Robert Louis Stevensonís The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published in 1886 Ė a book so popular that the term Jekyll and Hyde became a way of describing a person who had sudden mood changes or many facets (not all pleasant) to their character. It is a sign of the breadth of the writerís subject matter that the year before this seminal work came out he published a childrenís poetry book - A Childís Garden of Verses.
Stevenson was living in Bournemouth, on Englandís southern coast, when he wrote Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The story is set in London, yet there are echoes of Stevensonís native Edinburgh in the telling; both capital cities had prosperous and poor areas Ė in the book these represent the different sides of a troubled man, the wealthy Jekyll and the criminal Hyde. It is likely that the exploits of Deacon Brodie influenced Stevensonís writing; a well respected Edinburgh businessman by day, at night Brodie transformed into an expert burglar. Brodie was eventually caught and sentenced to hanging on gallows he himself had designed. It is said that Stevensonís father owned furniture made by Brodie.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is told largely from the outside looking in, using different characters to take up the tale. Businessman Richard Enfield tells his cousin, lawyer Gabriel Utterson, of a disturbing encounter he had with Mr Hyde. Utterson takes up the story, exploring his uneasiness around the mysterious Mr Hyde who he knows is a beneficiary of Dr Jekyllís will Ė a will he has agreed to administer. Dr Hastie Lanyon, a friend of Dr Jekyll, briefly weaves his own narrative in to the story. The final telling is left to Dr Jekyll himself in Henry Jekyllís Full Statement of the Case. This layering of views and observations enriches the book, reminding the reader that nothing may be as it seems, that people see situations from different perspectives and come to their own versions of truth.
Stevensonís story has been filmed several times and made in to a musical. In a modern twist on the Jekyll and Hyde story Dr Who writer Steven Moffat penned a BBC drama series called Jekyll starring James Nesbitt in the title role.
It is easy to forget that Jekyll & Hyde, whilst not a short story, could be classed in the novella category. Thus it is often published as part of a collection of Stevenson stories, rather than as a book in its own right. If you have not had the opportunity to read the book I would recommend it Ė a short read in easily digestible sections dealing with age old issues including good and evil, memory and desire, wealth and poverty...