Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Jekyll

First Edition Provenance

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1886. Print.

Excerpt Provenance

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ed. Katherine Linehan. Norton Critical Edition. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2003. Print.

Introduction to the Selection from Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – by Daniel Salomon:

Robert Louis Stevenson’s vision for Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde1 occurred, quite naturally, in dream. Several scenes from this dream were put to page forthwith, and developed in a feverish surge of creativity by a bedridden Stevenson, still mending his recent pulmonary hemorrhage, thus influenced by painkillers, and perhaps other stimulants,2 to produce the first full draft in a mere three days. Fanny, his wife, supplied, as was custom, her poignant critique of this literary feat—that he had written the tale as if it were a story, though its real nature, she reckoned, was in fact an allegory. Without hesitation our adrenalized author regressed to his room, set the sensational script ablaze, and rewrote the tale, as we know it today, using Mrs. Stevenson’s insight, in three days anew.3 Though he further refined this second draft over the course of six or so weeks, despite criticisms concerning certain supernatural phenomena—such as the material agency by which Jekyll transforms4—Stevenson kept his scenes true to their initial apparition.

Since its publication in January 1886, “Jekyll and Hyde” has suffered a surfeit of adaptations, inversions, and spin-offs, elevating it to the status of pop culture icon, and, at once, to the collective consciousness (of nonreaders especially) a sort of mongrelized sense of Stevenson’s original, which Vladimir Nabokov, when he lectured at Cornell, begged his students to “completely forget, disremember, obliterate, unlearn, [and] consign to oblivion.”5 Indeed, the novel has drawn admiration, defense, and critical commentary from a wide range of writers. And though the tale is most commonly regarded as Gothic, devotees tend to praise its design as something ‘Other.’ Henry James, for one, lauded “not the profundity of the idea,” but rather “the art of presentation—the extremely successful form.”6 Nabokov, in the lecture aforementioned, called Jekyll “a phenomenon of style,” containing within its “own special enchantment.”7

Most enchanting about Stevenson’s text, which Gerard Manley Hopkins deemed “worthy of Shakespeare,”8 is the narrative eye, guided by Mr. Utterson, a “lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable”9 lawyer, meandering space, sometimes eerily, much like the London fog. It seeks the face of Mr. Hyde, an elusive fellow, the alleged offender of two violent acts, who evokes “a strong feeling of deformity”10 upon every professed confrontation. Though Utterson eventually gains its visage, the reader—Stevenson makes sure—never does. Instead, we are left with the impression it confides in its witnesses, and a consistent outflow of imagery and spatial observation provided in place of this tantalizing void. Dr. Jekyll, Utterson’s client and longtime friend, has curiously proffered this faceless fiend with a key to the side-entry door of his house. Thus, Utterson navigates the narration, attempting to uncover the source of Jekyll and Hyde’s confounding relationship.

“In anything fit to be called by the name of reading,” Stevenson once mused, “the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought.”11 No doubt the reader is spellbound by Stevenson’s dance, which aptly surrounds where Jekyll dwells. Though the text teems with architectural description—of other residences, of the London streetscape, etc., each significant in its own right—Jekyll’s house is undeniably the novel’s navel.

Organized in order of appearance in the text, the following excerpts concern the house of Jekyll—which is really half Hyde’s, as we come to discover.

Excerpts

“Did you ever remark that door?” he asked; and when his companion replied in the affirmative, “It is connected in my mind,” he added, “with a very odd story.”12

“But I have studied the place for myself,” continued Mr. Enfield. “It seems scarcely a house. There is no other door, and nobody goes in or out of that one but, once in a great while, the gentleman of my adventure. There are three windows looking on the court on the first floor; none below; the windows are always shut but they’re clean. And then there is a chimney which is generally smoking; so somebody must live there. And yet it’s not so sure; for the buildings are so packed together about that court; that it’s hard to say where one ends and another begins.”13

Round the corner from the by-street, there was a square of ancient, handsome houses, now for the most part decayed from their high estate and let in flats and chambers to all sorts and conditions of men: map-engravers, architects, shady lawyers and the agents of obscure enterprises. One house, however, second from the corner, was still occupied entire; and at the door of this, which wore a great air of wealth and comfort, though it was now plunged in darkness except for the fan-light, Mr. Utterson stopped and knocked. A well-dressed, elderly servent opened the door.

“Is Dr. Jekyll at home, Poole?” asked the lawyer.

“I will see, Mr. Utterson,” said Poole, admitting the visitor, as he spoke, into a large, low-roofed, comfortable hall, paved with flags, warmed (after the fashion of a country house) by a bright, open fire, and furnished with costly cabinets of oak. “Will you wait here by the fire, sir? or shall I give you a light in the dining-room?”

“Here, thank you,” said the lawyer, and he drew near and leaned against the tall fender. This hall, in which he was now left alone, was a pet fancy of his friend the doctor’s; and Utterson himself was wont to speak of it as the pleasantest room in London. But to-night there was a shudder in his blood; the face of Hyde sat heavy on his memory; he felt (what was rare with him) a nausea and distaste of life; and in the gloom of his spirits, he seemed to read a menace in the flickering of the firelight on the polished cabinets and the uneasy starting of the shadow on the roof. He was ashamed of his relief, when Poole presently returned to announce that Dr. Jekyll was gone out.

