Books for Grownups · Reading

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Review

“Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a 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.”

I love this cover. It’s simple and bold and, best of all, the face creates a great effect if you cover one side or the other. It’s an apt – if not entirely accurate – illustration of the story.

So begins Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I recently read Stevenson’s The Black Arrow and Treasure Island and, as I was looking for another classic, thought I’d give this a try. It’s one of those books that we’ve all heard about and all know the general premise of…but how many of us who can reference it in conversation (“He’s a real Jekyll and Hyde!”) have actually read it? Not me…until now.

In brief, this story follows Mr. Utterson, a lawyer, whose old friend and client Dr. Jekyll begins to act very strangely. Jekyll has taken on an unsavory companion – the diminuitive Mr. Hyde – and made a provision in his will that should he die or disappear, all his wealth should go to his new friend. Further, Jekyll seems tormented by a secret that threatens to unravel him. His once amiable nature turns dour and standoffish, he isolates himself in his laboratory, and the demands placed upon his household staff increasingly frighten them. There are strange things afoot and though Mr. Utterson’s attempts to help are resisted, events force him to plunge deeper into the mystery than Dr. Jekyll and his friend Hyde would like.

My first surprise was that this famous tale is only a novella. In my copy the whole story ran just 61 pages. My second surprise was perhaps my own naiveté. Sometimes I assume that if a story is “old” it will most certainly be “tame” when compared to modern novels. I suppose in part this is generally true, but Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is dark. Very dark. And disturbing. Perhaps it was just the mood I was in, but when the secret is revealed – no spoilers here, though you undoubtedly have an idea – I found that this was not a story I enjoyed reading. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it or that it’s not well written or even that, on some other level, it was a good read. Just don’t look for much light at the end of this tunnel.

Content Notes

Profanity2Almost exclusively the use of the Lord’s name in vain, but it is fairly frequent.
Violence2One murder, though it is fairly brutal and described in some detail.
Sex/Romantic Themes0Nothing.

NOTE: For a full explanation of my Content Notes and the scale, click here

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