Monday, August 4, 2014


When we refer to a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality, everyone knows what we mean.  The impact of this book is immeasurable, and it’s more of a novella in length.  I’ve just read it for the first time, as sort of a companion piece to Nancy Horan’s Under the Wide and Starry Sky about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny.  I have no idea how historically accurate Horan’s novel is, but in her book Stevenson rips up the original manuscript and completely reworks this novel to incorporate his wife’s suggestions.  Stevenson tells the tale with 3 narrators, the last of which is Jekyll himself.  What I found most telling about this last narrative is that Dr. Jekyll does not really consider himself a good man.  In fact, he much prefers being the cruel but freer Mr. Hyde, who has no conscience and no concern for the well-being of others.  As Dr. Jekyll he has to bury (and “hyde”) his baser desires and sees this effort as a sort of bondage to convention.  In other words, Jekyll comes off as a sociopath who chooses to act like a person with real empathy for his fellow human beings, even though in reality he has none.  As Mr. Hyde, he undergoes a sort of hypnosis, and hypnotists tell us that they cannot override our consciences.   Stevenson chooses not to challenge our trust that a truly good person cannot be persuaded to do evil deeds.  I couldn’t help wondering, if the character enjoys being Hyde so much, how he motivates himself to revert to his Jekyll persona.  Since his physical appearance changes, I suppose he has to become Jekyll to avoid being captured by the police for his actions as Hyde.  Anyway, I can think of all sorts of alternate scenarios, such as Hyde being in jail for his evil deeds and asking his attorney to bring him the potion that will restore Dr. Jekyll.  It’s no wonder this iconic book has spawned TV shows, movies, and other novels that put a different slant on this timeless and intriguing story.

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