No Surprises, but still Surprised

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Title: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Rating: 4 Stars

This is a tough book to rate. On the one hand, it’s clearly a classic tale of horror and suspense. On the other hand, I’ve known, ever since I was a child, that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the same person (spoiler alert!). Therefore, it’s really hard to judge the book by its genre.

However…

There still are many fascinating aspects to it.

First of all, and most obviously, there is the duality of good and evil. Dr Jekyll, that most gentle of doctors, admits of evil violent urges that he acted upon in his youth. This paragon of virtue has more than a touch of evil (don’t we all). He discovers a way to separate his good self and his evil self; naively he thinks for the betterment of both. His evil urges get to act out and while his pure soul can somehow be untainted by the actions of this ‘different’ person.

Clearly this cannot stand. Mr Hyde, starting off so small and relatively weak, grows in stature and monstrosity over time (as evil inevitably will if left unchecked) and eventually takes over the gentle Dr Jekyll, who ceases to exist. If good lets evil go unchecked, evil will triumph.

I also found it interesting the fact that it was a potion that turned Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde. Could this be an allegory for alcoholism? Taking the potion turns Dr Jekyll into a uninhibited monster lacking impulse control and judgment. This sounds like me on many a Saturday night. It falls apart because he apparently drinks that same potion to turn back. Oh well, it was a good try.

There are obvious Freudian aspects here. Mr Hyde would seem to be the classic id while Dr Jekyll acts as the superego. This story was written in 1886, which is, interestingly enough, the very year that Sigmund Freud started his private practice in Vienna. Clearly, this work was developed independently of Freud. Was there something in the air during that time? It’d be interesting to do a deeper analysis to determine if there is some common thread of thought that ties Stevenson and Freud together.

Finally, having just finished Heart of Darkness (written in 1899, barely ten years later), I see connections between Dr Jekyll and Kurtz. They both start off on a humanitarian mission with the best of intentions. Over time, their dark side takes over to the point where they commit despicable acts. Once they’ve gone over to the dark side, despite their attempts they cannot come back and they both end up perishing as a result. They both end up with a witness to handle their estate and to tell their tale (Marlowe for Kurtz and Utterson for Jekyll).

So, for a story that, however it might have once been, is now completely lacking in suspense and horror and shock, it still provokes thoughts and fresh ideas that still resonate over a hundred years after it was written.

 

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