Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that's so iconic, so much a part of the literary landscape, that it's almost unnecessary to read. But, because it's influential, I wanted to read it for myself, to see how it's survived so well in pop culture. It was a quick read, but it wasn't what I'd expected.

For starters, the story isn't quite Dr. Jekyll's. He narrates the last chapter, through a letter addressed to the perspective character, G.J. Utterson, lawyer. Dr. Jekyll, himself, shows up in very little of the narrative, and Hyde, while he drives most of the conflict, remains off-screen for much of the book. There is one scene from another perspective, that of a maid who witnesses a murder perpetrated by Edward Hyde.

The story is built like a mystery, with atmosphere and narrative tension galore. A lot of that tension is lost when you know Dr. Jekyll's great secret, but not all of it. You're still left wondering what's going to happen to the doctor, how this came about, exactly why he acts so oddly, and how Utterson is going to uncover the truth.

There are a few discrepancies between the Jekyll and Hyde of popular culture, and what exists in the book. Edward Hyde isn't a big, hulking monster, though he is younger and more robust than Dr. Jekyll, with hairy knuckles. While he's not outwardly deformed, makes people uneasy to look at him. He's also described as being significantly shorter. Hyde also isn't a different personality. Jekyll describes remembering perfectly well what Hyde does, and his growing horror in Hyde's behavior. He can control Hyde, to some extent, he just chooses not to, because he knows there will be no consequences. No one knows he's Hyde, so he can get away with all kinds of misbehavior. In that, Dr. Jekyll is like Griffin in H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. Jekyll & Hyde precedes The Invisible Man by 11 years, in case you were wondering who might've inspired who.

Overall, I think The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is worth reading for yourself. It's a lovely example of Victorian literature: heavy on the atmosphere and symbolism, light on gore or vulgarity. And it goes by quickly.

I listened to an audio edition, narrated by Wayne June. It's very strange, listening to an American read British fiction. There wasn't anything wrong with his pronunciation, it just took some getting used to. He spoke clearly, with no discernible change in volume, even when characters whispered or shouted. The audio quality was on the tinny side, but it didn't distort it to the point of distraction. The deep-voiced narrator might've sounded strange, if he'd been narrating any female dialogue, but no women speak in this story, nor are there any named female characters.

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