The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. It first appeared in print in 1886 and the reading public liked the book immediately and it became one of his best-selling stories. This work is the 26th novel that I have completed from my 1001 book list.
Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850 in Edinburgh. He contracted tuberculosis at an early age. Due to the illness he was confined to a sickbed off and on during his childhood. Stevenson used this time wisely. With the aid of his imagination he developed a reputation as a storyteller. He would write stories that were influenced by Scottish history and biblical passages. When he started his studies at Edinburgh University in 1867, his family assumed he would become an engineer following the example of other family members. Instead, he studied law. However, he preferred his own studies, which involved exploring the crazier parts of Edinburgh to polish his writing skills.
He did pass the bar exam in 1875. Foregoing setting up a legal practice, he traveled to the European continent. While visiting France he met and fell in love with an older American woman, Fanny Osbourne. Unfortunately for the lovers, Fanny was already married. Stevenson followed Fanny to the United States in 1879 and they married after she obtained her divorce in 1880.
Throughout his adulthood, like during his childhood, his health was delicate. Once again, his illness did not hamper his imagination. He published Treasure Island in 1883, A Child’s Garden of Verses in 1885, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped in 1886.
According to Fanny and Stevenson’s stepson Lloyd, the story of Jekyll and Hyde began after the author had a dream. After the dream, Stevenson told his family not to disturb him for any reason while he hammered out the story. After three days he read the completed story to Fanny and Lloyd. However, Fanny was quite critical of the draft and said that it should be an allegorical story. Stevenson proceeded to throw the draft into the fire and started over. Some scholars wonder if he actually burned the manuscript since the only evidence is Fanny’s word. Again, he completed the second draft of the novella in days. To make the feat more impressive, while writing this story, his health was poor.
So what is the strange case all about? Dr. Henry Jekyll, a young scientist desires to know the mysteries of one’s soul. During this quest, Jekyll dabbles with chemicals in his laboratory and creates a concoction that unlocks evil. He drinks this potion and he transforms into Mr. Hyde, a foul looking madman. Jekyll discovers “that man is not truly one, but truly two.” He sets up a residence and money for Hyde. At first he relishes his transformations, “I had but to drink the cup, to doff at once the body of the noted professor, and to assume, like a thick cloak, that of Edward Hyde. I smiled at the notion; it seemed to me at the time to be humorous; and I made my preparations with the most studious care.”
But Jekyll’s evil side runs into trouble when he murders Sir Danvers Carew. A maidservant witnesses the crime and recognizes Mr. Hyde as the murderer. Jekyll sheds his evil persona. The good professor returns to normalcy and his friends are happy that he once again enjoys their society. However, once evil is unleashed it is hard to contain. Dr. Jekyll soon learns that Mr. Hyde wants to come out and his potions to return to the good doctor have ceased working. Will Dr. Jekyll permanently turn into Mr. Hyde?
I read this story in one sitting on a dark, windy fall night. Before sitting down to read it, I was aware of the story. It would be difficult not to have heard of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in today’s world. Even though most of the story was known to me, I really enjoyed reading the novella. The adaptations I have seen don’t do justice to Stevenson’s story. I found the story to be delightfully creepy and insightful to the human mind. It is no wonder that this work has captured the imagination of millions. If you are looking for a page-turner, I would highly recommend Stevenson’s novella.