The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Digital Audiobook narrated by Scott Brick
Published by Tantor Audio on November 8th 2006
Genres: Classics, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction
Length: 111 pages or 3 hours, 6 minutes
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In September of 1884, Robert Louis Stevenson, then in his mid-thirties, moved with his family to Bournemouth, a resort on the southern coast of England, where in the brief span of 23 months he revised A Child's Garden of Verses and wrote the novels Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
An intriguing combination of fantasy thriller and moral allegory, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depicts the gripping struggle of two opposing personalities - one essentially good, the other evil - for the soul of one man. Its tingling suspense and intelligent and sensitive portrayal of man's dual nature reveals Stevenson as a writer of great skill and originality, whose power to terrify and move us remains, over a century later, undiminished.
A few years ago, I picked up Treasure Island and absolutely loved it. I figured, hey! Jekyll & Hyde is also a classic, and written by the same author, I’ll like this one too! Unfortunately, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde just didn’t hit home for me. Actually, I’m sort of preparing myself to be pummeled with tomatoes because out of all classics, this one seems to be the one most people like… eek! Here goes….
We spend the book trailing a man called “Utterson” who appears to be a prominent lawyer and in service to all the important men of London. Utterson is nosy, judgmental, and pompous. I suppose for the time it was written, this character would have been a respectable character with high morals and great compassion, but frankly I found him annoying. Having to see the story through his eyes was, I believe, an unfortunate choice of Stevenson’s, for it would have been so much more insightful and interesting to see it from Jekyll himself.
The other characters we come across are more or less the same, with the exception of Jekyll (who is only like Utterson half the time. The other half, obviously, is Hyde) and his manservant Poole, who simply comes across as small and rash and a bit like the Cowardly Lion.
The story takes place in London. I found this aspect a bit interesting, actually, because although most of the tale itself is just a series of conversations and letters, you really do get a sense of the surrounding world. In particular, I thought Jekyll and Hyde’s individual houses – Hyde’s Soho apartment and Jekyll’s sprawling manorhouse complete with operating theatre – to be particularly well imagined. In addition, these spaces gave a visible sense of character where otherwise the reader has only to rely on an eyewitness account and a pair of letters.
The morality tale is an interesting one. This is along the vein of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey as well, asking the question of “what if we could split ourselves into two halves, one good and beautiful, the other ugly and villainous? We could indulge our fancies and not face the consequences”. Unlike Dorian, Jekyll is unable to truly separate himself from that dark, hedonistic side and the consequences chase after him. See, Dorian Grey strips himself of his conscience as well as the strings between crime and punishment, whereas Jekyll must carry the knowledge of his evil in his heart. For both, temptation is paramount, although Dorian has more patience than Jekyll, for Jekyll is thrown into his vices rather than growing into them. For the philosophical question alone, this book is worth reading. It makes you think.
Writing / Narration
As mentioned above, I feel as though this story would have been much more interesting if it were presented differently. A first person standpoint would have served it well, rather than a third person outsider. The dialogue-style storytelling is a fairly common format for 19th century literature, especially for this sort of story where the reader may wish to distance oneself from the subject matter, but I just don’t think it works well here. Ultimately, the story comes across as mostly a monster stamping on people and an old man being strange and reclusive.
The narration, thought, I will say was just fine. Scott Brick distinguished the voices well and read at a good, manageable pace. With classics, especially those written in times when the language and popular styles were a little different, it’s doubly important to have a good narrator or they are unreadable.
All in all, I’m glad I picked up this book and gave it a try, but I don’t think that I will revisit it any time soon.
“Mr. Utterson the lawyer was 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 yet somehow lovable.”
“It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it. ”
“There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul.”