Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

While not the best work of British literature I have read, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, was definitely entertaining. As is most literature of this time and nature, the novel is dually purposed: that of a haunting story, and that of an intellectual dive into the duality of man.

The story is told by Mr. Utterson, a reputable lawyer and friend of Dr. Henry Jekyll. While on a customary walk with an old friend, Mr. Utterson hears the story of a villainous, evil man, one Edward Hyde. Mr. Utterson is shocked and upset to hear that Mr. Hyde not only has a key to Dr. Jekyll's quarters, but that he has recently been named the sole heir to that same friend through his will.

Due to a feeling of loyalty, Mr. Utterson sets to understanding the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and warning Dr. Jekyll of his uncertainty of the offensive man and his fear for his friend's safety and reputation. Along the way we are given the account of another friend of both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Utterson, one Dr. Lanyon, and then finally the confession of Dr. Jekyll himself. The narrative flows smoothly and it's not hard to follow who is speaking, since the chapters are adequately labeled.

I'm sure just about everyone knows the story, so it won't be a spoiler to say that Dr. Jekyll is, in fact, Mr. Hyde. But the book is worth a read for several reasons. One, it's easy-to-read British literature, and that doesn't come along too often, I've found. It's also a quick read (I don't know the specific number of pages, but it's definitely a novella (less than 100 pages) rather than a novel. And three, Stevenson seamlessly integrated a horror story (at least by 19th century standards) and a true look at humanity's sense of good vs. evil without sounding preachy or boring. His story took the itangible concept (that of man being both good and evil, internally speaking) and showed us what that could look like if that same concept was made physically visible. There are marked physical differences between Jekyll and Hyde, and that's no coincidence. Evil incarnate is much different looking from the average Joe, but that's because the average Joe is both good and evil. I was fascinated by the delicate (and sometimes not so delicate) changes Stevenson made to the character in order to emphasize the differences but, as the story progresses and you see just how far Dr. Jekyll falls, it's intriguing to note just how alike and close the characters become.

I won't give away any details because I think this is a book worth reading, but it just wasn't one of my favorites (probably because I'm not the biggest fan of scary stories). And because of that bias, I give it 3.5 out of 5. Note that this is the first time I've used a half star - this is because when I initially finished the book I gave it a 3, but now that I've had some time to digest and appreciate what Stevenson was trying to say, I want to give it a 4. So we'll settle with 3.5 and call it a day. Maybe I just have a soft spot for British literature (who would believe it, after 4 semesters' worth of reading the stuff?).

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