There are classics which are alluded to in contemporary culture, often referenced in today’s literature and are often effortlessly summoned in arbitrary verbiage that, for the present-day man, it may appear as though he knows everything about aforementioned classic without having ever consumed the classic in its original form.
One of such classics is Robert Louis-Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
For years I have heard, and used, the phrase “a Jekyll and Hyde personality,” and I have used it well, context considering, without having actually read the book. Such is the beauty of communication: the ability to transmit the implications of exhaustive text into the mundane hustle of day to day conversation.
I do not read much lately, I am shy to admit, and 500-paged literature have me fleeing for dear life. I blame my ruthless work schedule for my departure from my childhood haven – reading – but there’s much to be said for my surrender to the contrary tides of life.
Enough about me.
The fact that this book measures a modest 93 pages was what lured me into it; I mean, here was a book that wouldn’t lock me in a lunar matrimony! (I thought wrong, for it took me well over a month to read this book. I must add that it was no fault of Louis-Stevenson’s, but the blame should be cast resolutely upon me.)
One of the things that had me fascinated with this book was the language. Sometimes I appreciate the deviation from the essentially simple language with which today’s books are written. In this book I found new old words and new usage for old words.
It was especially interesting, the dramatic style with which texts from that age were written. I might remark that the exclamation mark may have been overworked then, and the semicolon. Interjections too (‘ay!’).
There were points in the book where I felt it would have met with scathing criticism from today’s critics, where I felt reviewers would have said, Robert Louis-Stevenson expended too much emotional energy in sections, and spared none for places where it was in dire need. I can’t, right now, recall those sections, but I remember feeling that way in the process of reading.
I would like to comment wryly on the fact that the events which caused Dr. Henry Jekyll much horror and consternation appear quite mundane in today’s world. Seeing as books are designed to charge the era in which they were written, it is obvious that at the time it was written, such a transfiguration might have come off as something verboten, Satanic and reserved for burning at the stake. In today’s world filled with literary mutants and other otherworldly beings, only the most removed persons would shudder at the events in the book.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t detract any from the power of this book. One mistake I made recurrently – which was cleared up upon reading the book – was assuming Dr. Jekyll was the ‘good’ personality, and Edward Hyde the ‘evil’ one. I assure you that I was positively impressed to discover that while Hyde was indeed the evil side of Dr. Henry Jekyll, Jekyll himself was but the ‘human’ side, the multifarious polity consisting of both good and evil in disproportionate amounts.
This book posed as a moral experiment in a soup of science fiction, and it was simply a dabble into old questions. Would life be better if we were entirely good or entirely evil, divested of conflicting emotions and free to do either good or evil as we desired? Louis-Stevenson took great pains to explain that Dr. Jekyll, for the purpose of the narrative, was what the world would call a ‘good’ man, so it is quite instructive the side of him that came to be hewn from him after the experiment. Does man tend towards good or evil? Would man, stripped of such encumbrances as a conscience, seek light or darkness?
Also, the fact that Hyde grew in stature and strength as he, so to speak, flexed his muscles in the outside world lent further ‘meat’ to a story expertly written about 2 centuries ago. I was at once respectful of Robert Louis-Stevenson and annoyed with myself that it took me this long to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Would you enjoy it? Perhaps, but what is life without trials?
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