Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto was originally published on Christmas Eve, 1764, and would serve as a primary origin in holiday publication. It’s also considered one of the first gothic horror stories. Traditionally, the genre was characterized by settings in or “around ancient castles or monasteries deep in the gloomy forests, [and] involving proud Italian or Spanish nobles and the machinations of corrupt ecclesiastics.”
This was a quickly growing literary trend. Some willing participants include Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho,Matthew Lewis, Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin, and much later, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
All of these works, and many others, featured Walpole’s signature setting and era, which almost always took place in Catholic countries.
Robert Lewis Stevenson, however, changed the face of the horror genre. He accomplished this feat by incorporating many unique traits, but two things that proved most effective were: (1. modernizing his horrific tale, set in what was then present day London, and (2. he veered away from the countryside and allowed the action to unravel in the city. With its urban surroundings, all the action, intrigue and mystery had a chance to earnestly breathe, perhaps for the first time, and took on a menacing shape all its own. In this way, it feels all too real.Stevenson supplanted the reader in his world, his locale. You’re right there alongside Utterson, Jekyll and Hyde. Also prevalent and valid here are adequate doses of psychology (thus amplifying the suspense and fodder for many stimulating conversations,) a sprinkling of philosophy, science, religion (two subjects that ordinarily oppose each other, but somehow Stevenson made work,) and a decently developed cast. Combine all these stellar ingredients, and you have the formula for a cataclysmic masterpiece. One that only Stevenson could have written.
Thematically, the author showcased his raw talent and maturity as he continued to delve deep into ideas he’s begun to explore inThe Body Snatcher and Olalla.
Like the latter, a largely metaphorical tale of vampirism that emphasizes “forms of atavistic forms,” Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydemarked a return to similar themes. The masks we wear to conceal our insecurities and sin are very clear here, as is Stevenson’s passion for his art.
It went deeper than that..
“..we were all startled by this transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.”
A mere two years prior to what would become his most beloved novel, he wrote The Body Snatcher,” therein beginning to explore the transformation of self, personal identity, and what it meant to lead double lives. In Jekyll and Hyde, however, his vision was fully realized and developed, his craft honed.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
This was a re-read for me. I first read it in high school, but recalled very little of its details. The bare minimum, really, and what I did remember proved unreliable. So when the buddy read came up (Stepheny, Holly, Anne, Tadiana, Jeff, Delee, and myself,) I was all for it, and greatlylooked forward to it. Thanks again, guys, it was loads of fun and proved very rewarding.
The short novel is presented, in many ways, as a legal “case,” as the narrator, Mr. Utterson, is a lawyer propositioned by Mr. Enfield. The two couldn’t be more different, but they’re united in their desperate attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of their friend, Henry Jekyll, MD. As they reluctantly plumb the mysteries of the case, peculiar and disturbing evidence (especially in light of its publication date,) came to the forefront, forcing them to act…despite their hesitation. Because doing so meant acknowledging the presence of evil in the world, and if one could become infected like a victim of Captain Trips, then they might also be just as susceptible. As are we all.
I think that’s what Stevenson was trying to instill. We’re all capable of sin, of great evil. Lesser men fall prey to its appealing nature. It takes stronger men to lead a virtuous life. Contrary to what some may believe, there is no such thing as being either good or evil. The world is rarely black and white.
The psychological aspects, as well as the psychotic, made for very compelling reading. All of the above was a lot of fun. Stevenson’s stunning way with words impressed me very much, and immensely added to my overall experience. The psychology of its Soho, London setting, however, is something of a rare gem. I’d never read anything quite like it. It’s thrice as fascinating. See for yourself:
“..A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these assembled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr Utterson beheld a marvelous number of degrees and hues of twilight…
As the cab drew up before the address indicated, the fog lifted a little and showed him a dingy street, a gin palace, a low French eating house, a shop for the retail of penny numbers and twopenny salads, many ragged children huddled in the doorways, and many women of many different nationalities passing out, key in hand, to have a morning glass; and the next moment the fog settled down again on that part, as brown as umber, and cut him off from his blackguardly surroundings..
