The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

Posted: June 24, 2012 in Analysis, Books, Crime, Criticism, Library, Literature, Reading, Reviews, Sanctuary, Teaching
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Ah, Doctor Jekyll I presume!

This is one of my favourite concepts for a book and, like Dracula and Frankenstein, such a hugely evocative character and concept. It is intuitively resonant that lurking within all of us, behind the mask and veneer of social mores and decency, is a rampaging, amoral, bestial, primitive, reptilian beast. It is The Incredible Hulk, the werewolf; in Freudian terms, the conflict between the Id and the Superego; in Jungian terms – which is my favoured approach here – it is the Persona and the true identity.

What’s the critical difference between Freudian and Jungian approaches to Jekyll and Hyde? I’m no psychologist and my understanding is self-confessedly limited. For me, Freud would view Hyde as regressive, a retreat into the Id, a return to a childlike, animalistic slavery to impulse without the higher functions of the Superego. Jekyll would therefore be Freud’s tortured hero. For Jung, in my opinion, the roles would be reversed. Jekyll would be seen as the Persona, the shallow and brittle mask that has been selected to be presented to the world; it is an arbitrary selection, possibly imposed by external forces such as a father’s ambition. Hyde, therefore, would be viewed as the true and natural state of the man released through a – here pharmacologically induced – enantiodromia. Jung, therefore, may view Hyde as the tragic hero.

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Moving to the book. Let’s be honest, the writing style is not one that sits naturally with me. The somewhat clinical nature of the narration prevents Stevenson from developing his descriptions – with one or two notable exceptions – and the whole novella comes in at only 50 or so pages and no more than a couple of hours reading time.

Perhaps it says more about me than anything else but I would love to have seen more of the horrors of Hyde’s excursions. Films dwell on it – usually going to excess in the other direction – but Stevenson is almost silent. When we do see Hyde, his interactions still strike me as rather urbane. The epitome of evil – a word which I balk against by nature – seems incongruous when negotiating an out of court settlement for compensation!

Somewhere in my mind I recall hearing that Stevenson excised descriptions of Hyde’s excesses for fear of upsetting his wife – was he even married? – but I so wish he’d left them in!

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