abhuman being―Mr. Hyde. The story is indeed a fascinating one and well worth a place on every reader’s bookshelf.
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