The problem with reading The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the 21st century is that most of us probably already know what the story involves. Even without having read it or seen any of the film versions, everyone knows what is meant by a ‘Jekyll and Hyde personality’. And this completely takes away the suspense and air of mystery that the story relies on so heavily. I’m sure the original Victorian readership would have found the connection between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde much more shocking! So is there still any point in reading it? Yes, I thought there was, because although I knew what the ultimate revelation would be, I didn’t know all the details of the plot or how the conclusion would be reached.
We first see Dr Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde through the eyes of Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, Mr Utterson, who becomes concerned when he discovers that Jekyll has made a new will leaving everything to Mr Hyde. All Mr Utterson knows about Hyde is that he’s a sinister and brutal man responsible for some cruel and unprovoked acts of violence. The first half of the book follows the lawyer’s attempts to learn more about Hyde and his relationship with Jekyll. It’s only as we approach the end of the story that we hear from Dr Jekyll himself, in the form of a letter addressed to Mr Utterson, and the truth is finally revealed.
The story is cleverly structured so that if you had no idea what was coming, you would be kept wondering, knowing only as much as Mr Utterson knows, and it’s disappointing that for most modern readers the surprise has been spoiled. The part of the story I found the most interesting was the final chapter, after the secret has been uncovered and Jekyll gives his own explanation of what happened and his views on the good and the evil aspects of human nature. We can really feel his desperation as his own dark side grows stronger and things begin to spiral out of his control.
The edition I read contained just the novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; other editions include a selection of other Stevenson short stories. Jekyll and Hyde on its own was only 88 pages long and if I’d realised how short it was I would have made time to read it earlier. This was one of my choices for RIP VII, and I would recommend it to other RIP participants who would like to read an important piece of classic Victorian fiction without committing to a full-length novel. I can’t say that I loved it and it’s not something I would want to read again, but I’m glad I’ve read it once and can see why it has become a part of popular culture.
15 thoughts on “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson”
The Spencer Tracy film version was playing the other day on a classic film channel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film version – or read the story itself – yet I do know the basic plot – or at least I think I do!
Yes, it’s one of those stories that finds its way into popular culture to the extent that you can’t really avoid knowing at least part of the plot – Dracula is another one that we all know something about without actually needing to read it!
Just like you, my favourite was the last chapter. Of course, knowing the story before spoils the fun quite a bit. But it’s still one of my favourite books and I’ve actually re-read it a couple of times. Great review, hope you enjoy the rest of your R.I.P. reads!
Thanks, Priya! I haven’t made much progress with R.I.P. yet, but this was a good one to start with.
This one’s sitting on my shelf and you’re right, it is one we know even if we don’t actually know it. I’ll try to get around to it this fall.
I hope you enjoy it if you get around to it, Carol.
You’re right, it is kind of spoiled for the modern reader… but there is still plenty to enjoy! I couldn’t believe how short it was… I thought I had gotten an abridged version by accident! -Sarah
I was surprised by how short it was too. Somehow I never realised it was just a novella.
This was the first work of Stevenson’s I read, unfortunately it didn’t do it for me. Stevenson was redeemed though when I read Treasure Island earlier this year.
I tried to read Kidnapped last year and just couldn’t get into it. Maybe I need to try Treasure Island next.
I gave Robert Louis Stevenson a try a month ago with The Treasure Island, but I could not finish it. So, I thought “The Strange Case” would be a better approach to the author, especially taking into account my liking of psychological/horror books. I hadn’t thought about our biassed perception of the work as 21st century readers…
I was intending reading this for RIP and will hopefully manage to fit it in. (It’s only short after all!) I like reading the classics – I think it’s interesting that you usually manage to find something in them that hasn’t been quite portrayed by the film versions.
I hope you manage to read this for RIP, Lynn. It’s short enough to read in one or two sittings and still worth reading even if you know the story.
It is too bad that classic novel have frequently had their twist endings given away! I guess this is one that has to be read for the journey instead of the destination.
If you know what the twist is it does take away some of the fun of reading it, but yes, it’s still an interesting read.