We continue our veritical series of critiques in popular Gothic or Horror writings penned in the 1800s. So far we have discussed The Picture of Dorian Grey and Dracula. Today’s topic is the novella by the title of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Is it not intriguing that iconic literature does not always have to be tomes? For instance one of the most subtly chilling works is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. In actuality, it is a mere novella, which could be read in one sitting. However, it is truly a haunting work; one that stays with the reader long after its completion.
In summary it is the story of the esteemed Dr Jekyll who creates a potion to morph himself to the grotesque shadow of a man, that is Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde is the exact foil of the good doctor and partakes in questionable activities, including murder. The crux of the plot lies with the fact no one really knows Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde. Each time Jekyll transforms to Hyde, he stays in that form longer, until at last Dr. Jekyll permanently becomes Mr. Hyde.
There is great speculation about the creation of this piece. Some say it was a nightmare of the author. He was so haunted by it, he wrote it down to exorcise the demon. Upon reading it, his wife found it too horrific and threw it into the fire. Still, Stevenson was not at ease and rewrote the whole thing again from memory, which is the novella we read today. Another theory insists it is based on a true account of an esteemed locksmith in some city who always made two sets of keys; one for his client and one for himself. He would later sneak in and rob clients. Apparently the robberies escalated into increasingly violent acts, which eventually led to his capture and ruin.
The Victorians loved the macabre and devoured this piece. A part of the appeal was the thought-provoking symbolism for the other side of humanity. Contemporary critiques focus on the psychological nature or the basis of the human mind; the subconscious. It follows the line of reasoning Freud used in psychoanalysis of the “Id” the most primal part of a human being. Others claim it is personality; or a more tangible version of the human mind, if you will. For example, a person of good standing such as Dr. Jekyll, is acting. He is being what the world wants him to be. While in verity, he wants to be Mr. Hyde, his nature craves it; to be unburdened by societal pressures. In essence it demonstrates this by holding the form of Mr. Hyde for longer and longer periods of time. This malleablity of the mind allows people to change or in some instances to perform as the case may be. One of the best known examples is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “To be or not to be?” Once Hamlet decides, a conscious choice, he thus becomes the facade he created. Likewise, in modern speech it could be summed up “fake it to make it.” Or if you prefer to wax philosophically, “I think, therefore I am.”
The question comes down to thus: what does Dr. Jekyll choose? Both are facets of his nature. Is one more true than the other? Certainly, one is more socially acceptable than the other . . . but that in and of itself does not make it true. Was he always Dr. Jekyll and succumbed to Mr. Hyde? Or was he always Mr. Hyde who pretended to be Dr. Jekyll? I alternate in what I believe is Stevenson’s true intent. What say you? For those who have read the novella, what are your interpretations?