Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Finished on: 14 June 2016
Where did I get this book: From my grandparents, although I only know this because my granny’s father’s name is in the front. It wasn’t part of my literary inheritance from them. I have had this book for ages, and I don’t remember when they gave it to me.
In the introduction to one of her short stories in The Mistletoe Bride, Kate Mosse says
Possessions carry an imprint of all those who have come into contact. What Neil Macgregor calls ‘the charisma of things’, it is the beguiling idea that we could pick up a brooch or a sword, put on a coat or pick up a bus ticket and be connected to someone decades, centuries, ago.
This has always been part of the appeal of a second hand book to me. As though the book is somehow enriched and imprinted with a little bit of each person who has read it.
This copy of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was my great-grandfather’s. George Lancelot Bennett. I love the thought that I am reading the same book that he did. That perhaps a hundred years ago George Lancelot Bennett looked at these same pages, feeling the same excitement as the story builds. The same shudder looking at the genuinely sinister illustrations. The same tension as we move towards the final showdown between Jekyll and Hyde. I love that we share an appreciation of this writer who means so much to me: that my great-grandfather bought, or was given, a Stevenson book, and cared about it enough to keep it safe for generations to come. I am not against the new world of the kindle at all (as some people expect me to be) but you wouldn’t get that with an electronic book would you?
Or the smell. I think Stevenson books do actually smell better than any others. I’m not sure, but I am willing to carry out extensive research to verify my hypothesis.
But to the story itself… You may not have guessed it from my sitting on the fence review of The Master of Ballantrae, but I loved my reunion with Stevenson and wanted more of him immediately. And there is no doubt that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is another masterpiece. The story appeals to something fundamental within us, and has become so ubiquitously known that the title is now common parlance for a person who acts inconsistently, with a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ side to their personality. However, for much of the story our narrators do not understand what the relationship is between their friend Dr Jekyll and his associate, the violent and grotesque-looking Mr Hyde. I would love to have read the book when it was first published in 1886. Imagine being one of those first readers, with no knowledge of the ultimate twist in the tale.
The truth is, though, that Jekyll is not ‘good’. He actively seeks a way to split off the less salubrious side of his personality, so that he can fully indulge his vices without consequences in a separate body. And Hyde is more than just a monster. It’s a timely reminder that our inclination to split things and ideas into neat but adversarial binary opposites is often a real oversimplification.
This is another brilliant Stevenson book. Highly recommended.