Book Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Image from Goodreads

As part of my Halloween and spooky-themed month on the blog, I wanted to revisit a book that I have read before but which I feel I did not fully understand at the time: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

To start, something that I like from both the Introduction and Afterword of my copy of the book (the Signet Classic version as shown above) are the emphasis from Vladimir Nabokov and Dan Chaon, respectively, to forget all that you know about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Pop culture definitely ran with this iconic story and has infiltrated the minds of many with re-tellings and parodies.

But when it comes down to it, the story is quite simple and very short. Many interpretations in film or T.V. have embellished a story that is otherwise the bare bones of Stevenson’s desire to bring to life an actual nightmare he had while sleeping one night.

Published in 1886, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tells the story of a respectable man (Dr. Henry Jekyll) who experiments with a concoction that transforms him into the other side of himself – his evil side. The narrative switches from that of Mr. Utterson, the lawyer who is mystified by Dr. Jekyll’s will that states “in the case of his disappearance” to give everything to Mr. Edward Hyde”, to that of Dr. Lanyon, whose health deteriorates by the unsettling encounter he has with Mr. Hyde. By the end of the book, we see a letter written by Dr. Jekyll himself, explaining all that has happened.

My Thoughts

Now that I have re-read the book, I can see why I struggled with understanding certain things the first time I read it. Stevenson writes in a style that is very…Victorian, and, honestly, I’ve always sort of struggled with Victorian literature. While it may be fitting for the setting of the book and the time it was written, it’s easy for my mind to wander off a bit or to wish that he can just explain things as they are, without using the proper (although lovely) language that he does.

However, on my second reading, I was also able to see what escaped me the first time around and that is the thought-provoking ideas that Stevenson brings to light with the duality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The last chapter is the satisfying conclusion that encapsulates and sums up the themes of the book, and, in fact, it was my favorite part. I wanted to highlight/underline every line!

For example, “With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”

And when Dr. Jekyll finds that he is losing control of changing into Mr. Hyde as time passes:

“A moment before I had been safe of all men’s respect, wealthy, beloved — the cloth laying for me in the dining-room at home; and now I was the common quarry of mankind, hunted, houseless, a known murderer, thrall to the gallows.”

Stevenson exposes the double nature we are all bound to within ourselves since no mortal is truly “good.” After all, what prompted Dr. Jekyll upon his experiment in the first place was a longing to become disguised as someone else so that he can fulfill desires that his respectable self would never be able to do. Sickeningly, this results in him being a murderer of a little girl and elderly man when he is Mr. Hyde (does that mean that is his desire?), and while the normal person may not necessarily desire something so evil as that, Stevenson seems to demonstrate an extreme representation of human beings’ potential to unleash the Mr. Hyde in each one of ourselves.

What I find so terrifying about this idea is the matter of being afraid of one’s self. Indeed, Dr. Jekyll fears Mr. Hyde when his inhibitions lose all control. He fears that part of himself so much that he references Mr. Hyde as “he” and “him” even though Mr. Hyde is still his own being. It’s hard to escape one’s self because one lives with him/herself at all times, so that’s what makes this idea so haunting, and, thus, what I think makes this book so amazing.

In all, while Stevenson’s style of writing and use of language is not my favorite, it’s hard to deny the frighteningly good story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And since it is such a short book, I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading it. I do think, however, that the last chapter is quite great in itself. I wonder if one can get away with reading that chapter alone and close the book satisfied.

Have you read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, does this sound like an interesting book to you?

Thank you for checking out today’s book review. Stay tuned on Saturday for a book talk on a Nancy Drew book voted on by the community (popular vote to be revealed that day)! I hope you are safe and well. Until next time, happy reading! 🙂

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

  1. I’m glad someone else said it — as much as I appreciate the beauty of it, Victorian language can be hard to get through! I have not read this book, though, but I am intrigued. I like the psychological aspect of it, and I would be curious to get beyond the popular culture interpretations and extrapolations of it. Good review!

    Liked by 1 person

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