Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: And Other Tales of Terror
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Penguin Classics (2003), Paperback, 224 pages

‘I can’t describe him. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment.’ (p.10)

Robert Mighall, editor of this edition of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, writes that the statement of Dr Jekyll (last chapter of the book) is the best known part of the story written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Mighall advises to read the book completely: “They would find there something different from what they imagined: a more complex, rewarding and disturbing story than the version that has been handed down in popular culture form.’ (p.ix)

As Mighall writes in the introduction, following the path of Gothic novelist Stevenson changes the set of his stories: abandoned ruined castles and woods, Stevenson set the horror in the mind of individuals. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe is the past, the good and the evil are inside the mind.

‘I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; … I had learned to dwell with pleasure, … on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each … could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the injust might go his way … and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path.’ (p.56)
This edition contains a brief dissertation of Robert Mighall: Diagnosing Jekyll: the Scientific Context to Dr Jekyll’s Experiment and Mr Hyde’s Embodiment; although very useful, I prefer a different point of view ‘diagnosing’ Stevenson and his book.
Cesare Lombroso’ s idea about the connection between head’s shape and criminality (drawn from physiognomy): ugly means crime, handsome means honest person; is only an easy and popular connection. In my opinion, on the other hand, Stevenson writes about the dichotomy between good and evil. Good or just has always tried to keep a distance from evil or unjust, but Stevenson wants to find another solution: both just and unjust living in the same person. But morality liked, from biblical times, dichotomy; so Stevenson doesn’t solve the problem with Dr Jekyll: his friend ‘can’t describe him’ (p.10)

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was first published in 1885; the next year, 1886, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche wrote Beyond Good and Evil (Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future). Nietzsche ‘screaming’ his ‘Affirmative Philosophy’ or ‘Philosophy of Yes’ preludes how to build a bridge towards / beyond just and unjust.
Stevenson and Nietzsche: same times, same ideas, different solutions.

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