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

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

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Behold: the regal and mystery that is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, if only I found it regaling and mysterious. A notable classic whose references still hold widely popular, the mystery has been stripped away—even for someone such as myself, who has never watched a film adaption. I am, however, familiar with the story and duality Jekyll and Hyde represent. Although far from a purely angelic being, Jekyll is neither good nor bad. What Dr. Jekyll equates to is an ambitious scientist who incidentally unleashes an evil from within himself. Now released, to be contained and muted beneath Jekyll’s morals and persona doesn’t appeal to the conscienceless Mr. Hyde. Confined in one body, a great struggle for dominance between two entities ensues, and what Jekyll might’ve hoped would be his success threatens his very life and reputation.

My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring.

This much I knew, as should everyone else. The puzzle piece is continually exploited and its references bomb pop culture. The mystery, then, is no longer a mystery. The shock value is nulled, but I didn’t read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde to hitch a ride on supposed thrill. Of course I liked the idea of knocking out another classic from my to-read list, but I also sought horror and hoped to be a first-hand witness to Jekyll’s torment. What I read, unfortunately, does not match up to what I had hoped to read. Where is the fright? The anguish in Jekyll’s eyes? Hyde’s fear and pursuit for control?

I found that it’s impossible to observe any of this because Stevenson denies his readers access. Some may disagree with my statement, but we—the readers—find ourselves strapped to Mr. Utterson’s side, hearing the story mostly through his account. (And in past tense no less.) Trapped in an outsider’s perspective, I, too—like Mr. Utterson—become a third party to the events of Jekyll and Hyde. I cannot observe the one most intriguing aspect, and everything I looked forward to reading about was crushed by Robert Louis Stevenson. Or, depending on how you look at it, Hollywood excelled in raising the standards of my expectations.

Mr. Hyde, as it turns out, is not the monster I expected. Stevenson only provides rare glimpses of the man, which does nothing to indulge my fantasy of an incorrigible evil that stalks nighttime streets. More importantly: rather than the individual of Jekyll or Hyde, what gives this novella power is the interrelationship between the two forces. Hyde begins as a dormant entity that emerges as a ruthless tyrant, growing to completely replace Dr. Jekyll. I am left in a disappointed state, because I believe the split individual(s)—the doctor and his freed cruelty—deserves spotlight. Had Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde differently, the duality of human nature could have been more deeply explored.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy or appreciate the theme. I did, in fact, take pleasure in reading this despite frustrations. The idea that people contain an alter ego, or two opposite forces, skulking beneath the public display of themselves is an interesting thought to tamper with. Although I had obvious disappointment—almost an anticlimactic experience—this literary work is long-standing and continues to see success. It remains a classic, and I feel that its references in popular culture will outlive many of us, which I think is enough reason to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde at least once. I certainly don’t regret the short little while it took me to finish Stevenson’s story, and I’m quite glad I set aside the time.

This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

  1. Really great review! :)

    I want to read this book at some point in the future, partly as you say to ‘knock off another classic’ but also because I’m a big fan of Gothic/horror classics because I love the imagery. Although I’m not sure if this is the case with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde it seems like it might have the potential…
    I read Dracula earlier in the year and I have to say your thoughts seem slightly similar to how I felt reading that. I guess I was just expecting something…more, more dramatic, more spooky, more something. It was still a good read just not at all what I was expecting!

    • Thank you (:

      I think I know what you mean about Dracula. I made an attempt to read it a couple years ago. I would have finished it if it hadn’t been a library copy, but it was very different than how I thought it would be. An extremely slow start, for one, but not the spook-fest I’d imagined. Although Bram Stoker has some wonderful lines in there! As does Stevenson in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but I feel it was too limited by the perspective.

  2. I have to say I’m on the other side of the fence. I loved this novella and think it touches on a lot of interest points, but at the same time I also read it as someone critically analyzing Victorian er-literature instead of as a pleasure horror read, so the difference may just depend on the perspective you take going into it. I am sorry you were disappointed with it. If you’re looking for a Victorian-era horror read that does live up to expectations (well, at least more than this one) I’d suggest “Sweeny Todd and the String of Pearls” by Malcolm Rhymer (or anonymous depending on who you ask). It’s not considered “high” literature but there’s plenty of bodies, blood shed, and murder to make it an under the covers read.

    • Oh, definitely. Perspective is something I thought about, too, as I typed up my review–especially when I read other reviews. I think why someone chooses to read it, or any book, will effect the overall opinion of the story. I did enjoy The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but it wasn’t how I imagined — something I also feel is in part due to the general sense of horror pop culture surrounds the story with.

      I’ll make sure to add Sweeny Todd & the String of Pearls to my list! Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. I completely agree with the points you brought up. Stevenson’s delivery of the story was a bit ‘dry’ and lacking thrilling details. The theme of duplicity within human nature is extremely interesting, and I feel since Stevenson took it up, he should have exploited it with more … vigour?

    • My thoughts exactly. I had nearly the same experience when I read his Treasure Island, and I’ve taken to describing his work as “readable but lackluster.” I thought of The Picture of Dorian Gray–not that it’s at all like Stevenson’s novella–but I love how Wilde explored his concept and readers are witness to Dorian’s changes. I feel that if Stevenson had taken a similar approach, there would be more to discuss — as far as symbolism and interpretation go, at least. I wish he’d focused on Jekyll and Hyde more, because they make for wonderfully complex characters.

      • Indeed! Although it is less noticeable in “Treasure Island”, because the novel is more plot-driven. But yes, if Stevenson got us acquainted with Jekyll/Hyde’s mind as intimately as Wilde did with Dorian’s, the novel would have been vastly improved. :)

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Tales of the Marvelous

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