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Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Jekyll and Mr Hyde Poster

<![CDATA[Initially released as a "shilling shocker"- short, exciting, mass produced books aimed at a mainstream audience - Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' has survived as one of the most poignant, timeless horror stories from the Victorian era. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1850, Stevenson had already achieved great success with his stories, 'Treasure Island' and 'The Kidnap', by the time 'Jekyll and Hyde' was published. These adventure stories, perhaps filling a role comparable to a modern action movie, were all about providing easy escapism for the reader. Jekyll and Hyde is a much more unsettling work, one which opened a window onto a host of hidden realities in Victorian society. 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' has a story that is likely known by most people, thanks to the book's huge popularity (it has been in constant publication since its initial release) and a host of subsequent adaptations of the story. Through narration by friends and associates of Dr. Henry Jekyll, the reader learns about Mr. Hyde; a grotesque, viscous and violent figure who terrifies his local community, trampling on a child simply because she got in his way. Jekyll's acquaintances observe that this figure has some kind of hold over Dr. Jekyll. As the book progresses, they speculate about exactly what Jekyll and Hyde's relationship could be, until the story reaches its twist: Jekyll and Hyde are in fact the same person. (One unfortunate consequence of the novel's popularity is that it is difficult to appreciate just how shocking this revelation would have been to its original readers). Throughout the book, duality and repressed realities are key themes. Stevenson, from a family of engineers, had a comfortable upbringing in Edinburgh. Growing up in the city's 'New Town', an affluent area filled with modern, rationalised architecture and the city's wealthy inhabitants, the young Stevenson would nevertheless have been aware of the 'Old Town' just a short distance away. Edinburgh's Old Town at the time was a place of degradation, poverty and debauchery. Both parts of the city of course formed part of its identity, but the New Town inhabitants clearly tried to cut off themselves from events in the Old Town. A similar contrast existed in London, where the story is set: a city which was characterised by both extreme wealth and extreme poverty, high culture, and shocking depravity. The dualism of Jekyll and Hyde undoubtedly is intended to reflect these contradictions. Victorian society is often remembered for its prudishness, its celebration of rationality and manners and the suppression of raw emotion and passions. This repression is something that Jekyll and Hyde engages with, shining a light on the things Victorians liked to keep hidden in their closets. The rise of the British Empire had led to Britons coming into contact with a host of other cultures, sometimes leading to engagement with these cultures but also fueling a sense of Victorian superiority. Jekyll and Hyde exposes Victorian values as nothing more than a veneer. Jekyll, a doctor, is very much the embodiment of a respected figure in society. With that in mind, it is important to remember that the vile, immoral Hyde is still a part of Jekyll, he's not a separate entity. Hyde is the embodiment of the parts of human nature Victorians wished to suppress, a reminder that these traits can never be truly destroyed. A timeless horror story which enjoyed enormous popularity as soon as it was published, Stevenson's book is a rare example of a novel which enjoyed mainstream success while also drawing attention to some uncomfortable truths about the society from which it was created. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Chicago : National Prtg. & Engr. Co. Modifications by Papa Lima Whiskey

Related Books

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

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