05 January 2011

Book Review: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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

Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., 7th ed.; 1886.
e-Book: 141 pages
Genre: Gothic mystery, classic
Source: Google Books
Time to Read: 3 hours

| Enjoyability: 5 | Readability: H | Characterization: 4 | Overall: A+ |
(Traditional Rating: 5 Stars)


A classic mystery (categorized as a Gothic mystery), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a story about Dr. Henry Jekyll, a well-known, upstanding and wealthy citizen.  While handling changes to his will, lawyer John Utterson, Jekyll's dear friend, is disturbed by the naming of the sole recipient of Jekyll's estate upon his death: one Edward Hyde.  Utterson's feeling gets even worse upon hearing about the beneficiary's character through another acquaintance who witnessed Hyde, whom he instantly and inexplicably disliked from the first sight. His friend saw Hyde trample over a child carelessly and then, once confronted, paid the parents off with a check signed by Jekyll himself.  The only explanation Utterson can arrive at is that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll.

The story follows Utterson's attempt at helping Dr. Jekyll get out of the blackmail, investigating Hyde's background only to find that he has no history.  Utterson finally gets a breakthrough when a nobleman is beaten to death in the street and all the evidence points to Hyde.  Now Dr. Jekyll is secluded in his laboratory, isolating himself from his servants and friends, but the staff of Jekyll's estate are certain that Hyde has murdered Jekyll and is hiding out in the lab.  Utterson finds out the truth through sealed letters, which end the last two chapters of the book, only then revealing the mystery that most readers already know.

My Reaction

I have seen many variations of plays, movies, TV shows, and cartoons based on and inspired by Jekyll and Hyde, but this was this first time I had ever read it.  This was also the second book I have read by Stevenson (the first being Treasure Island).  Although it took me a while to get into Treasure Island, I was instantly gripped by J & H, and I think that is mostly because of my familiarity with the subject versus the former book.  When I read the first few pages, it almost felt like an episode of Law & Order, where you see the seemingly unrelated characters who just happened to stumble into the dead body of interest to that particular episode.  Unlike the show, however, I discovered that Utterson was really the central character and point of view for the book.

With that unexpected way of telling the story, I was very curious in how Utterson was involved in the whole reaction to relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Knowing the outcome of the story, the most fun for me was discovering the mystery with Utterson (more like a Columbo episode than Law & Order).  However, the way Stevenson wrote the story, I think it would have been a far more enjoyable read had I not known the twist to the story so well.  Fresh readers in the late 19th century were fortunate in this respect.

An element I was struck by that I must mention is the fluidity with which Stevenson interlaces scriptural references throughout the story.  Using a simple phrase from the Bible, the author instantly paints the picture that may have otherwise taken a paragraph to describe.  This was probably second nature to Stevenson, being the son of a minister (even though by the point of writing this book he was openly rejecting his religious upbringing).  Additionally, the common theme of the duality of the nature of Dr. Jekyll (torn between good and evil and seeking a way to separate them) is a striking allegory to the moral battle everyone faces.

Just as many people have said about Stevenson's other books, the author did not waste a word in the telling of this story.  I was engaged the whole way through and encourage anyone seeking a good classic read to choose Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Reading Challenges:

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