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

Posted: April 29, 2017 in Booktalk, Opinion Piece
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Mr. Utterson is the respectable sort of gentlemen lawyer who reserves judgement on his friends.

‘I incline to Cain’s heresy,’ he used to say quaintly. ‘I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.’”

But when his mild-mannered friend-about-town, the beloved Dr. Jekyll, seems to have fallen under an evil man’s influence—one Mr. Edward Hyde—even the reserved lawyer Utterson feels the need to check in. But though Dr. Jekyll assures everyone that all is well with him and Hyde, the lawyer watches his friend’s deterioration and increasing secrecy with grave concern…The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is classic adult horror authored by Robert Louis Stevenson and originally published in 1886.

Everyone probably knows the basic happenings of this famous short story, but my post will take the form more of “discussion” and less of a “review,” so if you want to avoid spoilers about the specifics, you might want to skip the rest. My statute of limitations on spoilers ended at “one century old” Lol You could also go read the story right now (it’s short and free on Kindle!) and come back when you’re finished. Otherwise, read on, reader, at your own peril *evil cackle*

Thoughts (Spoilers Ahead):

We read the “strange case” through the eyes of Mr. Utterson. Slowly, occasionally ponderously, but always in that charming 19th century way, he tells us of a brutal murder committed by Mr. Hyde, who then disappears without a trace. He describes Dr. Jekyll’s subsequent deteriorations and disappearance. And, finally, through heavy use of the “confessional missive” trope so popular during this time, he learns—and we learn—the details of Dr. Jekyll’s demise.

In fact, Dr. Jekyll’s own letter tells the full story. He describes his life as,

nine-tenths a life of effort, virtue and self-control.”

But that remaining 1/10th of “badness” manifests as Mr. Edward Hyde, a degenerate through whom Dr. Jekyll allows his baser instincts to rule and be separate from his “good” self. I say “allows” because he must take a potion to induce his transformation into Hyde…at least, in the beginning. But when he transforms, Mr. Hyde runs wild, spending himself in moral filth. Jekyll feels no fear or disgust in looking at his baser nature, as others do. For,

This, too, was myself.”

At least, he feels that way…in the beginning.

As time wears on and Jekyll finds himself relaxing into and enjoying the freedom of Hyde’s reign, he suddenly begins changing into Hyde—without taking the potion.

Uh oh.

Under this strain of continually impending doom and by the sleeplessness…I became, in my own person, a creature eaten up and emptied by fever, languidly weak both in body and mind, and solely occupied by one thought: the horror of my other self.”

That line contains all the real horror of the situation, to me. He knows what’s coming, and he dreads it, but he can’t stop it anymore. His repeated choice to transform has finally become his chosen status quo. A habit.

Stevenson’s tale is more than a moralistic tale, of course. It’s a psychological discussion about the struggles inherent in human nature. It might even be a metaphor for something specific beyond a “habit of being,” such as a cocaine/opium/laudanum habit (Jekyll takes a potion to become his “bad self,” after all) or some other vice. I’m not familiar enough with Stevenson’s life to know what he might be talking about lol

And of course it’s a horror story. I think the horror comes from the knowledge that Dr. Jekyll’s choice belongs to all of us: this is every man’s and every woman’s choice. We can all choose to free our baser instincts when we think we can get away with it and avoid besmirching our “good” selves. But soon, we lose the choice—soon it comes alive and chooses for us.


Anyway, that’s what I thought. Have you read this one or seen one of the many tv shows, graphic novels or other media based on it? What do you think it’s about?

  1. Bookstooge says:

    I think I read this back in highschool, so I know the basic story. But any particulars are lost to my memory. Guess I need to get around to reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m very familiar with the story, though I must admit with shame that I have not read this. With my love of retellings/reimaginings of the classics (like the upcoming The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter), you’d think I’d make more of an effort to familiarize myself with the original sources though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christy Luis says:

      I know the feeling! I read tons of fairy tale retellings, but rarely ever find the time to go back and read the originals. The new releases are just so tempting!


  3. Joelendil says:

    Great post! I think that horror stories that revolve mostly around warped human nature are generally scarier than purely supernatural ones. Another Victorian Era novel with similar style and some of the same themes (plus a large dash of hyper-Calvinist fatalism) is “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” by James Hogg.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christy Luis says:

      That sounds awesome- I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before! I haven’t read much horror, but Flannery O’Connor’s Wiseblood is about the most horrifying thing I’ve ever read, and the description of this one sounds similarly psychological…Thanks, I just got it for my Kindle 😀


  4. Some books truly deserve to be labeled “classics”, because they contain some timeless issue that carries on through the ages: in this case it’s our dual nature, and the need to balance out our instincts from both sides of the divide. We don’t need to necessarily battle against addiction, or murderous drives, sometimes it’s a battle against flaring temper, or laziness or other “lesser” evils, and this story reminds us we must always keep some form of control before the “dark side” wrestles it away from us…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christy Luis says:

      Wow, good point! If I recall correctly, he started shifting without the potion simply because of a moment of prideful thought about his successful weaning from the potion itself 😬 Just a thought! A mindset! And those are pretty tough to fight.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ahh love this review!! I have read this- a number of times! To me it’s one of the most quintessential horror stories of all time. I definitely agree that there is a huge amount of psychological discussion going on in the text (interestingly, Stevenson was heavily influenced by psychological theories of the day! One detail I like to point out is how Hyde uses his left hand and Jekyll his right, which hints at how they were using different sides of their brain- which links to the “left” and “right” brain theories of the 19th century)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christy Luis says:

      Yay, another fan!! Thank you for sharing your insights about the 19th century psychological theories! I didn’t realize Stevenson was so interested in them or even know about the right brain/left brain theories. This is why discussing classics is so much fun 😀 Did you study psychology or do you just know a lot about Stevenson or something?

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome!! Nah- I studied Stevenson, so I read some of his letters and then read some essays on the psychological theory of the time period (particularly ones he referenced)- actually an awful lot of essays on it 😉 A lot of it was linked to the rise of evolutionary theory that was just coming to prominence.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Christy Luis says:

          That is so interesting!! You really must love his work 😀 I listened to Under the Wide and Starry Sky, historical fiction about his relationship with his American divorcee wife, and it was fascinating. Anyway, I really appreciate your insights! Thanks again 😀

          Liked by 1 person

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