My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll has discovered the ultimate drug. A chemical that can turn him into something else. Suddenly, he can unleash his deepest cruelties in the guise of the sinister Hyde. Transforming himself at will, he roams the streets of fog-bound London as his monstrous alter-ego. It seems he is master of his fate. It seems he is in complete control. But soon he will discover that his double life comes at a hideous price…
Sarah Langan doesn’t so much talk about the story of Jekyll and Hyde, but instead about its historical context and what Robert Louis Stevenson had to say about society at the time. I have to admit, it’s interesting… but I found the story itself lacking.
In reading outside my comfort zone, I try going into these classics with an open mind, wanting to appreciate them for what they are rather than wishing for something they’re not. But I’m still mainly looking for entertainment. And I didn’t really get that here.
“Stevenson tended to view the world as an outsider. His health problems engendered in him a sympathy for those less fortunate, and his travels taught him about the world outside stiff, Victorian Britain.” So when it comes to populating his world, the characters just don’t come across as likeable – of course not, if they’re the sort of people Stevenson disapproved of – or even very interesting. “There is no honesty between them, or even joy – only politeness, and convention.” Unfortunately, there’s also nothing for me to get invested in.
The ultimate message, Langan argues, is that Hyde is really no worse than anyone else in “a class that ignores all things odious.” And despite the reputation the story has as one of good vs evil, she considers Jekyll complicit in everything Hyde did. He wanted to let loose his inhibitions and was just looking for a way to make him feel okay about doing it. Did Stevenson have the same opinion when he wrote the character?
I think the fact that the only way I can discuss Jekyll and Hyde is as if I’m writing a school paper just goes to show how little I enjoyed the actual book. I’m not sorry I read it, and I’m definitely not saying it doesn’t belong on this list. It “inspired the modern trope of the dual personality, from comic book heroes like The Incredible Hulk to Stephen King’s The Dark Half” (which is, incidentally, one of my favorite King books). But it’s not what I look for in my pleasure reading.
Thirty-five down, sixty-five to go…