The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories turned out to be a relatively quick read. Here are my thoughts on these stories:
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
This was a little different than I expected. It's rather introspective, if that's an appropriate word. The emphasis is not on the action or the dirty deeds that Mr. Hyde perpetrates. Instead, the focus is on the duality of the natures of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In truth, they are not separate men. They are two different aspects of one man's nature. Dr. Jekyll somehow discovers how to separate out the primal aspect of himself, the one who follows his most deepest, uncivilized urges. As time passes, he comes to realize that Mr. Hyde is winning control over him.
I would think that this is really an allegory here. As human beings, we all have a dark side. Some of us try to control it more than others. Some throw a hypocritical facade over that dark person inside of them, pretending to be upright and moral. I don't believe that Dr. Jekyll really needed a serum to undergo this change. To see this story played out in the fantastic/science fiction manner makes it more interesting, surely. But, humanity often needs no potion to be at its darkest and most monstrous.
In learning something about Mr. Stevenson's background, I can see why he chose to write about the hypocrisy of society. He came from a Presbyterian tradition, which follows the religious theory of predestination, in which some are called to salvation, and they have a better, more prosperous life, as a result. Those who are doomed to damnation, will lead low, desperate lives. Mr. Stevenson came to question this and reject these doctrines in his life. I could see some of his philosphical musings about his religious background playing out in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll was born to privilege. He worked to keep up a facade of morality, when he really wanted to indulge his darkest desires the whole time. When he invented the serum, this allowed him to do so without so-called feelings of guilt. However, this became his fatal flaw. His true self could no longer be hidden.
To my surprise, this was not an action-oriented or lurid story. The narrative shows the observations of the friends of Dr. Jekyll, and towards the end, an epistolary narrative is used, in which we see the workings of Dr. Jekyll as his life undergoes this transformation.
This was a thoughtful, somewhat philosophical story (at least in my inexpert opinion). It gave me something to think about. Hypocrisy is something I truly dislike. It is one thing to be a person who tries to life a good life; it is another to pretend to be moral, but hide your dark proclivities behind a polite mask. I have a feeling that Mr. Stevenson had similiar feelings on that subject. At 81 pages, this is a short read, and it's written in a very readable style. My edition has footnotes for some of the more obscure terms that Mr. Stevenson used. I'd recommend it to the readers with an inclination towards the classics, and for those who would like to see the origins of the figure (or should I say figures) who have become a part of pop culture through film versions, pastiches, and modern literary works, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1. I would give this story a four star rating.
A Lodging for the Night
This was another thought-provoking story. The beginning shows a rather heinous murder. The rest of the book shows one of the persons who was there during the murder. I started out thinking the worst of this man, but Mr. Stevenson gave me some insight, and helped me to see him through a different pair of glasses. Mr. Villon seeks shelter on a cold night, ending up in the home of a much adored military hero. He has to sit and listen to a self-righteous lecture for the price of a meal and a warm place to pass the night. Again, Mr. Stevenson's background in the privileged middle class of Presbyterian Scotland comes to play. Mr. Villon makes a good case for himself. He wants to be a moral man, but he has no other options besides thievery to keep food in his belly and a roof over his head. He asserts that he follows his own moral code, even if others think him behind the pale. On the other hand, the soldier can feel self-righteous that he is not a thief, and that God has blessed him with plenty for his moral actions. His success in life is due to his good character, or so he attests to. However, Mr. Villon points out that as a soldier, he committed or has been party to similar actions, but they are deemed respectable because of his high position in life. Mr. Villon had something of value to say here. It's too bad that the soldier couldn't look past his own sense of entitlement to see the wisdom in what this 'low' man had to say. It would have been a good lesson for him. I actually got quite involved in this story. I would give it four stars.
The Suicide Club
This turned out to be three related stories. They are very much in the mystery/adventure/suspense genre. And they were quite thrilling, especially the first. Imagine that there is a club where men can go to have themselves done away with when they are tired of living. They pay a fee, and each night, they show up. Fate will determine when they die and how. But, the person pulling the strings is doing so out of his own greed. Will justice be done here? This story had me on the edge of my seat. I literally didn't know how it was going to end. The end turns out to be open-ended, and it leads into two more stories. I liked how the next two stories start with different narrators, and I had to figure out how they tied into the first story. The way in which they relate was very imaginative. There is more mystery and suspense as each subsequent story unfolds, and I learned what they had to do with our protagonists from the initial story. I think Mr. Stevenson had a good hand with suspense, as shown through these stories. Four star rating.
I had some trouble with Scottish brogue in which most of this story was written. I had to concentrate really hard to decipher what was being said. Despite that, this was a very chilling story indeed. The minister in this story was a brave man. I could see how he was much changed by his blood-curdling experience with the titular character in this story. To say more would spoil it. If you can handle the brogue, give this a try. Four stars.
This is actually a reread for me. Another story in which the worst monster in the closet is human, and a nice facade hides a putrid center. This story is based on the real life incidents of the Resurrection Men of Edinburgh, Scotland (1827-1828), who started out grave-robbing to provide corpses for dissection for an anatomist. Eventually, they started murdering people so they would have a steady supply of these corpses. I liked that there were some pretty scary consequences for the actions of the two grave-robbers in this story; although it's questionable if the person who really needed the lesson learned anything.
At first, I didn't really like this story. However, I got thrown for a loop at the supernatural twist it took. Markheim is forced to face his life, and the acts he committed through the years. His false sense of righteousness, and the slippery slope that took him down the path to becoming a murder. It was a real wake-up call for him. And it gave me food for thought. Four stars.
Overall thoughts: I read The Picture of Dorian Gray earlier this month, and I can't help but constrast it with this collection. Mr. Oscar Wilde seemed to be a proponent of not injecting his own sense of meaning into his story. In contrast, there seems to be a lot of Mr. Stevenson's thought processes in his stories. I don't think either is better or worse. I feel that writers have different motivations, and I can learn from any number of them, finding something of personal meaning in their stories. In the case of this volume, I can certainly see why Mr. Stevenson continually revisits the same concepts (although in different ways in each story). It is clear that they played heavily on his mind. Perhaps these stories served as a catharsis for him. Even more than a hundred years later, our society has similar divisions and issues, which might contribute to social ills in no small way (in my opinion). As such, these stories still have a relevance to this reader.
Sadly, Mr. Stevenson has been dismissed by literary critics as a second-rate writer. My personal opinion is that he wrote very well. His stories were entertaining, but they had a strong message to the reader. That's not what I'd consider hack writing. But, each reader has to make their own decision about that.
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