I have observed that when I wore the semblance of Edward Hyde none could come near me at first without a visible misgiving of the flesh. This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde was pure evil.
What a convoluted story! This door, that alleyway….Robert Louis Stevenson’s prose is almost as confusing as the story itself. And as a visual reader all the scenes look dark as if all of the action takes place at night, even the inside scenes.
While the first ¾ of this novella is hard to follow, the last quarter is quite profound and made me think of my own morality.
While I knew the basics of the story–a scientist creates a potion that turns him into an evil man–I was surprised that in the actual reading of the book that scientist was Dr. Jekyll. What I mean by that is having heard the story and seen the films, in reading the the actual book it was not immediately understood to me to be him. So, I liked that aspect of the mystery.
The story unfolds as a Mr. Utterson, a lawyer and close friend of Dr. Jekyll, first comes into contract with Mr. Hyde while walking home one night. He witnesses a man and young girl collide in the street; he tramples her and continues on. Utterson goes after him, catches him and then forces him to make financial restitution to the girl and her family for her injuries. To make sure, he goes with the man to his home, waits there until he writes the check and waits at the back to make sure the check is good. Mr. Hyde, who Utterson can see is deformed, stays curious about this mysterious man each time he passes his door.
Meanwhile Dr. Jekyll is becoming a recluse giving concern to Utterson who is used to seeing him often for dinner or drinks. As the keeper of Jekyll’s will he is worried at this odd behavior. His suspicions are heightened when, Poole, Jekyll’s long-time servant shows up at Uttersons’s home one night in great fear for his master. He says Dr. Jekyll is ill and spends all his time in the laboratory, but there is something else that has put all the servants in fear and would he please come immediately to the house? When he enters the home, the servants are convinced that although they only get a glimpse of Dr. Jekyll in his laboratory the man they see isn’t him. Although Utterson finds this unbelievable they are clearly in a panic and he is convinced to break down the door. Rushing in he sees a body on the floor. It is Mr. Hyde in his last gasp of life.
Dr. Jekyll Creates a Method of Dissociation
As Utterson tries to process what he sees, he notices an envelope on the desk with this name on it. Inside are instructions from Dr. Jekyll dated that very day and state that Utterson must read the two letters enclosed before he does or thinks anything else. The first letter is from a mutual friend of Utterson’s and Jekyll, who writes about witnessing Dr. Jekyll’s change to Mr. Hyde. The second is Dr. Jekyll’s account of his life and his struggles at an early age with the duality of good and evil within himself and the experiments that culminated in the successful separation of the two and the creation of Mr. Hyde.
If each could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way…and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path…no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil….that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling.
By finding the right combination of powders Dr. Jekyll had begun experimenting on himself until late one night as the nausea and aching subsided he sensed something strange and new. He felt younger, happier, more vital. He was Mr. Hyde.
“I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked…and the thought delighted me.”
A reverse mixture brings him back to Dr. Jekyll, but as time passes, he finds it harder to come back to his original self. He is horrified to realize he is becoming Mr. Hyde without taking the potion as if his evil nature is overpowering the good. As the influence of Hyde grows, Dr. Jekyll’s physical body declines. When Hyde beats a man to death, it becomes clear to Jekyll that there is only one way to stop Hyde–and therefore himself. This is the act by which he is discovered by Utterson.
When I was a child, like many children, I had a “fall guy” or in this case two fall girls who I blamed for the bad things I did. Peggy and Shelly existed as my imaginary friends and though I talked to them and went on elaborate escapades with them I knew our association and my experience with them was in my mind and not in the real world. And although it sounded good at the time, it never worked to blame them for what I did. I grew out of a need for them at some point.
Whatever Stevenson is describing here with Dr. Jekyll’s dual nature might be more pathological than just some mean thoughts about the perceived unfair people or circumstances in life or an inability to take responsibility for our actions. I never wrestled with the kind of evil Jekyll does, but I hear every so often of a woman paying someone off to kill her husband or a man hiring someone to ‘get back’ at a person who wronged him. Most of us don’t ever go that far and are able to deal more responsibility with the negative parts of our nature.
And so I wonder about this story of Stevenson’s and what he is describing or warning us about? Is his Mr. Hyde living out a universal deep, dark fantasy over situations we believe we have no control? Is he describing the mind of a serial murderer or the mad scientist whose experiment has gone far beyond what he thought he was creating?
But is this also a cautionary tale about how one man deals with his negative passions, the dark thoughts that consume him and instead of facing whatever they are he acts them out not in a healthy way, but literally? Or maybe Dr. Jekyll is just plain crazy and Stevenson has illustrated the workings an insane mind.
Even if this is only a good fireside scary story, it sure made me think!
Title: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Publisher: Bantam Classic