My second Wordsworth Classics Reading Challenge 2011 book comes in the form of Robert Louis Stevenson's dark tale The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Written in 1884, Stevenson's novel is short and addictive. You've been warned.
I'm sure many of you are aware of the plot of this novel. Whether you have read Stevenson's work or seen one of the many film adaptations (the bugs bunny version jumps to my mind), I'm assuming you have a fair grasp of the storyline. Instead of hashing out the plot I'll examine one of the novel's many themes.
Stevenson illustrates late Victorian English society's fear of the growth of scientific disciplines and the ever-expanding city. In fact, by the turn of the century many people viewed the city as a vile and dangerous location that harboured criminals.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde capitalizes off of the late Victorian dichotomy between a reverence for and a disenchantment with urbanization and science. Dr. Jekyll, a respectable and learned physician, represents the Victorians reverence for men of science. Mr. Hyde illustrates the dangerous and seedy side of science and modernization. The late Victorian
dichotomy is heightened as both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde exist within one being.
Stevenson's physical descriptions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde echo Victorian beliefs concerning appearances. According to the Victorian standby, a person's appearance denotes their inner personality and righteousness. Stevenson's work expertly reflects this presupposition. Mr. Hyde, described as short, hairy, deformed and hideous counters the respectable, tall, and elegant Dr. Jekyll. Parallels between appearances and character traits are prevalent in Victorian literature - and I always love spotting a good stereotype.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an enjoyable and compelling piece of literature. However, I believe that Stevenson's work does not exist solely in a Victorian time era. The dichotomies Stevenson explores within his work (fear and admiration for cities, science, and individuals with credentials) can also be applied to modern societies. Perhaps that is why there are so many adaptations of Stevenson's famous work.