A mysterious door-way, an incident of ferocious violence, a respectable and popular scientist, well-known for his enjoyable dinner parties who suddenly changes his will, the brutal killing of an elderly Member of Parliament, a diabolical serum that can transform one person into another – truly the ingredients of a fast good thriller! Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has captured the imaginations of readers ever since it was first published in 1886. It met with tremendous success and the words “Jekyll and Hyde” entered the English language as symbols of two conflicting sides of the same personality. The plot is fast and exciting. It begins with the description of two friends who are both lawyers strolling through the streets of Victorian London. As they pass a strange-looking door in a quiet by-lane, one of them recounts a mystifying incident that he had witnessed there a few months ago. He describes how a young girl was brutally beaten up by a sinister character, who when confronted by the narrator and passers-by, meekly agrees to compensate the child. He returns with a check signed by a man known to the narrator – a respectable scientist called Dr Henry Jekyll. As the mystery unravels, what comes to light is a dark and terrifying account of the conflict between good and evil.
Gabriel John Utterson and his cousin Richard Enfield reach the door of a large house on their weekly walk. Enfield tells Utterson that months ago, he saw a sinister-looking man named Edward Hyde trampled a young girl after accidentally bumping into her. Enfield forced Hyde to pay him £100 to avoid a scandal. Hyde brought Enfield to this door and gave him a cheque signed by a reputable gentleman (it is later revealed that it is Doctor Henry Jekyll, a friend and client of Utterson). Utterson fears that Hyde is being blackmailed by Jekyll as Jekyll recently changed will to make Hyde the sole beneficiary. When Utterson tries to discuss Hyde with Jekyll, Jekyll tells Utterson he can be rid of Hyde when he wants and for Utterson to drop the matter.
One night in October, a servant sees Hyde beat Sir Danvers Carew, another one of Utterson's clients, to death and leaving behind half a broken cane. The police contact Utterson, who leads officers to Hyde's apartment. Hyde has vanished, but they find the other half of the broken cane. Utterson recognises the cane as one he had given to Jekyll. Utterson visits Jekyll, who shows Utterson a note, allegedly written to Jekyll by Hyde, apologizing for the trouble that he has caused. However, Hyde's handwriting is similar to Jekyll's own, leading Utterson to conclude that Jekyll forged the note to protect Hyde.
For two months, Jekyll reverts to his former sociable manner, but in early January, he starts refusing visitors. Dr Hastie Lanyon, a mutual acquaintance of Jekyll and Utterson, dies of shock after receiving information relating to Jekyll. Before his death, Lanyon gives Utterson a letter to be opened after Jekyll's death or disappearance. In late February, during another walk with Enfield, Utterson starts a conversation with Jekyll at a window of his laboratory. Jekyll suddenly slams the window and disappears.
In early March, Jekyll's butler, Mr Poole, visits Utterson and says Jekyll has secluded himself in his laboratory for weeks. Utterson and Poole break into the laboratory, where they find Hyde wearing Jekyll's clothes and apparently dead from suicide. They find a letter from Jekyll to Utterson. Utterson reads Lanyon's letter, then Jekyll's. Lanyon's letter reveals his deterioration resulted from the shock of seeing Hyde drink a serum that turned him into Jekyll. Jekyll's letter explains that he had indulged in unstated vices and feared discovery. He found a way to transform himself and thereby indulge his vices without fear of detection. Jekyll's transformed body, Hyde, was evil, self-indulgent, and uncaring to anyone but himself. Initially, Jekyll controlled the transformations with the serum, but one night in August, he became Hyde involuntarily in his sleep.
Jekyll resolved to cease becoming Hyde. One night, he had a moment of weakness and drank the serum. Hyde, his desires having been caged for so long, killed Carew. Horrified, Jekyll tried more adamantly to stop the transformations. Then, in early January, he transformed involuntarily while awake. Far from his laboratory and hunted by the police as a murderer, Hyde needed help to avoid capture. He wrote to Lanyon (in Jekyll's hand), asking his friend to bring chemicals from his laboratory. In Lanyon's presence, Hyde mixed the chemicals, drank the serum, and transformed into Jekyll. The shock of the sight instigated Lanyon's deterioration and death. Meanwhile, Jekyll's involuntary transformations increased in frequency and required ever larger doses of the serum to reverse. It was one of these transformations that caused Jekyll to slam his window shut on Enfield and Utterson.
Eventually, one of the chemicals used in the serum ran low, and subsequent batches prepared from new stocks failed to work. Jekyll speculated that one of the original ingredients must have had some unknown impurity that made it work. Realizing that he would stay transformed as Hyde, Jekyll decided to write his "confession." He ended the letter by writing this: "Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end." With these words, both the document and the novella come to a close.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson's critical essays on literature contain "few sustained analyses of style of content". In "A Penny Plain and Two-pence Coloured" (1884) he suggests that his own approach owed much to the exag...More about Robert Louis Stevenson
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