Title: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Author: R. L. Stevenson
First published: 1886
This edition: 1985
I have finally read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I don’t mean “finally” in the sense that I have been pining to read this book. Rather, this short novel was a huge cultural phenomenon in its time and, to a lesser extent, remains so today — and so I think it fitting that I’ve now read the darn thing. I was familiar with the Jekyll/Hyde theme because it is still used and recognizable in entertainment: in everything from parodies in Bugs Bunny, to Petra‘s album “Jekyll & Hyde,” to appearances in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (The latter is a movie which I recommend wholly on its extraordinary badness). Now I have the opportunity to compare those with the original . . . if I’d want to, anyway. I’m lazy, so you never know.
I digress. Back to the book.
The first thing I noticed when I picked this book up, way back in September,* was “hey, this only costs a dollar!” It was one of those beautiful moments where a reading list and a bargain-basement bookstore collide. It’s a second-hand copy, so it was dead cheap on that account — but also, I think, because it’s a little book. A really little book. This edition clocks in at 114 pages, not including biographical material and the like. It probably took less than an hour to read straight through, although I didn’t time it. It’s a shorty.
It’s also . . . um . . . shall I say that it’s an obvious choice for parody? For one thing, it’s gothic in setting to the point of ludicrousness. Apparently, it is always night in London. Moreover, it is always that quiet kind of night where Horrible Things Happen. And the streets are always abandoned, the further to accommodate the Horrible Happening Things. I realise that this novel was written during the resurgence of romanticism after George Eliot’s death, when the gothic form moved from the country to the city, but it is a little jarring.
Then there’s the matter of form. It’s perhaps a little wrong of me to ding the book on the way the plot is layed out — after all, I already basically knew what would happen just through geeral pop culture — but it is rather peculiar. The action unfolds incredibly slowly in book-time: I believe that at least a year passes within the hundred or so pages of text. During that time, Utterson mostly stumbles around being dim. Dim as a post. I know that it can increase the dramatic irony when everyone but the protagonist has figured things out . . . perhaps that’s what Stevenson was going for?
I dunno. Obviously this book has had a huge influence over readers and culture. But I just don’t think it was really that good. I’m sorry. I don’t. I’m glad to have read it, but I don’t know if I ever would again.
3 stars / 5.
*I bought this in September as it was on the syllabus for a Victorian Fiction course I’m taking. We’ve not read it in class until now, and so neither had I.