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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Robert Louis Stevenson published his famous Gothic novel about man’s dual nature, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in 1886. The story and its characters entered the public consciousness when the novel was first published and has never left it. Who hasn’t heard of Jekyll and Hyde? They (he) rivals Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and Dracula for name recognition among all classes of people.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is set in Victorian London in the 1880s, most of it on the fog-shrouded, gas-lit streets of the teeming metropolis of London. Dr. Henry Jekyll is a respected, middle-aged doctor. His friends know him as a staid, decent, sensible fellow, but there’s a side of him they don’t know about, an evil side. In his laboratory, he experiments with drugs and potions that will cause him to set aside his inhibitions and become another person entirely.

When we are first introduced to Mr. Hyde, we see his as a small, ugly, deformed man whom people instinctively dislike. We believe at first that he is an eccentric associate of Dr. Jekyll’s. People wonder why a man like Dr. Jekyll would tolerate a creepy person like Mr. Hyde. After a while it is revealed to us (we knew it all along) that Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll. When Dr. Jekyll undertakes his experiments with his potions in his laboratory, he turns into Mr. Hyde. (You know, a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality?)

Dr. Jekyll switches back and forth between himself and Mr. Hyde, until the change becomes harder to effect and requires more drugs, which are increasingly difficult to get. The situation gets out of hand when Mr. Hyde kills an old man on the street for no apparent reason and Dr. Jekyll must bear the responsibility. This is not going to end well for Dr. Jekyll, as we can see.  

In typical Hollywood fashion, with the various movie versions of the story (Fredric March in 1931 and Spencer Tracy in 1944), Dr. Jekyll’s female love interest becomes an integral part of the story. In both movies, he has a good (pure) lady of his own class whom he plans to marry and a trampish street woman whom he carouses with—and terrorizes—when he goes out at night and becomes Mr. Hyde. Not surprisingly, the female relationships that are such an important part of the movie versions are not explored in the book. Hollywood always takes many liberties when turning a classic novel into a movie.

Any way you look at it, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a pleasure to read, a fascinating story, a solid classic that must be read and enjoyed. I tried reading it when I was in the eighth grade and found I was a little too young to understand it. Now I must be at the ideal age because I understand it perfectly.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

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