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.


2 thoughts on “Classics Challenge: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

  1. Thanks for the link! I am not a fan of horror or Gothic books, either, so I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d do this category. But when another friend reviewed this book, I decided I wanted to read it, challenge or no challenge. The long e in in Jekyll is a mystery – I’ve never heard it that way. I felt the same way about knowing the basic outcome of the book beforehand – I’m sure it would be much more suspenseful without knowing that. But I did like Utterson as the protagonist rather than Jekyll.

    I started listing to audiobooks when we moved. In our old town, everywhere we had to go was 5-10 minutes away. Here, besides the grocery store, most everything is 20+ minutes away. That’s really not a bad commute, but I was so used to a shorter one that I chafed at the time in the car. So I started listening to audiobooks to pass the time, and it did make the drive seem much shorter. I usually listen to classics that way, because many of them are so long, I don’t want them monopolizing my reading time for long periods. Plus the older ones often have wordy descriptions and such that I don’t mind as much when I am doing something with my hands while listening. Listening is a different dynamic than reading, and sometimes I’ll look up a passage online or in a free Kindle version because I want to go over it again in print. But I’ve come to enjoy audiobooks quite a bit and listen to them now while getting ready in the morning and exercising as well as driving – sometimes even while doing housework.

    1. I know that I would enjoy audiobooks more if I was alone in a car for a long period of time. In this season, I have short drives with four children. It’s hard to get into a classic with all that’s going on in our van! On longer trips, we have enjoyed listening to children’s books. They are shorter and simpler, so I find it easier to follow along without the text in front of me.

      At home, I can handle the interruptions when I’m listening to a podcast, but I can’t get a listening rhythm for longer narratives. I’m blessed to have lots of time to read physical books in the evenings!

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