Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesdays Tomes: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson plus Dueling Monsters Questions and Answers

Tuesdays Tomes is a weekly review of mainly vintage books.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

This week I couldn't resist sharing this movie poster rather than a book cover :)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll’s friends are becoming concerned…something strange is going on at his house…someone strange, a Mr. Hyde, is often seen entering the house by the back laboratory entrance. And then there’s the matter of the strange will written by Dr. Jekyll which says in effect that in the event of his death or disappearance all his property goes to Mr. Hyde.

Mr. Utterson, Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer and our narrator, is certain that this will will cause trouble-if Hyde knows of it why he could murder Dr. J., hide the body and gain all of Jekyll’s considerable wealth. What could make his friend write such a will...blackmail?

Mr.Utterson is determined to find out more. What he learns of Hyde’s character is appalling-even his physical description is shocking. He’s said to cause immediate repugnance-even hatred-in anyone meeting him, though no one can say why. He seems to be the antithesis of good Dr. Jekyll-a humanist and philanthropist.

Now I usually don’t like to give away the story in my reviews but I think that the crux of this tale is well know-even if the story itself unread. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are one and the same person.

Dr. Jekyll himself narrates his tale of woe- he concocted a potion in his laboratory that divided his character. He would take a draft, hit the town as Mr. Hyde and return home to take another that brought him back to himself. What was his intent? Did he wish to explore his evil side? Why? As a Victorian (and this tale first published in 1886 is distinctly Victorian), he was conflicted that even as a moral man, he knew himself to slip…we’re never told exactly what these slips encompassed (gambling, drinking, woman?). He wished to explore or rather partake without having his conscience bother him…Hyde has no conscience. And that of course becomes the problem…Hyde is far more evil than anything Dr. Jekyll expected.

You can download this free audio book here (perfectly read by Kristen Hughes) or the free e-book in pdf. or kindle format here.

Heather J. at Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books and Fizzy at Fizzythoughts joined up for a wonderful October read-along: Dueling Monsters-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (with Heather J.) and The Picture of Dorian Grey (with Fizzy).

Here are the questions posed by Heather and my answers. I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with me.

Part of the implication of "Dr. Jekyll’s Account" is that Man Cannot Always Be Good. No matter how hard Dr. Jekyll tries to live a good, upstanding, sober life, he can’t resist the temptation of transforming into Mr. Hyde. Is this true of mankind? Can we never build a good society?

The dichotomy illustrated by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is too extreme. Dr. Jekyll himself embodied both good and evil with the good far outweighing the bad and with the bad kept in check by the good…the saving grace of human beings is that we have a conscience. We just need to use it-both in our daily lives and as a society. We need to remember that “doing nothing” is doing something and weigh in when we see wrongs occurring around us.

Having read Dr. Jekyll's version of events (and assuming we believe him), how much blame can we assign him? Should we blame his oppressive society or his lack of moral character? Another way of asking this: is Dr. Jekyll a sympathetic character?

Personally, I don’t find Dr. Jekyll a sympathetic character. Firstly, we hardly know anything about him-he never really speaks in his own voice. Secondly, when he speaks of Hyde and tells of the first time Hyde came out he describes him as small and puny-because this side o his character was underdeveloped-Jekyll then seems to revel in the growth of Hyde.

Does the novel suffer due to its lack of female characters? How would it have been different with, say, a female narrator?

LOL! Not only does the novel suffer due to its lack of females, Dr. Jekyll does as does his whole circle of friends. No one seems to be married! He wouldn’t have even felt the need for his experiment if his life had been a bit more balanced.

Evaluate the book’s psychological accuracy. Do these characters think the way people do?

Surprisingly, yes. Even given the distance of time and the lack of women, I think that the friendship shown by Mr. Utterson and even the questions asked by Dr. Jekyll resound today.

What do you think about the way in which the book is told, with multiple viewpoints with a dry lawyer at the center? Does it work?

Yes. I found the dry lawyer to be the best of men and a solid anchor that I could identify with.

What is the effect of the two narratives at the end? Does this dual explanation have anything to do with the dual nature of Jekyll/Hyde? Or is it just to provide an eyewitness account?

I took it as an eyewitness account but I like this question. Clever of Stevenson, eh?

Do you think Dr. Jekyll is a reliable narrator? Why or why not?

I think we have to rely on Dr. Jekyll as only he can tell us what he did…we can see through him as well.

In what sense might the Victorian period’s rigid moral standards be responsible for Dr. Jekyll’s tragic transformation into the evil Hyde? In other words, according to Stevenson’s story, what makes a man like Jekyll--a good Victorian, really--become the criminal Hyde

Stevenson was compelled to write this tale because he lived in the Victorian period but it is not confined by its time and place. In any society that puts a emphasis on appearances, problems will lurk under the surface.

In an earlier short story called “Markheim” (1874) Stevenson wrote that “evil consists not in action but in character.” How is that statement applicable to the various characters’ interest in discovering the facts behind “the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”?

I really don’t understand this question…Dr. Utterson uses the stories of Hyde’s actions to attempt to discover what is going on. I think the more interesting idea behind this quote is that it really explains to us what Stevenson thought and how different his Victorian sensibility was from ours. Today, I would say that “think what you want, but do good” is quite satisfactory. "Actions speak louder than words". This is a real political problem here in Israel-our present government gives lip service to peace but does everything to undermine it.



2 comments:

Susan said...

I love this review, Miri, good post! I grew up reading Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses but have never picked up one of his books.

Heather J. said...

Thanks for participating in Dueling Monsters! I really enjoyed checking out your answers to the questions. I too found Mr. Utterson to be a solid, believable character and I actually enjoyed him very much - he gave some much needed balance to the story.

This was my first time reading the book (though of course I knew the basic plot already) and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. A few of the other participants have mentioned that there is a musical version of this book on Broadway now - after checking out some of the songs, I REALLY want to see it!