The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
This is my gothic selection for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I’m not a fan of gothic or horror, so I took it easy on myself and went with a relatively tame Victorian novel. I’m more than halfway finished with this years challenge! I’ve reviewed 7 books, and I’m currently reading Ivanhoe and continuing to persevere through The Brothers Karamazov.
For Clutter Camp a few weeks ago, I wanted to try listening to an audiobook. I searched our library, and the only book on my challenge list available was The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This actually worked out well because that book is only 2 hours of audio and it turns out I don’t care for audiobooks at all. I managed to listen to it on the way to and from dropping kids off for vacation, but I don’t think I would have ever finished it at home.
Sidenote: I tried to not be bothered by the narrator’s pronunciation of Jekyll with a long e, but it was hard to not be jarred by it after always hearing Jekyll with a short e. I wonder which is the correct British pronunciation.
I have never more fervently wished that I could forget the spoilers for a book. It seems I was born knowing the plot twist that was coming, and it really is a crying shame that I can’t unknow what I know. If you’ve managed to get through pop culture unscathed by learning the plot of this book, stop reading this review right now and start reading the book basking in the knowledge that you alone get to enjoy it as it was meant to be read. The rest of us have to settle for a second-rate experience.
All that does not mean that I don’t think The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn’t worth reading even with the pervasive cultural spoilers! Stevenson still weaves a fantastic Victorian gothic tale, complete with the family lawyer and revelations through letters and legal documents.
Even knowing the twist, the significant differences between the popular culture version and Stevenson’s original characterization of Dr. Jekyll add suspense. In the book, Jekyll isn’t even the protagonist. Mr. Utterson and his quest to find the truth dominate the story. Stevenson describes him thus: “Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable.” He was lovable! I rooted for him and his friends as they tried (unsuccessfully) to help Jekyll. Utterson redeemed the book for me because Jekyll — not just Hyde — is wicked and it’s almost a relief when the end finally comes.
Another Back to the Classics Challenge participant described Jekyll’s character. I was going to write out similar thoughts, but she did it so well, I’ll link to her observations: Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.