Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Publication date: 5th January 1886
Read: 27th – 29th January 2017
“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
This was originally published as a ‘shilling shocker’, but I’ve got to say, it wasn’t much of a shocker at all.
Maybe I just knew the story too well before going into it, but I found it a bit laborious to get through, despite being such a short book. I think the writing style was the main issue; it was written in typical 19th century style, which is a lot more verbose than our modern day prose, and I don’t think it suited the ‘thriller’ genre. Perhaps, I’ve just become to used to modern writing styles over the last year, but I just didn’t find it particularly engaging.
I will say, however, that while the writing style wasn’t that captivating, the mystery built up throughout the plot sure was. The story is written from the POV of Utterson (a lawyer and friend of Henry Jekyll) and recounts his fears and curiosities about the changes in his friend Jeykll. Utterson notices the doctor becoming more reclusive and hiding secrets from him and resolves to get to the bottom of it. In doing so, he discovers the character of Mr Hyde, whom he determines to be a menace, and to have some hold over Jekyll. As he digs deeper into the mystery of the two men, startling revelations come to light.
The characters of Jekyll and Hyde are meant to be polar opposites of one another, but it was interesting to see how Stevenson intermingled the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ aspects of their respective psyches to show that these two show that inclinations towards one or the other are not so black and white.
I know this was one of the first books to explore issues relating to mental health and dissociative identity disorders – and that it was written in a completely different era – but I still felt uncomfortable at certain points when these issues were being addressed. The narrator frequently refers to Hyde as ‘a monster’ and ‘evil’, implying that one of the personalities was less than human than the other and somehow ‘deficient’. I realise that I’m analysing the novella with the lens of a 21st century reader, with more awareness of mental health (and the stigma surrounding it) than readers of the time, but it still made me uneasy when the author made these references.
This edition also included a short story at the end, The Bottled Imp. Although I enjoyed the story (arguably more so than that of Jekyll and Hyde) I also didn’t see the relevance of including it at the end of the novella. It was a good tale, full of legends and drama, but it didn’t have any relation to the main story, and I felt it would have fitted better in a collection of short stories.
Overall, Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde is definitely an atmospheric story, and was quite the pioneer for its time, but has inherent issues in its exploration of mental health and isn’t as exciting as I’d hoped.