It’s fall y’all, and Halloween is upon us. To celebrate, I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde* by Robert Louis Stevenson. I love when iconic expressions from literature seep into mainstream use. Even if you forget who’s the “bad guy” (tbh Jekyll sounds more malevolent even though he’s the “good” one), most people know what “Jekyll and Hyde” refer to. I think it’s pretty cool that a novella published in 1886 supplied a catchphrase that’s still colloquially used today to describe a psychological schism within a person. For instance, I’m Dr. Jekyll when I’m at a lovely Chili’s restaurant and I’m Mr. Hyde when I’m hangry.
Stevenson wrote the novella feverishly. Literally-- he suffered from some intense health issues, and he finished the novel in a frantic, bedridden state. Stevenson's earlier work includes Treasure Island. If you’ve seen the GOAT Muppet Treasure Island, you know that that story is damn good.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is Victorian Era gothic fiction, so it’s perfect for when you want a little spooky contemplation on man’s capacity for good and evil. Dr. Jekyll—a generally good-natured man revered in society—sees a darkness in himself that he decides to set free. Ultimately, the darkness devours him.
Although the logistics of literally being two persons in one is hypothetical here, the concept is grounded in very real fears. Stevenson’s exploration is not confined to what we now describe as dissociative identity disorder; he understands the nuances of personality in which sometimes a mostly “good” person can do some pretty “bad” things. To what extent do we have control over our actions? If the brain dictates behavior, and that behavior is “bad”, what can we do about it? What even is “bad” behavior and how do we define it in others without being hypocritical? Stevenson’s literal approach to examining these questions is very helpful for understanding the dangers of excessively succumbing to vices while also acknowledging that those vices have their time and place.
I’ll state the obvious: Nineteenth-century English is different than the form of English used today. Hot. Take. If you recoil at the language used by Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, or Herman Melville, then this probably isn’t your cup of pumpkin spiced latte. *Seasonal*
That being said, it’s a novella. It’s short! It’s a wonderful way to test if you can appreciate the writing that you hated in high school. At the time, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde broke ground both in writing style and theme and it continues to be an enjoyable and interesting book to read. It receives 4 out of 5 camel humps.
*Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York: New York: Bantam Books, 1886. Print.