Saturday, September 29, 2018

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

He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point.
Enfield, Chapter 1 - The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

In the Autumn my thoughts cannot help but turn to mists, quiet mornings and leaves drifting down to crackle underfoot. It’s this beloved time each year that I have a tendency to pick up Dracula by Bram Stoker or Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. But this year - as The Jane Austen Tea Society has chosen the October read to be The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson - I will be delving into a classic novel that I have always had an interest in reading.

By all accounts, Scottish author, Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was a strange, eccentric and… well… an odd-looking person - plagued by ill health and intensely thin. The historian, Henry Adams literally described Stevenson as “a bundle of sticks in a bag”. He came from a long line of lighthouse engineers on his father’s side and gentry on his mother’s tracing back to the 15th century in Fife. His ill health as a child kept him from often from school and led his learning path through private tutors for long periods of time. But as he entered Edinburgh University to study engineering at 16 years old, he had already most assuredly been bitten by the writing bug. Although he attended classes, he retained a lingering lack of commitment to his studies, became more and more bohemian in dress and manner and made some of Edinburgh’s seedier neighborhoods his regular haunts.

Stevenson’s father opposed his wishes to follow a writing career and encouraged him to study law. Although he was admitted to the Scottish bar in 1875 - he eventually spent more and more time with his expanding group of literary and artistic friends in both the British Isles and on the Continent. In 1876 met an American woman, Fanny Osbourne, who was living and studying art in France. Fanny was 11 years older than Stevenson and had 2 children from a previous marriage but she inspired and encouraged him and they eventually married. They traveled to the US, stayed in an abandoned mining camp and then lived in several places in Britain, Switzerland and the south of France in an attempt to improve Robert’s health. In all of the places that they lived, Robert Louis Stevenson found rich and colorful inspiration for his writing by the locale and the people that they met.

When his father passed away in 1887, the Stevensons traveled again to the US and lived for a couple of years in the Adirondack Mountains but in an ever-present move toward a more beneficial physical atmosphere for Robert, soon left for the South Sea Islands. This final journey proved to be the most conducive to his health and so they settled on the island of Upolu in Samoa and purchased a plantation where they built a house. Robert Louis Stevenson gained a close involvement with the locals - who called him Tusifala (teller of tales) and he passed away there in December of 1894.

His most famous works continue to be Treasure Island, Kidnapped, A Child’s Garden Of Verses and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.

'If he be Mr. Hyde,' he had thought, 'I shall be Mr. Seek.'
Utterson, Chapter 2 - The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

First published in 1886, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde has a long and intense history of fascination for readers. This gothic novella has been presented numerous times and in a long succession of variations and adaptations both in films and on stage. And of course, Dr. Jekyll has long been a synonym for someone who is not what they appear to be.

It was first released in paperback for one shilling in the UK/one dollar in the US and was considered a “penny dreadful”. Bookstores showed minimal interest in stocking The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde until the British newspaper, The Times printed a favorable review on January 25, 1886. Sales rapidly increased with over 250,000 copies sold in the US alone by 1901.

Dr. Jekyll is a rich subject for the analysis of themes and meaning and is fertile ground for a great book discussion. Is it an examination of the duality of human nature and the inner struggle between good and evil? Is it representative of Scottish nationalism in conflict with their union with Britain? It is often cited as a clear portrayal of the Victorian era with its struggle between outward respectability and inward passions and separation of the classes - what we show in public and act out in private. Who do we become in unguarded or unobserved moments?

Yes, I had gone to bed Henry Jekyll, I had awakened Edward Hyde. How was this to be explained? I asked myself; and then, with another bound of terror—how was it to be remedied?
Dr. Jekyll, Chapter 10 - The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

Our Autumn book discussion on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde will take place near the end of October here in Nashville. There is plenty of time to walk the vivid & atmospheric path that this book offers and come up with your own analysis. Don’t pass this famous Robert Louis Stevenson masterpiece by and miss the experience!

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