Thursday, May 22, 2008

book review - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other stories

Just as with Frankenstein the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is well know, mainly through film adaptations. The first thing that strikes you is the length of the story, which is firmly a novella. Robert Louis Stevenson was someone interested in the line between life and death and the possibilities of pushing the boundaries.

This collection of stories reminds you of Poe in terms of its darkness and tendency to the horrific but it also shows a writer using his craft to raise questions. The title tale is of course about the battle in us all between good and evil. The worrying conclusions seem to be that given the chance evil will win and Hyde finally consumes the respectable Jekyll. The horror of the transformation is the extent to which the evil personality will go to split away from goodness. In the case of Hyde it starts as rudeness but becomes murder.

The reader knows long before the friends of Jekyll what is happening but the twist at the end of the story is not clear until you get to it and the conclusions like Frankenstein are not just about good versus bad but also about the consequences of man playing God. Both stories have in common that feeling that those men who find they can master nature will ultimately become victims of their arrogance.

Other stories that stand out from this collection that is really well put together in Barnes & Noble edition that has am introduction and plenty of other material to extend the reading experience are also touching on the consequences of playing with nature.

The young doctors who murder to gather dissection specimens are confronted after digging a grave with one of their victims. Thrawn Janet has a vicar facing the devil possessing his housekeeper and the suicide club is again about murder.

Bear in mind the period when these stories were written and the strides that were being taken in science and the way that man’s knowledge of nature was rapidly advancing and you can imagine these stories not only being received by a grateful audience but one that shared Stevenson’s fears about the future. It is also hard to mentally split the Jekyll and Hyde story away from the Jack the Ripper events in Whitechapel. It is almost as if the fictional character stepped off the pages and into the streets of East London. It would have been even uncannier had Hyde been based in the East End rather than Soho but the similarities are startling.

Just as was the case with Frankenstein this is a book that is worth reading because it is the original and not altered by modern interpretation.

Version read – Barnes & Noble Classics paperback

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