The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Summary

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novella that tells the story of Dr. Jekyll, who produces a drug that allows Mr. Hyde, the evil side of his personality, to take control. 

  • Jekyll's lawyer, Mr. Utterson, takes an immediate disliking to Jekyll's new friend Mr. Hyde.
  • Utterson finds Jekyll dead in his laboratory and learns the horrible truth from a letter he had found.
  • Jekyll invented a drug that allowed Mr. Hyde, the evil side of him, to take control. Hyde soon became too powerful, and Jekyll was forced to kill himself to stop Hyde.

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Last Updated on February 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1251

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886 and achieved great success, selling over 40,000 copies within its first six months of publication. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a gothic story of Gabriel John Utterson’s investigation into a series of occurrences between the respected doctor, Henry Jekyll, and the nefarious Mr. Hyde. The novella explores themes of supernaturalism, the duality of self, and the importance and consequences of public opinion.

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Plot Summary

The story opens in London with Gabriel John Utterson on a weekly walk with his cousin Richard Enfield. When they pass by the door to a neglected two-story house, Enfield recounts to Utterson a disturbing encounter he witnessed there. Enfield tells Utterson that he saw a detestable man trample over a little girl, turning the little girl’s family and onlookers into an angry crowd. Enfield recalls how they demanded the man’s name—Hyde—and that he pay the child’s family a sum of £100 to avoid scandal. The man gives them a check, which Enfield had expected to be a forgery, but found it genuine. Enfield finishes his tale, and Utterson, an austere and reserved lawyer, feels ashamed of gossiping. Both men agree to not refer to the incident again.

With Enfield’s story on Utterson’s mind, he returns home. As a lawyer, Utterson had drawn up a will for his client Henry Jekyll. Utterson pulls the will from his safe and reviews it, suspicious of the recently changed terms that leave all of Jekyll’s possessions and wealth to Mr. Edward Hyde in the event of Jekyll’s death or disappearance. Hyde, the will’s sole benefactor, is the same man whom Enfield described earlier, and Utterson fears Jekyll is being blackmailed by Hyde.

Utterson decides to speak to Hyde directly, but when Utterson approaches him, Hyde snarls and refuses to speak to him. Two weeks later, Utterson attempts to discuss this matter with Jekyll himself, but Jekyll entreats him to drop the subject, saying that he can be rid of Mr. Hyde the moment he chooses, but he is interested in the young man’s potential. Utterson states he will never like Hyde, but promises to carry out the will as written.

A year later, Hyde is wanted for the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, one of Utterson’s clients. Hyde used a heavy cane to beat his victim to death. After the police find the mangled body of Hyde’s victim, the police contact Utterson, who confirms the identity of the body as Sir Danvers Carew and recognizes the broken cane as Jekyll's. Utterson leads the inspector to Hyde’s home. Finding that Hyde has vanished, they search his home and discover the other half of the cane hidden behind a door.

Jekyll gives Utterson a letter signed by Hyde, which states that Hyde has fled the country and apologizes for taking advantage of Jekyll’s generosity. Before leaving, Utterson stops to talk to Jekyll’s butler, Poole, and asks him to describe the messenger who delivered the letter. Poole tells him that no letter came by post, renewing Utterson’s fears that the letter came from Jekyll’s laboratory. That night, Utterson compares the handwriting of Hyde’s letter to an invitation signed by Jekyll and determines that Jekyll forged the letter to protect Hyde.

With the disappearance of Hyde, Jekyll seems to return to his happier, sociable self for a few months. However, he begins to seclude himself at home and refuse visitors. Utterson attempts to see Jekyll, with no success. Worried, Utterson visits their mutual acquaintance Hastie Lanyon to discuss Jekyll’s return to solitude. Lanyon says he suffered a great shock in relation to Jekyll and warns Utterson against interfering anymore in Jekyll’s affairs. Lanyon dies soon after but before his death Utterson receives a letter from him with instructions to not open it until after Jekyll’s death or disappearance. Utterson, struck by another mention of a “disappearance” in relation to Jekyll, resists the temptation to read the letter and stores it away.

On another Sunday walk with Enfield, Utterson and Enfield pass Hyde’s door, the same location where Enfield saw Hyde trample a young girl. They realize that there is a side entrance in Hyde’s deserted building connected to Jekyll’s laboratory. They see Jekyll in a window, looking disconsolate. They attempt to speak with him, and Jekyll responds at first, but then his expression suddenly shifts, and he slams the window shut. The men walk away in silence, stunned and horrified by what they just witnessed.

After dinner one night, Poole visits Utterson and tells him that Jekyll has secluded himself in his laboratory for more than a week. Jekyll’s behavior has become increasingly erratic, as he orders Poole to visit various apothecaries in search of a mysterious drug. Poole is worried that foul play has befallen his master at the hands of Hyde. Utterson and Poole break into the laboratory with an axe, where they find a dead Hyde dressed in Jekyll’s clothes. He has apparently committed suicide by drinking a vial of poison. They search the laboratory, Jekyll nowhere to be found. They find Jekyll’s revised will, which namesUtterson as the new benefactor, and a note from Jekyll addressed to Utterson, explaining that he has disappeared and Utterson should read Lanyon’s letter for the full story. A third enclosure contains Jekyll’s confession.

Utterson returns to his office and reads Lanyon’s letter first. Lanyon describes how his decline in health resulted from the shock of witnessing Hyde take a serum that transformed him into Jekyll. He never recovers from the knowledge that Jekyll was responsible for the murder of Danvers, leading to Lanyon’s ultimate death.

Jekyll’s detailed confession reveals a duplicitous lifestyle. In public, he tried to maintain his reputation as a respected doctor but always feared his true nature would be exposed. In private, he practiced his vices, believing that if people are capable of having separate identities, then they can occupy separate bodies. He conducted scientific experiments and manufactured a drug that gave a physical form to his evil self: Hyde.

At first, Jekyll controlled the transformations with a serum, allowing him to indulge in his darker impulses through Hyde’s unrestrained and uncaring persona without detection. However, one day Jekyll involuntarily became Hyde in his sleep, causing Jekyll to decide to cease becoming Hyde. Frightened, he tried to occupy himself with friends and social activities, but Jekyll gave in to his impulses and transformed into Hyde once more. Hyde, enraged by Jekyll’s repression of him, killed Danvers. Horrified, Jekyll renounced anymore transformations, but it was too late: Jekyll became Hyde while walking in the park, wide awake. Afraid that he would be discovered by the police in this condition, Hyde wrote to Lanyon in Jekyll’s handwriting, asking him to bring him chemicals from his lab that would change him back into Jekyll. Lanyon died from witnessing Hyde’s transformation into Jekyll. Meanwhile, Hyde began emerging more frequently. This exhausted Jekyll’s supply of chemicals, as each transformation required even larger doses to revert Hyde back to Jekyll. This forced Hyde to experiment with various combinations of drugs to no avail. Jekyll speculated there was some impurity in the original batches that allowed his transformations to work. Resigned that he would forever remain Hyde, Jekyll kills himself.

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