Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the original title of a novella written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson that was first published in 1886. The work is commonly known today as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The novella was written in the southern English sea side town of Bournemouth, where Scotsman Stevenson had moved due to ill health, in order to benefit from its warmer southern climate.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was an immediate success and is one of Stevenson’s best-selling works. Stage adaptations began within a year of its publication and it has gone on to inspire scores of film and stage performances.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was initially sold as a paperback for one shilling in the UK and one dollar in the U.S. The American publisher issued the book on 5 January 1886, four days before the first appearance of the UK edition issued by Longmans. Within the next six months, close to forty thousand copies were sold. By 1901 it was estimated to have sold over 250,000 copies.
The work is commonly associated with the rare mental condition often spuriously called “split personality”, referred to in psychiatry as dissociative identity disorder, where within the same body there exists more than one distinct personality. In this case, there are two personalities within Dr Jekyll, one apparently good and the other evil; completely opposite levels of morality. The novella’s impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the very phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.
Dr. Henry Jekyll is a “large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty with something of a stylish cast”, who occasionally feels he is battling between the good and evil within himself, thus leading to the struggle between his dual personalities of Jekyll and Edward Hyde. He has spent a great part of his life trying to repress evil urges that were not fitting for a man of his stature. He creates a serum, or potion, in an attempt to mask this hidden evil within his personality. However, in doing so, Jekyll transforms into the smaller, younger, cruel, remorseless, evil Hyde. Jekyll has many friends and has a friendly personality, but as Hyde, he becomes mysterious and violent. As time goes by, Hyde grows in power. After taking the potion repetitively, he no longer relies upon it to unleash his inner demon i.e., his alter ego. Eventually, Hyde grows so strong that Jekyll becomes reliant on the potion to remain conscious.
Stevenson never says exactly what Hyde takes pleasure in on his nightly forays, generally saying that it is something of an evil and lustful nature. Thus, in the context of the times, it is abhorrent to Victorian religious morality. Hyde may have been reveling in activities that were not appropriate to a man of Jekyll’s stature, such as engaging with prostitutes or burglary. However, it is Hyde’s violent activities that seem to give him the most thrills, driving him to attack and murder Sir Danvers Carew without apparent reason, making him a hunted outlaw throughout England.
In London, Gabriel John Utterson, a prosecutor, is on his weekly walk with his relative Richard Enfield, who proceeds to tell him of an encounter he had seen some months ago while coming home late at night. The tale describes a sinister figure named Edward Hyde who tramples a young girl, disappears into a door on the street, and re-emerges to pay off her relatives with 10 pounds in gold and a cheque signed by respectable gentleman Dr. Henry Jekyll (a client and friend of Utterson’s) for 90 pounds. Jekyll had recently and suddenly changed his will to make Hyde the sole beneficiary. This development concerns and disturbs Utterson, who makes an effort to seek out Hyde. Utterson fears that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll for his money. Upon finally managing to encounter Hyde, Hyde’s ugliness, as if deformed, amazes Utterson…
NB. This posting is about the 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and its publication in original form, with the artwork used to sell it, plus as theme for graphic novel adaptations. Stage and film adaptations will be covered separately.