Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Introduction
In A Nutshell
We live in a world that lurves a good good vs. evil story. Star Wars has the Empire (boo!) and the Rebel Alliance (yay!). The Lord of The Rings has Hobbits & Co. (woo-hoo!) against Sauron and his creepy horseback-riding zombie lords (hiss!). The Hunger Games has the regular Joes/Katnisses of the world (huzzah!) persecuted by a bunch of sadistic richy McRichersons with questionable taste in cosmetics (blergh).
So of course we all like Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a book whose title has become synonymous with the battle between Big Bad and Big Good. Right? Right?
Eh... sort of.
People tend to think of this novel as a pretty clear case of split personality. In one corner we have Dr. Jekyll, the upstanding MD. In the other corner, we have Mr. Hyde, his hairy and sociopathic double. Let the best man win.
But it isn't at all that simple.
Dr. Jekyll is hardly the kind of TV doctor with a megawatt smile we'd like to think he is. He creates Mr. Hyde so he can have both the respectable lifestyle he's become accustomed to and be a total degenerate in his off hours. He likes being Mr. Hyde. He loves being bad.
Ultimately, he loves badness so much that Mr. Hyde takes over. This isn't exactly surprising—Mr. Hyde clearly represents the person that Dr. Jekyll wishes he could be all the time... if he lived in a world without consequences.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886 and was instrumental in launching the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, to literary fame. But people forget that this novel was written as a "shilling shocker." Popular during the Victorian era (the mid-1800's to about 1900), shilling shockers were short, graphic, and inexpensive books eagerly consumed by the masses—like those cheap romance novels you find in the supermarket.
But the real (shilling) shocker is that this piece of pulp fiction has remained totally famous and totally respectable. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been in continual publication for over 120 years... and shows no signs of falling out of fashion.
Why Should I Care?
We know you’re not going to be taking some weird potions and unleashing your inner Mr. Hyde anytime soon. But really—have you ever tried to be good all the time? Nothing but "pleases" and "thank yous" and keeping your room clean and doing charity work and being respectful and eating your greens and minding your elders and your manners?
Most people would go crazy being "good" all the time.
Dr. Jekyll admits that one of his "flaws" is a tendency toward, essentially, having fun. Dr. Jekyll opted to be a grave, somber man, and before he knew it, his inner Wild Child was begging to be unleashed. So he came up with a perfect little solution: he created an alter ego.
Except instead of a Peter Parker/Spider-Man deal, Dr. Jekyll went in the opposite direction and created an evil alter ego via some mysterious potion. His alter ego, Edward Hyde, who has a completely different appearance and personality, gets to do all the fun and illegal things that Jekyll, or any normal person, can’t. Although we don’t get the juicy details, it’s pretty clear that Mr. Hyde is a pretty perverse, wicked, sinful, foul guy—not the kind of person you want to meet in a dark alley.
Apparently there’s some sort of consequence to all this evildoing, what with Hyde taking over and everyone dying. So it’s best not to try Dr. Jekyll’s experiment at home. Read the text instead, because if you haven’t figured it out already, the point of this book is so sharp we could spear fish with it: all work and no play makes Dr. Jekyll a dull boy, and all play and no work makes Mr. Hyde a raging psychopath.
What with being a "shilling shocker" and all (tabloid stories not unlike today's mass market thrillers), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written in a clear-cut (if still Victorian) manner and clocks in at fewer than a hundred and fifty pages.
It's almost a Jekyll/Hyde experience in itself: you get to read a gripping work of pulp fiction and one of the most famous and respectable works of Victorian literature around.