Ex Libris Online: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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I think for most people there are those books that everyone was “supposed” to read in school, but that were somehow missed. For me, the top three that come to mind are Romeo & Juliet, The Odyssey, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

In resolving to close some of these gaps this year, I plunged into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this February and was not disappointed. Narrated from the 3rd person perspective of Dr. Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, Mr. Utterson, Jekyll and Hyde is an engrossing and powerful read, presenting the sum of all fears regarding human JEK_14441347483nature. It is an interesting study of character—if given the chance to live with impunity, will the selfish, hedonistic nature lurking at the bottom of a person rise up and consume the better part of him?

Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired to write the piece from an extraordinarily vivid dream and worked at it feverishly for three days without cessation, publishing the novella in 1886. Stevenson’s stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, wrote: “I don’t believe that there was ever such a literary feat before as the writing of Dr Jekyll… Louis came downstairs in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud; and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days.”

JEK_14441347480It was an instant success and became one of Stevenson’s bestselling works, quickly becoming frequent in sermons and religious papers as well as in the hands of the ordinary reader. In the introduction to the Folio Society edition, John Hampden writes, “If this ‘strange case’ were no more than the ‘shocker’ which Stevenson first planned, it would still be a remarkable novel, for the originality of the idea is matched by the skill with which tension is added to mystery almost to the end. But it is far more than that. Its title has become proverbial; it has been reprinted, translated, filmed andJEK_14441347482 dramatized again and again, because it touches some of the most primitive chords of feeling; there is no more forceful presentation of that duality in man’s nature of which every human being is painfully aware.”

Buy this book here.

Illustration from The Folio Society edition of  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde © Mervyn Peake 1948.

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