Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

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Mary Reilly is a critically acclaimed novel written by Valerie Martin. It is praised for being a successful variation or alternative account of the events in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Because of this, it received many positive reviews from professional critics and readers alike, especially because of its originality, historical accuracy, and the authenticity of the Victorian language and setting.

The novel is narrated through the title character’s journal entries and tells the story of Mary Reilly, a loyal, intelligent, and naive servant girl in the household of Dr. Jekyll, whom the personnel describe as a good and thoughtful master. We are reminded of the events that take place in the original novel, but this time we see them from a different perspective—through the eyes of Mary.

In the beginning, we learn of the abusive nature of Mary’s alcoholic father and the death of her mother—and, in turn, her strength to overcome such trauma. The bond Mary shares with her master, her trust and loyalty to him, and, later on, even her love for the eccentric Doctor further solidifies this point.

Mary is a maid, a simple servant girl with a strong character. Because of the abuse and sadness she suffered in her past and her captivating personality, some even compare her character to Brontë's Jane Eyre. She is kind, caring, and endlessly loyal to her master, and as the story goes, we slowly empathize not only with her, but with most of the other characters, too (no matter how good or bad they are). We learn of the power of doubt and devotion and how our perspective and mental state might change when faced with questions we’re afraid to give answers to—especially if it’s about someone we love and respect and feel as if we have known our whole lives.

Similar to a Gothic tale, one of the most important elements of the novel is the compelling, resonant, detailed, and often dark style it is written with. Martin manages to give us a story which captures both Stevenson’s masterful representation of character duality (Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde) and the duality of the English political system and economy, filled with period-typical gender, social, and racial inequality. Using authentic Victorian language, she gives a modern twist on a classical story that showcases the most basic human instincts, emotions, and desires, and reminds us of the inner battle between good and evil all humans feel and experience.

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