The narrative itself is somewhat unique, for eight of the ten chapters are shown from Utterson’s beautiful and haunted eyes. The penultimate from Dr. Lanyon’s POV, and the conclusion from Jekyll himself. Tt had to be written that way, too, due to the way in which Chapter Eight ends. The novel is brilliant on many, many levels.
Unfortunately, I found the ending somewhat disappointing and anti-climatic. (view spoiler)
-Courtesy of a footnote in the Penguin Classics edition. The theory is quite long and goes into more detail, but said compound sentence is the gist of the theory.
The Body Snatcher
Inspired by real-life Resurrection Men in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1828, this short offering is coupled equally with vivid details, gritty exposition, compelling-albeit shady– characters, and a denouement that shook me to the core, The Body Snatcher will render you breathless. At the same time, it left me wanting much more. It’s like a prologue to potentially great novel.
I’m not sure how I feel about this one..
On one end of the spectrum, it’s incredibly beautiful and profound. The story itself, and the players populating it, are impressively complex. Particularly the thought processes and motivations behind their questionable actions. Of the narrator, whom shall remain nameless, I would have loved to known him better (his upbringing, involvement in the Carlist Wars, etc…,) but you get enough of a sense of him, everything being very much in the present, that it’s sufficient. Spanning to its opposite end, parts of Olalla are relatively simple. My favorite character, Felipe, openly personifies said simplicity. Simultaneously, there’s a palpable unease emanating from the dilapidated mansion, rolling in-or out– like an invisible shroud ascending from the depths of hell. There’s more to it than a super exciting, amped up, horrific high point of the plot, too, as Stevenson alludes to a plentiful and fascinating history pertaining to the locale. Yet, he doesn’t deliver. If this had been anything other than a short story, I have no doubt that he would have delighted his readers with a colorful history, and delved deeper into his characters. Themes of unrequited love, redemption, and atavism certainly play their parts, but for me, the shocking twist near the end (I had a vague notion of where it was going, thanks to the introduction, and I STILL didn’t see it coming,) really threw me up, over the top. The denouement left me wanting more. A lot more. Ultimately, I’m saddened..
“..It was a fine day, and the woods to which I led him were green and pleasant and sweet-smelling and alive with the hum of insects. Here he [Felipe] discovered himself in a fresh character, mounting up to heights of gaiety that abashed me, and displaying an energy and grace of movement that delighted my eye. He leaped, he ran around me in mere glee; he would stop, and look and listen, and seemed to drink in the world like a cordial; and then he would suddenly spring into a tree with one bound, and hang and gambol there like one at home..”
A Chapter on Dreams
Unfortunately, this is abridged..
According to the January, 1888, issue of Scribner’s Magazine,whom originally published Stevenson’s essay, he was often inspired by the images contained in his dreams. The origin of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is no exception. He wrote, “..And then, while he [Stevenson] was yet a student…he began, that is to say, to dream in sequence and thus to lead a double life-one of the day, one of the night– one that he had every reason to believe was the true one, another that he had no means of proving to be false…Well, in his dream life he passed a long day in the surgical theatre, his heart in his mouth, his teeth on edge, seeing malformations and the abhorred dexterity of surgeons..”
In the five pages comprising this inferior version, he goes into the vivid details of his dreamscapes. I love stuff like this. I really, really much to get my hands and mind on the essay in full. Even more enlightening, Stevenson does not take full credit: he claims his “sleepless Brownies” (or the Muse) collaborated with him in the creation of his work.
It’s like a dream within many dreams, revealing exponentially more than I’ve disclosed here.
Diagnosing Jekyll: The Scientific Context to Dr Jekyll’s Experiment and Mr Hyde’s Embodiment