Friday, November 6, 2015

1886 Review of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

1886 Review of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, article in the Cambridge Review

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Mr. Stevenson, in addition to his wonderful powers of romantic imagination, appears to possess the rare faculty of maintaining an even level of excellence in the work which he produces. In no way, both as to originality and interest, is this new book inferior to its predecessors, and we can without hesitation recommend it to all lovers of original romance. But as is the cose with the majority of Mr. Stevenson's works, the reader must approach the story in a peculiar frame of mind if he is thoroughly to appreciate it; he must start without any very practical or rational feelings in his mind, and be ready to meet with the most startling incidents and the most extreme flights of the imagination, which, if he be prepared to regard from an imaginative and romantic point of view, he will thoroughly enjoy; but if from a practical or scientific point of view, he insists on analysing each incident, and proving its probability, or even possibility, he will put the book down with a sigh of phlegmatic disgust.

Mr. Utterson, the sketch of whose character opens the first chapter, is an extremely life-like picture, and seems to live all through the book; the portrayal of his character is very clever, "cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow loveable. At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye; something indeed which never found its way into his talk, but which spoke not only in those silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life. He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages, and though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years."

Extremely tolerant of men and kindly to all, he is knit by the bonds of a somewhat strange friendship to a fashionable kinsman, Richard Enfield. From the latter he learns something of the existence of a certain Mr. Hyde, who had "attracted Enfield's attention by a particularly brutal action in the public streets. Utterson has in his keeping at home a will made by a great friend of his, Dr. Jekyll; a will which he has refused himself to draw up, owing to the strange conditions which it contains," that in the case of the decease of Henry Jekyll, M.D., D.C.L., etc., all his possessions were to pass into the hands of his 'friend and benefactor, Edward Hyde,'" but that in case of Dr. Jekyll's "disappearance or unexplained absence for any period exceeding three calendar months" the said Edward Hyde should step into the said Henry Jekyll's shoes without further delay, and free from any burthen or obligation, beyond the payment of a few small sums to the members of the doctor's household." From particulars in the Enfield story, Utterson has made out this Edward Hyde to be the same man that Enfield saw, and in the interest of Jekyll and Jekyll's will, he determines to find out this man Hyde, and get to know more about him. After consulting, therefore, with a Dr. Lanyon, who is an old and mutual friend of Jekyll and himself, and who after inveighing against strange scientific views entertained by Jekyll, says he knows nothing of Hyde; he sets about his object and succeeds in meeting him. He ascertains that Hyde frequently visits Jekyll, who has given orders to the servants in his house that this visitor is to be treated as a second master; and that Hyde has admission by a back entrance, of which he and Jekyll alone have the key. Utterson speaks to Jekyll about Hyde, and finds that the topic is an unpleasant one, and is forced to drop it altogether. Little more is learnt of Hyde, except the one fact that all who approach him feel a repugance, even a physical discomfort which they cannot express in words, until a startling murder is committed, and the crime traced home to Hyde. The latter disappears entirely after the murder, and though the police search everywhere for him no trace is found. Jekyll, who after the occasion of the crime, appears to be overwhelmed with remorse for his past association with Hyde, enters on a newer and happier life, and entertains all his old friends again, who are delighted to see the change. But suddenly one day Utterson calls at the Doctor's house and finds that he will not admit any visitors, and fails shortly afterwards again to see his friend. He goes again to Lanyon to see if the latter knows anything of him, and finds him in a dying state, having, he says, received a shock from which he will not recover. At mention of Jekyll's name, Lanyon bursts out and refuses to speak of him, saying that he regards him as dead, and will have nothing more to do with him. Shortly afterwards Lanyon dies. Jekyll still gives no sign of life to his friends, and one day his butler comes round to Utterson in great agitation, and asks him to come and see what is the matter in his master's house. Utterson complies immediately, and on arriving finds the household in a state of mute terror, eight days having elapsed since the doctor had retired to a private room, whence he had not again emerged. The butler takes Utterson to the door of this room and asks the doctor a question to let Utterson hear his voice and then in awe-struck whisper asks him if it is the voice of his friend. The lawyer recognizes a change in the voice, and filled with alarm at the thought that his friend has been murdered and probably by Hyde, suggests that they shall break into the room. As they break open the door, the voice from within cries to Utterson by name for mercy, and on forcing their way in they find Hyde's body rolling on the floor redolent of the poison which has destroyed its life: but nowhere any trace of Jekyll, search where they will. At last they find certain documents in Jekyll's handwriting purporting to be an explanation of this mystery, and on these being opened later the mystery is solved. And the solution is worthy of the story: it is worthy of the tremulous excitement with which the mind of the reader must approach it, and the originality of the idea and the treatment of it is unquestionable. The whole book, divided into 10 short concise chapters, each one adding a new and distinct item to the story and concentrating its interest, is full of graphic and forcible touches: touches for which Mr. Stevenson is famous. No author knows better how to describe a thrilling or startling situation by a few strong touches: and in the same spirit as that in which be describes in "Treasure Island" the children at the outset of the story having their attention violently arrested by the Bound of the blind beggar's stick coming tap, tap, up the frosty road, or in the first story in "The Dynamiters" when the fugitives from the Mormon power come upon the Mormon eye painted on a rock round a corner as they are hurrying in flight, so now in the present volume he gives the first impulse to the story by the horrid description of Hyde walking over the prostrate body of the child in the public streets, the sight which had attracted the attention of and horrified Enfield. "Well, sir," says Enfield, describing the scene of the collision between the child and Hyde, "the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner: and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child's body, and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see. It wasn't like a man: it was like some damned Juggernaut."

Again, nothing could be more weird or thrilling than the description of the scene in Jekyll's house, which Utterson sees when he goes with Poole, the butler, to see what is the matter with his master: the servants, men and women, huddled together by the ball fire like a flock of sheep and at the slightest noise or jar turning towards the door leading to the doctor's room, with faces of dreadful expectation: or the terror expressed in Poole's speech when be asks Utterson if he thinks that his master's voice is changed.

"It seems much changed," replied the lawyer, very pale, but giving look for look.

"Changed? Well, yes, I think so," said the butler, "have I been twenty years in this man's house to be deceived about his voice? No, sir; master's made away with; he was made away with, eight days ago, when we heard him cry out upon the name of God: and who's in there instead of him, and why it stays there, is a thing that cries to heaven, Mr. Utterson!'"

In all these touches Mr. Stevenson triumphs with his clean, neat style of writing: a style which is nervous and forcible at the same time. How far the inner or allegorical significance of his writings extends is a vexed question: but if the reader wishes to go further than the romantic element in this, as in the other books by this author, it will be easy to distinguish a certain inner delineation of the triumph, in later life, of the self-indulgence of more evil passions existing in a simple and enjoyable youth, the triumph being the complete subjugation eventually of the better to the more evil side in the character: and in the same way in the "Dynamiters" the reader may, if hf pleases, see a strong significance in the stories sketching the deadly band who use the explosive, in their most ridiculous and contemptible light: and at the same time showing the evil of which they are capable, lie that as it may, Mr. Stevenson's book is on its imaginative side alone well woith reading, and we heartily recommend it again to the Cambridge public.

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