Robert Louis Stevenson was born at Edinburgh, Scotland, on the 13th of November, 1850. As the son of a successful civil engineer he was expected to follow the family profession, but finally he was allowed to study law at Edinburgh University. Stevenson reacted violently against the Presbyterian respectability of the citys professional classes and this led to painful clashes with his parents. When he was twenty-three he became afflicted with a severe respiratory illness from which he was to suffer for the rest of his life.
It was at this time that he determind to become a writer. In 1879 he nearly killed himself travelling to California to marry Fanny Osbourne. Together they continued his search for a climate kind to his fragile health. His best-known novels, “Treasure Island” (1883) and “Kidnapped” (1886) are both products of this period, as is “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886), more commonly referred to as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Finally he settled with his family in Samoa, where he died of cerebral hemorrhage on the 3rd of December, 1894.
Other books: “The Master of Ballantrae” (1889)
“A Footnote to History” (1892)
“In the South Seas” (1896)
Mr. Utterson, a lawyer, and his cousin, Mr. Enfield, were taking their customary Sunday morning walk in London, when they passed a gloomy house in a narrow street. Mr. Enfield told his companion that he had a frightening experience with an ugly-looking man who ran down a little girl at the doorway of the old building. His name was Hyde!
Utterson knew a little about Hyde, and Hydes strange connection with the respectable physician Dr. Jekyll, who also lived in this house. He knew about Jekylls will, which provided that all his possessions were to pass to Edward Hyde, in case of Jekylls “disappearance or unexplained absence for any period exceeding three calendar months” Utterson decided to make investigations. He called on Dr. Jekylls friend, Dr. Lanyon, who was very ill and exhausted and told him that Dr. Jekyll was no longer the man he used to be. Utterson spoke to Jekyll and offered to help him with Mr. Hyde, but that was impossible.
About a year later Sir Danvers Carew, a client of Utterson, was found murdered and a maid recognized Mr. Hyde as his murderer. But Hyde had disappeared and Dr. Jekyll showed Utterson and the police a letter signed by Hyde in which he wrote that he was going away for ever. As Dr. Lanyon died, Utterson found an envelope marked “Not to be opened till the death or disappearance of Henry Jekyll”.
One night Poole, Jekylls butler, called on Utterson. He reported that his master had shut himself up in his laboratory for a week, writting curious notes in which he asked the butler to get him certain drugs. They went to Jekylls house because they thought that Jekyll was murdered by Hyde. But inside they found Edward Hyde, dead, with a bottle poison beside him. There was not a trace of Dr. Jekyll. Dr. Lanyons envelope solved the mystery. He found out that Jekyll and Hyde were the same person. And this was his death.
Dr. Jekylls own letter of confession was more detailed. He had invented a chemical which changed him completely from the kind and respectable Dr. Jekyll into the horrible Mr. Hyde. So he can do all the bad things he always wanted. But after a time he could no longer get the chemicals necessary to transform him back into his better self. There was no way but to kill himself.
Dr. Henry Jekyll: He is a prominent, popular London scientist of perhaps fifty. Jekyll is a large, handsome man. In the last phase of the story he tells us about himself. He is seen as a respectable man engaged in a worthy profession. He has been fascinated with the theory that man has a “good” side and a “bad” side, and he investigated the theory. His investigations were successful, the undeveloped evil side of his nature was set free. His evil dimension took the form of
Mr. Edward Hyde: Dr. Jekyll, in becoming Mr. Hyde, is liberating himself. He sets himself free from moral restraint and becomes beast-like, subhuman and pure evil. After the change he was slighter, smaller and younger than Jekyll.
Mr. Utterson: He is a lawyer and 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 somehow lovable. His friends were those of his own blood or those whom he had known longest and this united him to them.
Mr. Richard Enfield: He is Uttersons distant cousin and the well-known man about town. His relationship to Utterson is cool and distant and there is no real intimacy.
Dr. Hastie Lanyon: He was a gentleman with good manners, about 50 years old, and a lifelong friend and collegue of Dr. Jekyll. Utterson, Jekyll and Lanyon were very good friends.
Poole: He was Dr. Jekylls devoted butler. When the strange actions around Jekylls house started he always informed the loyal friends.
Stevenson wants to show that even in an apparently respectable man there is the potential of the evil and that nearly everyone is leading a doublelife within oneself. The theme is the division of one man into a dual personality. The division is caused by conflict between good and evil. Dr. Jekyll is the good person, Mr. Hyde is the bad one. “Hyde” has two meanings: In the beginning he is “hiding” for everyone. Utterson says: “If he is Mr. Hyde, I will be Mr. Seek.” Dr. Jekyll can “hide” himself in this person to do all the bad things he always wanted.
It is a frightening but also gripping book. Although the characters are highly educated the language is still easy to understand. The book shows us that every man has a good and a bad side. Even the best educated and politest men or women can sometimes have a day or a situation where they want to show the evil just to be good again the next time. But if you give the bad side a chance (as Dr. Jekyll did with his drugs), the bad side will dominate until you wont have a good side any more.