Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a novella written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and first published in 1886. It is about a London lawyer who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the misanthropic Edward Hyde. The work is known for its vivid portrayal of the psychopathology of a split personality; in mainstream culture the very phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" has come to mean a person who may show a distinctly different character, or profoundly different behaviour, from one situation to the next, as if almost another person, possibly because of the rare disorder "multiple personality disorder" (more recently renamed "Dissociative Identity Disorder").

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was an immediate success and one of Stevenson's best-selling works. Stage adaptations began in Boston and London within a year of its publication and it has gone on to inspire scores of major film and stage performances.

History

Stevenson had long been interested in the idea of the duality of alien nature and how to incorporate the interplay of good and evil into a story. While still a teenager, he developed a script for a play on Deacon Brodie, which he later reworked with the help of W. E. Henley and saw produced for the first time in 1882. In the late 1884 he wrote the short story "Markheim," which he revised in 1885 for publication in a Christmas annual. One night in late September or early October of 1885, possibly while he was still revising "Markheim," Stevenson had a dream, and on wakening had the intuition for two or three scenes that would appear in the story. "In the small hours of one morning," says Mrs Stevenson, "I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I woke him. He said angrily, 'Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.' I had awakened him at the first transformation scene ..."

Lloyd Osbourne, Stevenson's stepson, remembers, "I don't believe that there was ever such a literary feat before as the writing of Dr. Jekyll. I remember the first reading as if it were yesterday. Louis came downstairs in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud; and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days".

As was the custom, Mrs. Stevenson would read the draft and offer her criticisms in the margins. Louis was confined to bed at the time from a haemorrhage; therefore she left her comments with the manuscript and Louis in the bedroom. She said that in effect the story was really an allegory, but Louis was writing it as a story. After a while Louis called her back into the bedroom and pointed to a pile of ashes: he had burnt the manuscript in fear that he would try to salvage it, and in the process forcing himself to start over from nothing, writing an allegorical story as she had suggested. Scholars debate if he really burnt his manuscript or not. Other scholars suggest her criticism was not about allegory, but about inappropriate sexual content. Whatever the case, there is no direct factual evidence for the burning of the manuscript, but it remains an integral part of the history of the novella.

Stevenson re-wrote the story again in three days. According to Osbourne, "The mere physical feat was tremendous; and instead of harming him, it roused and cheered him inexpressibly". He refined and continued to work on it for 4 to 6 weeks afterward.

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was initially sold as a paperback for one shilling in the UK and one dollar in the U.S. Initially stores would not stock it until a review appeared in The Times, on 25 January 1886, giving it a favourable reception. Within the next six months close to forty thousand copies were sold. By 1901 it was estimated to have sold over 250,000 copies. Its success was probably due more to the "moral instincts of the public" than perception of its artistic merits; it was widely read by those who never otherwise read fiction, quoted in pulpit sermons and in religious papers.

Analysis

This novel represents a concept in Western culture, that of the inner conflict of humanity's sense of good and evil. It has also been noted as "one of the best guidebooks of the Victorian era because of its piercing description of the fundamental dichotomy of the 19th century outward respectability and inward lust" as it had a tendency for social hypocrisy.

Various direct influences have been suggested for Stevenson's interest in the mental condition that separates the sinful from moral self. Among them are the Biblical text of Romans (7:20 "Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me."); the split life in the 1780s of Edinburgh city councillor Deacon William Brodie, master craftsman by day, burglar by night; and James Hogg's novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), in which a young man falls under the spell of the devil.

Literary genres which critics have applied as a framework for interpreting the novel include religious allegory, fable, detective story, sensation fiction, science fiction, doppelgänger literature, Scottish devil tales and gothic novel.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been the influence for The Hulk, Two Face and the general superhero genre for the story's ties to a double life.

Stevenson never says exactly what Hyde takes pleasure in on his nightly forays, saying generally that it is something of an evil and lustful nature; thus it is in the context of the times, abhorrent to Victorian religious morality. Hyde may have simply been revelling in activities that were not appropriate to a man of Jekyll's stature. However scientists in the closing decades of the 19th century, within a post-Darwinian perspective, were also beginning to examine various biological influences on human morality, including drug and alcohol addiction, homosexuality, multiple personality disorder, and regressive animality.


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde

1 comment:

gus said...

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