Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review of "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson

The idea of a man ingesting a chemical solution which unleashes the vice-ridden half of his soul was a novel idea more than 100 years ago.  A testament to the novella’s durability, the idea remains as pertinent to discussions on science and humanity as it ever has, the titular names becoming idiomatic in the process.  And so while the works of Jules Verne and other early science fiction/fantasy writers of the late 19th century may now seem slightly dated, Stevenson’s 1887 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reads as fresh as ever thanks to the moral core on which the novella is built.

Set in a murky, Conan Doyle-esque London, the story is told from the point of view of the lawyer Mr. Utterson and his professional and personal dealings with the enigmatic Dr. Jekyll.  Written in precise prose that has a knack for the perfect turn of phrase and descriptive element, the strange, unexplainable events which happen around Utterson as he tries to figure out the mystery of his friend and his curiously worded will all live on the page under Stevenson’s pen.  His capability as a writer in this short work is unparalleled.  Not only style, the manner in which the plot structure majestically reveals what every modern reader already knows - that Jekyll is in fact Hyde  - can not disappoint.  Thus, even in the knowledge of this important tidbit, the story remains enjoyable for its telling alone.  Jekyll/Hyde’s internecine fight with the vice he despises yet cannot resist is a vividly related literary image and is precisely the reason the names have become idiomatic.  It's a real treat for lovers of quality prose.

Operating loosely on the idea of Gyges Ring (that a person acts differently if they know their deeds will be anonymous), with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Stevenson adds his thoughts to the pot of moral stew humanity is continually boiling.  Is man ultimately evil?  Is evil a more powerful force than good?  These important questions as well as others arise as the quandary in which the eponymous character finds himself is colored, the shades of humanity growing ever deeper.   Simultaneously entertaining, thought provoking, as well as pleasing to the eye stylistically, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde may well be the perfect novella.

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