The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (~1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson
“I have done that, says my memory. I cannot have done that – says my pride and remains unshakeable. Eventually, the memory yields.”Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic 1886 novel is primarily a thriller and serves as an allegory of the morality of good and evil, personified into the clashing personalities of character(s) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The novel is told through various perspectives. Primarily we follow a lawyer, Mr. Utterson, he has been tasked to carry out the will and testament of one Dr. Henry Jekyll which stipulates that in the event of his decease or disappearance all possessions of his are to be imparted to one Mr. Edward Hyde, a sinister, disfigured man of mystery with no known associates or personal history. As this novel was written and set at the height of the Victorian era, social standing and reputation are front and foremost priorities for most characters and as such Mr. Utterson, not particularly wanting to be associated with the likes of Edward Hyde, sets out to uncover the mystery behind how the well-respected Dr. Jekyll came to be associated with him and ultimately settles on the thought that Jekyll has been blackmailed by Hyde in some way. From here the core incident of the novel takes place, namely Hyde’s commitment of murder and subsequent disappearance and manhunt before approaching the final events of the narrative.
One of the strong points of this novel is its structure. For the majority of the novel we are in the dark as to the grand design of what transpires. We are inclined to follow Mr. Utterson’s viewpoint in this mystery for the most part as events unfold and share in his blindness regarding the details of Hyde (although chances are you know of the outline of this renowned story and its main twist). Then in the final two chapters this perspective is abandoned for a more ‘behind the scenes’ view as we first discover the events that led to the end of the novel’s narrative through the account of Dr. Lanyon who is coerced into assisting Jekyll in a desperate final plan, and then a direct confession and account of events from Dr. Henry Jekyll himself. This is a brilliant way to do exposition as by the end of the novel we are wholly invested in the events and characters and Stevenson provides an in-depth account of the narrative as well as elaborating on the core philosophical and moral qualms the novel is known for.
Despite having previous knowledge of the story and its reveal before reading it I still enjoyed the novel and Stevenson masterfully weaves the narrative of mystery and suspense around the character(s) of Jekyll and Hyde. Coupled with a highly effective technique of immersion due to its structure and realized characters this classic piece of short fiction is well worth the read and raises moral questions that are still relevant today concerning virtue versus vice.
~ Giuseppe Gillespie October 2021