This book. This book is so good.
(Warning: this shall be rife with spoilers – although you probably already know most of the main ones, even if you haven’t read the book.)
This was my school book for the last two weeks. Or it was supposed to be last week, but then I (and a lot of the rest of my class) didn’t finish it, so it bled over into this week. Before I read this I had kind of a vague idea of what it was about. A looooong time ago I read an abridged children’s version (I’m not sure I ever completed it, though), so I knew the basics, or so I thought. I knew Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were one and the same, but that was about it. I was really surprised, going into it, that it didn’t start off directly with Dr. Jekyll. Then the next few chapters proceeded to thoroughly confuse me. It was fun.
The basic plot of the book is this: A lawyer named Mr. Utterson begins to notice something strange going on with his friend Dr. Jekyll. At the same time, Mr. Utterson is privately investigating a rather unpleasant character by the name of Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde is connected to Dr. Jekyll, but when Mr. Utterson inquires about this, Dr. Jekyll shuts him down completely. This goes on for some time, then Mr. Hyde murders a man. Dr. Jekyll assures Mr. Utterson that he has cut off all communication with Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll returns to his old self, going about his business, throwing parties, everything that he used to do. Then he suddenly withdraws into himself, again, becoming an invalid, around the same time that their mutual friend Dr. Lanyon dies, leaving Mr. Utterson a letter. A letter that is to be opened upon the death or disappearance of Dr. Jekyll. Around this time, Dr. Jekyll’s manservant, Poole, comes to Mr. Utterson’s in panic. They both rush back to Dr. Jekyll’s house to break down hid door and find out what on earth is going on with him. Inside they find Mr. Hyde, dead. There is a letter addressed to Mr. Utterson on the floor. It comes out that Dr. Jekyll had attempted to separate his evil side and his good side, so that he could enjoy both without being troubled by his conscience. The experiment worked – until his evil side, Mr. Hyde, killed a man. Unable to logic things away, Dr. Jekyll swears off the drug that allows him to turn into Hyde for good, but a little while later, he goes to bed and wakes up as Mr. Hyde. It keeps happening. Every time he doses off, he awakens as Hyde. This goes on for at least a week (I’m not clear on the exact time line) before Poole and Utterson burst down the door. In on e of Dr. Jekyll’s brief moments of sanity, he managed to write down the whole story and address it to Mr. Utterson, then, when he had changed back to Mr. Hyde, he committed suicide so as to save the world from himself.
So there you have it. Not the cheeriest of books, but soooooooooo good.
The characters were just so believable and fun and British. It was fantastic. Each was distinct and real and so fun to read through.
Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable. … But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove. “I incline to Cain’s heresy,” he used to say quaintly: “I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.” In this character, it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of down-going men. … Now doubt the feat was easy to Mr. Utterson; for he was undemonstrative at the best, and even his friendship seemed to be founded in a similar catholicity of good-nature.
The writing was a joy to read. The way the sentences fit together, the way things were described, the humor in it…
It chanced on one of these rambles that their way led them down a by-street in a busy quarter of London. The street was small and what is called quiet, but it drove a thriving trade on the weekdays. The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed and all emulously hoping to do better still, and laying out the surplus of their grains in coquetry; so that the shop fronts stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen. Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more florid charms and lay comparatively empty of passage, the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighborhood, like a fire in a forest; and with its freshly painted shutters, well-polished brasses, and general cleanliness and gaiety of note, instantly caught and pleased the eye of the passenger.
I already summarized it up there (probably not very well), but the plot was very masterfully put together. Everything fitted and worked, the mystery was confusing and… mysterious, without being enough to put one off the book. And the conclusion and reveal at the end was very satisfying as well.
The last part of the book, Dr. Jekyll’s confession, was both my least favorite and my favorite part of the book. It was when things got dark and nasty, but it was also when things got truly fascinating. The whole reason that he sought the way to separate “Hyde” from “Jekyll” was so that he could enjoy being evil without repercussions.
It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty.
But then it backfired, spectacularly, and he became addicted to Hyde. He kept trying to reason it away, saying that he wasn’t the one doing all these things, he had nothing to do with it. And then when he went too far, when Hyde killed a man, he tried to stop. He became the picture of perfect piety, and he was on fire for it. He was eager to make amends. But he did not divest himself entirely of everything that was Hyde’s (the cloths, the house, etc) and the call of Hyde became greater and greater, until he woke up as Hyde without even trying. But he kept trying to hide it, to pretend it wasn’t happening to everyone else. But, in the end, he failed, and as Hyde, he killed himself.
What’s so scary, I think, about the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is how true it is. Dr. Jekyll could be any of us. Granted, most of us haven’t created a literal monster, but it’s a struggle that almost everyone has gone through at some point in their lives. The first time you do the thing, the pleasure and horror that follows, the next time, the next… the way that you reason with yourself. The way that you pretend that it hadn’t happened to all, the way you put on a good face, and the way it eats you up inside. And then… the horror as you perceive it for what it is and try to put it behind you for good.
I could have screamed aloud; I sought with tears and prayers to smother down the crowd of hideous images and sounds with which my memory swarmed against me; and still, between the petitions, the ugly face of my iniquity stared into my soul. As the acuteness of this remorse began to die away, it was succeeded by a sense of joy. The problem of my conduct was solved. Hyde was thenceforth impossible; whether I would or not, I was now confined to the better part of my existence; and O, how I rejoiced to think of it! with what willing humility I embraced anew the restrictions of natural life! with what sincere renunciation I locked the door by which I had so often gone and come, and ground the key under my heel.
But then you fail, and you go back, and you can’t stop… Dr. Jekyll is everybody. And his story speaks a truth. You can’t do it alone. Dr. Jekyll tried, on his own, to both sperarate his good side from his bad side and then to fix the mess that he made. And he failed, rather spectacularly. But we can do it. Because we have a rather powerful advocate and Helper. Without God, everything would flop, but with God, all things are possible. Lean on God, flee to Him in prayer, confess your sins… don’t be Jekyll.
And on that encouraging note, I shall leave you.
Have you read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? (If you haven’t go read it now – there’s a free copy for Kindle) If so, what did you think of it?