The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Having reviewed almost forty books so far, it has recently struck me how much time I’ve been investing (or wasting) in mediocre literature. Life’s too short, as they say, so I’ve decided (for now) to delve into some novels that have stood the test of time. And first off the shelf is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

This is my second read of this book. I tackled it about seven years ago and I’m pleased to report that it’s every bit as fresh and enjoyable this time round. At eighty-eight pages, it’s barely more than a novella, and the content of the story complements its length perfectly.

I probably don’t need to mention the storyline at all, because everyone has likely seen the old black-and-white B-movies. Actually, from what I can remember, the films do the original tale a great disservice. What has universally been regarded as a “horror” story is actually much more at home on the “murder mystery” shelf.

The protagonist of the story is not Jekyll himself, but a lawyer friend by the name of Utterson, who becomes very concerned and curious about strange events surrounding the doctor. The immensity of this strangeness is hidden until the closing chapter of the novel. Prior to that, there isn’t the barest hint of anything remotely supernatural afoot. The novel was first published it 1886, and I envy the original Victorian readers, who were able to enjoy the mystery without knowing the punchline.

Stevenson’s command of the English language is excellent. The complex sentence structure and vocabulary of classic literature can sometimes turn reading into hard work, but I found Stevenson’s style reasonably easy to master.

People who like their fiction to stay firmly in the real world might view Jekyll and Hyde as a load of old fluff. But if you read between the lines, what you have here is a very intelligent dissection of temptation and evil. I found Stevenson’s observations on the coarser side human nature to be very true to life, and it’s a rare experience to find this sort of bare-faced frankness in fiction.

If there’s one point that grates on me, it’s Stevenson’s too-casual association of deformity with evil character. Those two things are completely unrelated and promote an unnecessary stigma on people who genuinely do suffer with deformity. However, the novel was fully entertaining and at the same time very insightful about human nature – a rare combination.