Sunday, August 03, 2014

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)

I'm not real high on this one, for reasons perhaps good and bad both. I never formed any appreciation of Robert Louis Stevenson. That's probably a big part of it. Even as a kid I was left cold by Treasure Island. And that probably would have been that for me but for Stephen King's Danse Macabre, which included Jekyll and Hyde on short lists of essentials, along with Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. Dracula was a disappointment (the tiresome epistolary structure mostly, though it had a few chilling ideas and moments) and that was enough to put me off some of the others until now. But alas. There is a very interesting idea in the middle of Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde, with its proto-Cronenberg scenarios of cooking chemicals and altered flesh—body horror—not to mention the unsettling undertow of anticipatory inchoate Freudian theory, the battle of the ego (Jekyll) and id (Hyde)—even the names are weirdly parallel, though decades early. There is a good opening scene, with Hyde making a remarkable first appearance trampling a little girl, and isolated moments, and of course it's all quite moody—London fog, dirty dark streets, the pestilential city, so on so forth. But the writing often seems disjointed, rambling, off the point or actively hiding the point. An envelope to be opened only on the death of one character contains an envelope to be opened only on the death of another. Really? There are altogether too many sealed envelopes, legal documents, street directions, letters, and notes in this short novel. I don't mind epistolary (I adore Les Liaisons Dangereuses), but at the same time, to my parochial modern ear, the narrative strategy has something of a higher bar to clear. One interesting point, in this arguably debased era of the Hulk, is that Dr. Jekyll is much the more robust, healthier, and larger of the two. Hyde is a bit of a homunculus. Otherwise his description is minimal except in terms of its effects on others, who of course are revolted and repulsed to a one. Stevenson also shows many of them mystified as to why Hyde has this effect on them, which is a nice and interesting detail, as though the revulsion were instinctual, taking place at brainstem levels beyond consciousness. I like that. But too much of this to my taste is about solving the mystery of the legal estate(s) of Jekyll and Hyde. There's something wild going on here and we're looking at dry documents.

In case it's not at the library.

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