The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
Robert Louis Stevenson said that the plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (first published without “The” as the first word in the title) first came to him in a nightmare and that, after waking up, he wrote the first draft in three days. Stevenson introduces the mystery of the evil Mr. Edward Hyde—the central puzzle of the story—early in the novel, but he does not provide a solution to the mystery until the very end. The reader’s first encounter with Hyde is at second hand, in a story told to Gabriel John Utterson, a lawyer friend of Dr. Henry Jekyll, by Richard Enfield, who saw Hyde trample a child. Because Jekyll recently has changed his will to leave all of his money to Hyde, Utterson is intrigued and begins to investigate. He fears that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll and plans to murder him.
When Sir Danvers Carew, a respected member of Parliament, is murdered and Hyde is implicated by a witness, a manhunt begins, but Hyde cannot be found. Utterson begins to suspect that more than a murder is involved when he discovers that the handwriting of Jekyll is identical to that of Hyde, except for the slant of the letters. His suspicions deepen when he learns that Dr. Hastie Lanyon has developed hard feelings toward his old friend, Henry Jekyll. Although Lanyon is dying, he refuses to see Jekyll again.
The mystery that surrounds the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde is revealed gradually by means of a letter from...
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a disquieting story about the efforts of an individual to escape his own nature. The novel offers an account of Dr. Henry Jekyll, a Scottish scientist who, after years of attempting to accommodate both his moral side and his pleasure-seeking side, becomes convinced that a separation of the two would be desirable.
In his laboratory, Jekyll develops a chemical potion that is designed to accomplish the separation and drinks it. After a “grinding of the bones” and a horrible nausea, he begins to feel “incredibly sweet” and free. Looking in the mirror, Jekyll observes not himself but Edward Hyde, a smaller and younger person than himself. Jekyll delights in the division of himself and in his new liberty, but he soon begins to lose control of Hyde, who can assume Jekyll’s form at will. The novel follows Dr. Jekyll’s struggle with Mr. Hyde, who becomes increasingly evil and whom Jekyll refuses to acknowledge as a part of himself.
The enormous popularity of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has aided the perpetuation of a persistent view that it is a simple fable of the division between the good and evil that exists in everyone. The complexity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s imaginative story of an individual’s conflict with himself, however, is evident in its multiple narratives. Through the presentation of various points of view, Stevenson escalates knowledge of...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*London. Great Britain’s capital and leading city is the general setting for the novella. The story depends for its effect on a suitably gothic atmosphere, and its portrayal of London is one of the great triumphs of the work. However, in the view of many scholars, Stevenson’s London is based more on his native Edinburgh, Scotland, than on the actual London of his time.
The story’s London is full of ominously empty streets and glaring lamps; it is silvered by ghostly moonlight or drowned in impenetrable fog. Its streets echo with sinister footsteps, and it is a place of questionable neighborhoods, strange houses, and dubious doors. Fog penetrates the very interiors of houses; biting winds whip sparse trees against railings, and even in the daylight, fog and mist can create ghostly and frightening phantasmagorias. In this story, London is mostly a city of the night, a place in whose darkness or under whose lurid lamps a child can be trampled or a dignified old man be murdered. Stevenson creates the overwhelming sense that just beyond the warm hearths and respectable characters’ sitting rooms there lurks a dark and dangerous place.
Jekyll’s house. London residence of Dr. Henry Jekyll. Like Jekyll himself, his house is possessed of a dual and bifurcated nature. Indeed, almost every detail of the house reflects symbolically his character and situation. Jekyll’s “official” house has a respectable and handsome facade, a door that is opened by an old and decent servant, and an interior that is expressive of wealth, comfort, and security. This house, or the public part of his house, is a perfect expression of the front that the eminently respectable Dr. Jekyll presents to the world....
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Eigner, Edwin M. Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. Relates The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the tradition of the nineteenth century prose romance. As evidence, Eigner considers the novella’s narrative structure, the theme of pursuit, and the struggle of the hero against self.
Geduld, Harry M., ed. The Definitive “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Companion. New York: Garland, 1983. An anthology offering a wide spectrum of approaches from commentary to parodies and sequels. Appendices list the main editions; recordings; staged, filmed, and televised...
(The entire section is 242 words.)