BLOG #23 SERIES #9
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #78
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON’S DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
OVTOBER 10, 2018
Perhaps the ultimate accolade for a writer is for one of his/her characters to become an imperishable part of the fabric of the world’s culture generations after the author has died. Robert Louis Stevenson pulled off such a miracle: 132 years after publishing of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, those intertwined characters have become staples of everyday speech around the world. One has only to say, “He’s a Jekyll-Hyde, and the listener instantly recognizes that the person referred to has a dual character, embodying direct opposites: Good and Evil, Angelic and Demonic, etc.
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s case, just as was true with Fyodor Dostoyevsky, his characters were pre-Freud, pre-Jung, pre-Adler, consequently they are prototypes, originals, rather than spinoffs or derivatives.
One can be certain that Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was strongly influenced by Stevenson’s tale published five years earlier.
Stevenson, like many other artists and authors who died young, made the most of the brief time given him (1850-1894), and created at a white hot intensity: books such as Travels with a Donkey, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Catriona, David Balfour, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and many more, much of the time writing on the move.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, considered by many to be “the greatest tale of mystery and suspense ever told,” came to him in a nightmarish dream in 1885, when he was living in Bournemonth, a seaside resort in southern England. Afflicted with tuberculosis, harried by financial problems, haunted by sleeplessness and melancholy, bedridden, in between bloody hemorrhages of the lungs, one night the story came to him full-blown. So horrible was it that he flailed about in such terror that his wife woke him up, to his anger at having the story interrupted. But he wrote it down, 30,000 words, almost non-stop for three days. A bit later, taking his wife’s advice, he destroyed it and wrote the next one in ten days, also around 30,000 words.
Stevenson was fascinated by the duality found in so many human beings, often a plurality of inner natures. In today’s post-Freud world, multiple personalities are common in psychological literature, but it was new in 1886. In his nightmare, one character was angelic and one demonic both warring within the same person). Mr. Hyde was the very incarnation of evil, loathsome, purged of any humor or touches of humanity. Dr. Jekyll begins beloved by all, a model of goodness, kindness, generosity, and rectitude. But thanks to a drug, which enables personality changes to occur at will, the battles for ascendancy continue night and day—only one will win out over the other.
It is a book that every thinking person ought to read at least once in life.
Many many unabridged editions are available. A splendid one is the Heritage Press hardback edition of 1952, with its dramatic illustrations by Edward A. Wilson.