Back in October, as part of the Scottish literature reading challenge, Amateur Reader and Kevin of Interpolations had a series of posts on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a book I had hoped to have read by that time, especially because of my love of The Beach at Falesá and the fact that I’d already been jonesing for more Stevenson. Now I’ve filled in this reading hole and…well let’s not say I was disappointed.
I didn’t like it as much as Falesá. That’s all. It is better, probably “the best thing he ever wrote,” as AR says. And anyway there is lots in it for me.
As Kevin notes, “one of the most important vehicles of action in the story are letters and written documents,” and we know I’m beyond on board with this sort of thing. This is the epistolary tale done, at least for me, super right. The documents that form part of the narrative itself are deeply important to the plot, and there are loads of other documents embedded in the story that create an environment where such papers are generally important. Stevenson is good; this is sophisticated, not superficial, stuff.
And I’d like to take a shot at Kevin’s question about the three sets of three windows, or at least at a very minor part of it. One thing rather noticeable (and unsurprising) in the book is the doubling. There is Jekyll/Hyde, of course. There are two violent crimes committed by Hyde and witnessed. There are two letters Utterson must read to learn of what has gone on. There are two wills made out by Henry Jekyll, in nearly identical language but with different beneficiaries. There are even two envelopes containing the letter from Dr Lanyon, and his language in turn is the twin of (or triplet of, but wait just a minute on that) Jekyll’s.
But back to that first doubling, the titular one. Jekyll, in his letter to Utterson, describes “man’s dual nature,” calls himself a “double-dealer,” discusses “both sides of me” [emphasis mine], later to declare “that man is not truly one, but truly two.” But he immediately qualifies it: “I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyon that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines, and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens.”
And when Jekyll describes what happens when Hyde breaks off, it’s clear that there isn’t one of them “good” and the other “evil.” There is one of them “evil” and the other still “multifarious [and] incongruous.” Hyde is pure, but Jekyll retains the same “imperfect and divided countenance” he always had—retains, underneath his respectable exterior, the same illicit desires that seem to help Hyde reassert control without help of the potion, say, when Jekyll has been having a naughty dream.
So even if we take this one facet, and forget about all the other oppositions that go into man’s character, Jekyll is still stuck in the middle, just as he is at the middle window of three. The tale doesn’t double Henry Jekyll; it leaves him just where he is, raising the possibility of two other creatures but only giving us one. (Or, perhaps more precisely, raising the possibility of infinite other creatures, with two of them on this particular axis.)
I need the Have at me! badge for this one; I seem to have made an argument of some kind.