Even though I have a Capricorn symbol tattooed on my arm, I’m not really into astrology. But I could not resist the perfect tie-in to my next book selection. That’s right. As the sun begins to travel through Gemini, my book of choice…The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It fulfills the Book Written before 1920 Challenge (2018 Reading Challenge).
The Jekyll and Hyde tale is such a familiar part of pop culture I assumed I knew the story. I was wrong. I expected it to be told from the Jekyll/Hyde perspectives, but like most stories of the time, a third-party witness recounts much of the tale. Only at the end do we get a rather lengthy letter written by the last remnants of Jekyll telling the story from his perspective.
The tragedy begins with Gabriel Utterson, Dr. Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, growing concern for the respectable and reliable Jekyll. First, Jekyll withdraws from social circles then abruptly bequeaths everything to the mysterious and unlikeable Mr. Hyde. From there, Utterson attempts to reconcile the mystery of Jekyll’s strange behavior with the sudden appearance of the wretched stranger who yields undue influence.
Of course, in the end we find out that Hyde is the manifestation of Jekyll’s bad side, allowing him to act on his evil impulses without repercussion. Using a potion, Jekyll summons the feral and barbaric Hyde in measured doses. Unfortunately, Jekyll discovers one of the potion’s ingredients wasn’t pure, and that unknown impurity gave Jekyll domination over Hyde’s arrival. Without it, Jekyll can’t control when Hyde appears or rein in his actions.
No longer forced to transform back to Jekyll against his will, Hyde goes on an unsupervised spree. Once Hyde commits an unforgiveable crime, Jekyll knows that something drastic must be done to stop his alter-ego.
Stevenson provides a satisfying mystery, though the familiarity of the overall story, if not the details, softened the impact. Even so, I understand how those reading it when it was first published would find it shocking and disturbing.
Thoughts that linger:
The copy I read, pictured above, came with a glossary defining some of the outdated terms or obscure references as well as interpretive notes that added insight into the Stevenson and his story.