The greatness and eccentricity of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde lies in the fact that the book is not classified as one particular genre; in fact, it’s a mix of noir, horror, thriller, mystery, crime and gothic novel.
Written by the Scottish Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894), an outstanding author constantly experimenting, this novel is one of the most famous and appreciated literary works of all time.
The story begins when Gabriel John Utterson, a lawyer, is on his weekly walk with his cousin, Richard Enfield. During the walk, reaching a door in a densely populated district in London, Enfield tells to Utterson a strange story he had witnessed beforehand: during a dark winter morning, while he was going home, he saw a little girl running in the street. The little girl crashed into a sinister man, and fell to the floor. The strange man didn’t help her, instead he stepped on her ad moved on. They consequently discovered that the man’s name is Edward Hyde.
From this time on, the intriguing story begins; neither Utterson nor Enfield knows much about this strange figure, and they want to discover who he is, especially after another night, when a servant girl witnesses Hyde beating a man to death with a heavy cane. Simultaneously to Hyde, another man is presented in the novel, Henry Jekyll, a respected doctor and scientist, temperamentally the opposite of Mr. Hyde.
At the end of the book, we realize that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person, representing The Good and The Evil. The novel is deeply allegorical, and analyzes the natural doubling aspect that represents every man, and in particular every human conscience. I think Stevenson’s purpose is to let us understand that there is a constant infighting between two dimensions, two different behavioral inclinations, that tries taking over the Man.
Some critics claim that there is also a religious allegory inside this novel; in fact, the failure to accept the tension of duality is related to Christian theology, where Satan’s fall from Heaven is due to his refusal to accept that he has a dual nature.
During the years there have been numerous adaptations of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, including over 120 stage and film versions.
But what is the story behind this novel? Stevenson had long been intrigued by the idea of how personalities can affect a human. Strange enough, the fist idea of writing this book came in Stevenson’s mind after a dream he had at night.
Louis Vivet, one of the first mental health patients to be diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, caught Stevenson’s inspiration while developing the story.
Due to his ill health, the author had moved in the English sea town of Bournemouth, so the book was written there.
Have you read this book? What’s the character you appreciated the most?