Revisiting the Classics: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Words slide across the page, an imprint of dark symbols upon off-white paper that whispers with each turn, hinting at meaning unwritten. One sees into an author’s heart with each word absorbed, each sentence processed. Your eye finds the page bottom, yet wanders back a paragraph or so as you wonder how the meaning passed you by. You struggle until understanding arrives.

Robert Louis Stevenson published the classic novella, the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in January, 1886. With a mysterious white powder, poor Dr. Jekyll finds his ‘heart of darkness’ and becomes addicted to it. Mr. Hyde has unchained himself from Jekyll’s conscience. And the reader squirms with the idea of an evil self and protests, ‘I’m really a good person.’

A shadow creeps across one’s peripheral vision, a scene undone as soon as you turn your head. Yet we are mesmerized by the evil caught in the news, a crime series, a murder mystery, living vicariously because we, unlike Dr. Jekyll would rather remain outside the arena, daring not to take the potion, to meet the potential Mr. Hydes within us. We listen to the reasonable voice of Mr. Utterson and nod approvingly as the character allows his curiosity to chase the mysterious Mr. Hyde, determined to protect Jekyll from himself. We step back from Dr. Lanyon, who dies of shock at the thought of what his dear friend Dr. Jekyll has become, insisting we would respond more appropriately, we might even wrestle Hyde from Dr. Jekyll, in spite of Utterson’s failure and Jekyll’s all-too-human frailties. We can’t help but re-write the story in our own imagined experience.

Is it possible to separate out this darkness, give it it’s own life? Where does Dr. Jekyll go when Mr. Hyde lives? Perhaps in the shadows there lurks a Mr. Angel, paralysed by his conscience, unable to breath for fear it takes someone else’s, incapable of a single step lest it cross another’s path, undone by the crooked unpredictable course of life, worried into inaction that it might harm others. In short, the other side of Dr. Jekyll, equally dysfunctional, probably more harmful to himself than others.

Sharp edges define the aspects of personality as Jekyll (and Stevenson) see them. How simple it would be to view ourselves so clearly, yet Jekyll himself learns through slow and painful experience, that when it comes to human nature, there are no magic potions, no sharp edges. The human spirit is complex and muddy, leaving each of us with joys, sadness, regrets. In the end, we are all Mr. Uttersons, as I believe the author intended.

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