Updated: Jan 29
Recently while unpacking boxes, I came across a copy of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde written by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is one of those stories that you hear about so frequently, especially in pop-culture, that it can be embarrassing to admit that you haven't read it yet. Pretty much everyone knows this story or has at the very least heard it referenced.
Knowing that I decided I should finally sit down and read it. I spent the afternoon reading through the story. At 116 pages with 10 chapters, the story is classified as a novella. This means it’s not a long book, but boy does it make it feel like it is.
A Brief Summary
Even though the story is over 100 years old, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
Despite the title of the book, the story is told from the perspective of Gabriel Utterson, a lawyer and close friend of Dr. Jekyll’s, living in London. The man is basically described as boring yet lovable, with the last part being debatable if you ask me.
Every Sunday, Mr. Utterson would walk around town with his “friend” Richard Enfield. I say “friend” because even the book questions why these two men would be friends. The two routinely take this walk where they rarely talk and yet, as they pass a certain door, Mr. Enfield recounts a story where he witnessed a creepy-looking man who used that particular door trample a young girl and then continue walking without regard for her well-being. He reveals that the man was named Mr. Hyde.
Mr. Utterson informs his friend that he has heard of Mr. Hyde and that that particular door leads to Dr. Jekyll’s residence. He goes on to admit he is concerned for Dr. Jekyll, who recently amended his will so that if anything should happen to him, Mr. Hyde gets everything. This, combined with the detestable news from Mr. Enfield, bothers the lawyer who proceeds to investigate the matter in Victorian fashion. In other words, he talks to people in the politest way possible and that is the extent of his investigation. A whole lot of sitting and talking.
From there, the story unfolds and ends with the shocking reveal of Mr. Hyde’s identity, which, if you know of the tale, you know the answer to already.
What I Liked
This is a story that is often referenced in pop culture so I went in knowing the overall arc of the tale. However, I was surprised by how modern pop culture has changed things over the years.
Despite what most people think, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not a case of split personalities. Dr. Jekyll is completely aware of what he is doing throughout the book. He’s simply using the events of the book to indulge himself and let his hair down.
Instead of being about some monster, the story focuses on the idea of what happens when a person allows themselves to engage in what is deemed unsavory behavior. It poses the idea that if a person allows themselves to participate in bad behavior, they will slowly be consumed by it until it takes over their life.
It’s a very deep and thought-provoking look into the natures of good and evil within all of us.
What I Didn’t Like
The biggest problem I had with the story, ultimately came from its popularity. Pretty much everyone knows the story. Even if you don’t, chances are you know of the names or have seen the tale parodied in a cartoon somewhere. I believe both Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry had episodes around the concept.
The problem with the popularity is that the story is presented in a way where the audience isn’t supposed to know it. There is supposed to be this mystery to solve with a slow reveal. However, if you know the concept of the story like I did, from the very beginning, you know the surprise twist that comes at the end, which removes the majority of the fun and excitement.
This also leads to the story dragging on an on as the characters struggle to put the pieces of the puzzle together that you finished on page one. The story also suffers simply from its age. It was first published in 1886, and like a lot of stories from its time, it was written from the least active or exciting point of view. A lot of tales from this era fall victim to the problem of telling the readers about stuff, rather than showing it. So, instead of witnessing Mr. Hyde trample over the young girl, the tale is recounted to the reader by someone who witnessed it, and this kind of storytelling is repeated throughout the book.
After all of the references that I’ve seen over the years toward this tale, I was expecting a lot more from it. In retrospect, I don’t know exactly what I expected. Before reading the story, I had a pretty good understanding of the tale. The only bits I didn’t know were how the story started, and how it finished.
Unfortunately, due to how it is written, the story is more concerned with the explanation of the events, rather than the ending of the story. This leads to the end occurring and then spending several more pages explaining how the story happened, which again, most people nowadays will know going into it.
Honestly, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a perfect example of the hype of something growing too big and diminishing the product as a result. I’d heard about the story so much, I expected more from it than it could reasonably give. This leads to what is a really good story, being overshadowed by itself.
In the end, given the story’s short length, I say read it, especially if you don’t know what the story is about. It poses some great philosophical questions to ponder. However, don’t expect a lot of gripping entertainment from it. If you don’t want to read it for yourself, which I don’t really blame you for, go ahead and check out Overly Sarcastic Production’s video on YouTube about the story for a fun and entertaining breakdown of the book. Then you don’t have to slog through page-long paragraphs of descriptions.