The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Gothic horror at its best

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

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis StevensonDespite being a slim novel of only ten chapters, this novel packs a punch. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is an unsettling, nerve-inducing exploration of what it is to give into your base desires, and the inability to escape them once you have succumbed.

The tale is largely narrated by Mr Utterson, a lawyer. His good friend Dr Jekyll has been acting strangely of late, and our story opens with Mr Utterson and his cousin Mr Enfield discussing the matter of their mutual acquaintance.

It transpires that a certain Mr Hyde has been terrorising the streets of London. Mr Enfield tells of how he saw the man trample a girl’s head and has been seen causing mischief around the area of Dr Jekyll’s residence. He later beats a man to death. Mr Utterson is horrified to discover that his friend, Dr Jeykll, has named Mr Hyde the sole beneficiary of his will. When he confronts his friend, Dr Jekyll assures Mr Utterson that he has nothing to worry about and promises he is back to his normal self.

For a few months, Dr Jekyll does seem to be back to his old self, but it is not long before he starts refusing visitors again. When Jekyll’s butler comes calling for Mr Utterson in the middle of the night, begging him to come to the doctor’s laboratory, Mr Utterson discovers the true extent to what Jeykll has been up to.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis StevensonThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is cemented as one of the defining horror stories of English literature, so much so that the title is even casually bandied about to describe someone who’s behaviour is a volatile, a little ‘Jekyll-and-Hyde.’ Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel is short and therefore claustrophobic, a feature of its contemporaries in the horror genre.

The setting of London on the cusp of scientific and industrial breakthroughs is the perfect backdrop for this unsettling tale. Issues of morality, good and evil and scientific progress are all explored in a city that encapsulated both progress and historical depth. The gloomy, smoggy streets of London by night are the perfect stomping ground for the likes of Edward Hyde to cause havoc.

For fans of horror who have not previously read the tale from which so many tropes originate, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a must-read. Though the prose might seem a little inaccessible to the modern reader more used to break-neck pacing and first-person narration of contemporary literature, the compelling tale and dark characterisation of its protagonists are sure to resonate regardless.

Published in 1886. Idealistic young scientist Henry Jekyll struggles to unlock the secrets of the soul. Testing chemicals in his lab, he drinks a mixture he hopes will isolate – and eliminate – human evil. Instead it unleashes the dark forces within him, transforming him into the hideous and murderous Mr. Hyde. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dramatically brings to life a science-fiction case study of the nature of good and evil and the duality that can exist within one person. Resonant with psychological perception and ethical insight, the work has literary roots in Dostoevsky’s “The Double” and Crime and Punishment. Today Stevenson’s novella is recognized as an incisive study of Victorian morality and sexual repression, as well as a great thriller.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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One comment

  1. Is it true that this drew a larger contemporary audience as a stage play than as a novel? And your review reminded me that I’ve never read it! Might be time to correct that oversight.

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