Sunday, June 17, 2012

Classic Lit: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Publisher: Bantam Classics
Date: 1886 (1981)
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: as part of the pre-college TBR cleanout/for A Victorian Celebration
Pages: 100
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: A good man takes a potion that turns him into a freak of pure evil. A reasonable scientist is transformed - through the agency of science itself - into the living embodiment of unreason. Like the vampire and the werewolf, the sundered personae of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have worked their way into our collective unconscious, expressing both our ambivalence with science and our deepest questions about what is knowable in human nature.

My review: The set-up of this novella was a bit weird to me; it seems like similar short fictions are usually written as either present-tense narratives or as past-tense letters, not as both. The first half of the book provided a great build-up of suspense and mystery as the lawyer Utterson begins realizing that something is not quite right with his old friend, Jekyll. The second half - consisting of an explanatory letter from Jekyll - was a little bit of a let-down in terms of dramatics. It was still certainly interesting, though, delving into questions of morality, identity, and psychology. Overall, the novella was a nice, quick, engaging read, with a good pace and a fascinating premise.


  1. I've read this only in a children's version. I really need to read the full novella. Visiting Edinburgh many years ago I remember hearing that there was a real person who was the model for the story.

    1. How cool! I wonder how much of the story is true, then, and how much is artistic license?

      My family used to have an abridged, illustrated edition that I flipped through without actually reading much. The pictures gave me a much different impression of the story than did the original; the plot seemed more linear and exciting.

  2. I'm pretty much in agreement with you on this one - though it's been a few years since I read it, I can remember finding many of its elements interesting, but not being entirely blown away by the style, nor very excited by the narrative/plot. It wasn't as "horrific" as I was expecting it to be (had a similar experience with Shelley's Frankenstein). I think both books' views on science/humanity are interesting, though, and ultimately the point. And, of course, they must have been rather sensational pieces in their time.

    Great thoughts!

    1. Yeah, I was expecting a bit more gothic drama from a "classic of horror." I was very disappointed by Frankenstein, but for a different reason - I thought all the characters were making stupid decisions and blaming others for their own problems instead of taking responsibility.

      The science/humanity angle is definitely an interesting look. It also reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's proto-science fiction short stories, many of which focus on what happens when scientists try to basically become God.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Oh, absolutely! I do tend to enjoy those types of stories quite a bit, now that you mention it. Rappaccini's Daughter and The Birthmark (both by Hawthorne), for instance, are two of my favorite short stories.

    3. Funny, those are the two I used in a paper on "Hawthorne's Fears for Science" in American lit.