Friday, April 11, 2014

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

Wow.  I'd never read this before, and it was not what I was expecting!  I mean, I knew the basic story (nice Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that turns him into evil Mr. Hyde), but I had no idea how introspective and philosophical it would get about human nature.

Yes.  I'm thirty-three, I've been reading classics since I was a little kid, and I'd never read this novella.  In fact, until a few years ago, I thought it was written by H. G. Wells!  Which is probably why I thought it would be both more sci-fi and more scary than it is.  This is not a scary book.  Well, not today.  I do like imagining what it must have been like to read this when it was first published.  When you didn't know the basic story, and you got to that reveal where Hyde turns into Jekyll before another character's eyes -- how freaky was that?

We're kind of used to the idea now.  The normal, nice, helpful guy with the rage monster inside him.  I've long thought that the whole idea of the Incredible Hulk draws heavily on this story.  Like Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Bruce Banner delves too greedily and too deep into the mysteries of science and medicine.  By so doing, he unleashes a beast from within his own self.  Like Mr. Hyde, the Hulk acts mostly from his primitive instinct to protect himself.  Now, unlike Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Banner can choose to unleash his inner Hulk.  And unlike Dr. Banner and his freak gamma ray accident, Dr. Jekyll chose to transform himself into the loathesome Mr. Hyde.  He enjoyed it, he deliberately transformed over and over -- at first.  And unlike Mr. Hyde, the Hulk isn't a homicidal maniac.  But both Dr. Banner and Dr. Jekyll had that monster within themselves all along.  Dr. Banner is always angry.  Dr. Jekyll has always enjoyed indulging in secret pleasures and vices. 

In fact, that's what I find the most interesting about this book:  the way it explores the idea of original sin.  If you're not familiar with the term, it's the Christian concept that all humans have inherited a sinful nature from their parents.  The Bible says, "Surely I am sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5).  We all are capable of evil -- we all sin every day.  Maybe we can hide it, maybe we can fool ourselves into thinking it doesn't matter.  But it's there.  Dr. Jekyll created an elixir that could distill his evil nature, make his "better self" disappear while his "worse self" came to the foreground.  But that worse self had always been there, it had merely been disguised.

Particularly Good Bits:

The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed, and all emulously hoping to do better still, and laying out the surplus of their gains in coquetry, so that the shop fronts stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen (p. 8).

"If he be Mr. Hyde," he had thought, "I shall be Mr. Seek" (p. 19).

It was a wild, cold seasonable night of March, with a pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her, and a flying wrack of the most diaphanous and lawny texture (p. 48).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for oblique descriptions of sinful behavior and for mildly scary imagery.

This is my seventh book read and reviewed for The Classics Club and my fourth for the Mount TBR Challenge.

14 comments:

  1. I've never read this either...though I've read a lot of his other work :-) and I definitely need to! Right now I'm reading my first Fitzgerald. :-)

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    1. Stevenson is one of my fave authors, so when I realized it was he who wrote this, on my to-read list it went!

      But... your first Fitzgerald? Oh my goodness! I'm so excited! What are you reading, and how do you like it/him?

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    2. Yes! And I'm super liking it! (Tales of the Jazz Age-per your review. :-)) I think I like him for some of the same reasons I like Josef Conrad so much (Heart of Darkness, etc). If you don't mind a rather long-ish comment I thought I'd pop over to your review and leave some of my initial thoughts. :-)

      Oh, and on Stevenson! Have you ever read his St. Ives? I think he wrote it near his death and someone else finished it, but they did a great job and it's a lot of fun...one of my favorites. I have a really old copy, so I'm not sure if it's been re-printed.

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    3. I'm clearly going to have to try Conrad again. I tried him once and was so bored I gave up. I have his "Lord Jim" on my to-read list.

      And nope, haven't read St. Ives. I'll keep an eye out for it! Have you read the sequel to Kidnapped, alternately called Catriona and David Balfour? It's not as much of a ripping yarn as Kidnapped and Treasure Island, but it made me laugh quite a bit -- almost a satirical romance in some places, IIRC.

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    4. Yes, Conrad is kind of a different reading pace. :-) Have you tried Heart of Darkness? I've read it three times and sometime I'd like to do a review-at the very least. (This is a little ambitious) but someday I might like to host a read-along of it. For some reason it just fascinates me...and there's so much there.

      And, yes! I have read the sequel (as David Balfour). I think my brother particularly really likes it :-) as David is such an ordinary, down-to-earth young hero. :-)

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    5. I can't actually remember which one I tried, though I can see the cover vividly. Wasn't Heart of Darkness, though. A read-along would be cool!

      And yeah, I love David Balfour. Such a sweet, nice, sensible guy.

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    6. Oh, good! Then I really will have to give it a go sometime... :-)

      And btw, how do you italicize in your comments? I can't figure out how to do it.

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    7. Okay! I'll go ahead and delete these comments. You have my email address if you need any tips!

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  2. When I read this, I was surprised at how good it was even though I had already known the general idea.
    -Dale

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    1. Exactly! It was much deeper and more suspenseful than I'd expected.

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  3. I still haven't read this, although I love the story. Have you seen the Broadway musical? Fantastic! Very insightful review, too. I might have to bump this up in my reading.

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    1. I've never seen the musical, but I've heard the score a few times. Dark and disturbing, but compelling, from what I recall.

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  4. I love this story! It's freaky, entertaining, and as you pointed out, a wonderful treatise on our own sin and fallen human nature. Great review!

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