Mr. Utterson, a staid and respectable lawyer, suspects that his friend Dr. Jekyll has got dragged into certain unpleasant activities and undertakes some detective work to find out more. He is haunted by the figure of Mr. Hyde, a man who embodies depravity, immorality and meaningless violence. Through the course of the novel we follow Mr. Utterson as he struggles to find explanations for the mysterious events happening around him.
Victorian society considered itself the epitome of civilization. Throughout the nineteenth century the Europeans tried to ‘civilize’ the ‘savages’ of the colonies. They were both fascinated and repulsed by the culture of ‘pre-civilization’ societies. The novel deals with this kind of conflict – Dr. Jekyll is attracted to the darker side of human existence and longs to be free of morality and conscience, at the same time he feels guilty for his dark impulses and tries to separate his good side from the same. Dr. Jekyll seems to hide a savage being under his veneer of erudition and refinement.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was instantly successful when it was first published in 1886. It is a Gothic mystery, a genre that was immensely popular in the late-nineteenth century. Those who do not know the answer to the mystery, and unfortunately they are in a minority, will be amazed by the sheer brilliance of the story. And the people who do know the secret will find that this book is a must-read; the power of Stevenson’s craft ensures that the book entertains every one of his readers. The novel is mostly written in third-person narrative. The language is sometimes crisp and sometimes beautifully evocative.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has always been a special book to me, though The Master of Ballantrae is my favorite among Stevenson’s novels. It is impossible to deny that every person has two sides – a person is constituted of an ‘angel’ and a ‘fiend’. Who can forget the little angel and fiend who quarrel over Captain Haddock’s desire for whisky! This mystery novel is a thinly veiled exploration of the human psyche. It is as serious and dark as it is entertaining. I first read this novel in an abridged version at the age of eight or nine; even then I was fascinated by the character of Dr. Jekyll. The other characters in the novel are well-rounded, but they fade in comparison to Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde is of course indescribable; Stevenson refrains from giving him definite shape, thereby giving him an aura of the uncanny. The last chapter of the novel is a first person narrative from the point of view of Dr. Jekyll, and in that one chapter Stevenson creates one of the most powerful characters in Victorian literature. Through this figure Stevenson holds up a mirror and asks the reader to recognize himself or herself in it.
Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta
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