“I saw Mr. Hyde go in by the old dissecting room door, Poole,” he said. “Is that right, when Dr. Jekyll is from home?”

“Quite right, Mr. Utterson, sir,” replied the servant. “Mr. Hyde has a key.”

“Your master seems to repose a great deal of trust in that young man, Poole,” resumed the other musingly.

“Yes, sir, he do indeed,” said Poole. “We have all orders to obey him.”

“I do not think I ever met Mr. Hyde?” asked Utterson.

“O, dear no, sir. He never dines here,” replied the butler. “Indeed we see very little of him on this side of the house; he mostly comes and goes by the laboratory.”14

It was late in the afternoon, when Mr. Utterson found his way to Dr. Jekyll’s door, where he was at once admitted by Poole, and carried down by the kitchen offices and across a yard which had once been a garden, to the building which was indifferently known as the laboratory or the dissecting rooms. The doctor had bought the house from the heirs of a celebrated surgeon; and his own tastes being rather chemical than anatomical, had changed the destination of the block at the bottom of the garden. It was the first time that the lawyer had been received in that part of his friend’s quarters; and he eyed the dingy windowless structure with curiosity, and gazed round with a distasteful sense of strangeness as he crossed the theatre, once crowded with eager students and now lying gaunt and silent, the tables laden with chemical apparatus, the floor strewn with crates and littered with packing straw, and the light falling dimly through the foggy cupola. At the further end, a flight of stairs mounted to a door covered with red baize; and through this, Mr. Utterson was at last received into the doctor’s cabinet. It was a large room, fitted round with glass presses, furnished, among other things, with a cheval-glass and a business table, and looking out upon the court by three dusty windows barred with iron. The fire burned in the grate; a lamp was set lighted on the chimney shelf, for even in the houses the fog began to lie thickly; and there, close up to the warmth, sat Dr. Jekyll, looking deadly sick.15

It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it; and it may be doubted if, from that day forth, Utterson desired the society of his surviving friend with the same eagerness. He thought of him kindly; but his thoughts were disquieted and fearful. He went to call indeed; but he was perhaps relieved to be denied admittance; perhaps, in his heart, he preferred to speak with Poole upon the doorstep and surrounded by the air and sounds of the open city, rather than to be admitted into that house of voluntary bondage, and to sit and speak with its inscrutable recluse. Poole had, indeed, no very pleasant news to communicate. The doctor, it appeared, now more than ever confined himself to the cabinet over the laboratory, where he would sometimes even sleep; he was out of spirits, he had grown very silent, he did not read; it seemed as if he had something on his mind. Utterson became so used to the unvarying character of these reports, that he fell off little by little in the frequency of his visits.16

The court was very cool and a little damp, and full of premature twilight, although the sky, high up overhead, was still bright with sunset. The middle one of the three windows was half way open; and sitting close beside it, taking the air with an infinite sadness of mien, like some disconsolate prisoner, Utterson saw Dr. Jekyll.

“What! Jekyll!” he cried. “I trust you are better.”

“I am very low, Utterson,” replied the doctor drearily, “very low. It will not last long, thank God.”

“You stay too much indoors,” said the lawyer. “You should be out, whipping up the circulation like Mr. Enfield and me. (This is my cousin—Mr. Enfield—Dr. Jekyll.) Come now; get your hat and take a quick turn with us.”

“You are very good,” sighed the other. “I should like to very much; but, no, no, no, it is quite impossible; I dare not. But indeed, Utterson, I am very glad to see you; this is really a great pleasure; I would ask you and Enfield up, but the place is really not fit.”

“Why then,” said the lawyer, good-naturedly, “the best thing we can do is to stay down here and speak with you from where we are.”

“This is just what I was about to venture to propose,” returned the doctor with a smile. But the words were hardly uttered, before the smile was struck out of his face and succeeded by an expression of such abject terror and despair, as froze the very blood of the two gentlemen below. They saw it but for a glimpse, for the window was instantly thrust down; but that glimpse had been sufficient, and they turned and left the court without a word. In silence, too, they traversed the by-street; and it was not until they had come into a neighboring thoroughfare, where even upon a Sunday there were still some stirrings of life, that Mr. Utterson at last turned and looked at his companion. They were both pale; and there was an answering horror in their eyes.17

Thereupon the servant knocked in a very guarded manner; the door was opened on the chain; and a voice asked from within, “Is that you, Poole?”

“It’s all right,” said Poole. “Open the door.”

The hall, when they entered it, was brightly lighted up; the fire was built high; and about the hearth the whole of the servants, men and women, stood huddled together like a flock of sheep. At the sight of Mr. Utterson, the housemaid broke into hysterical whimpering; and the cook, crying out “Bless God! it’s Mr. Utterson,” ran forward as if to take him in her arms.

[…]

“Hold your tongue!” Poole said to her, with a ferocity of accent that testified to his own jangled nerves; and indeed, when the girl had so suddenly raised the note of her lamentation, they had all started and turned towards the inner door with faces of dreadful expectation. “And now,” continued the butler, addressing the knife-boy, “reach me a candle, and we’ll get this through hands at once.” And then he begged Mr. Utterson to follow him, and led the way to the back garden.

“Now, sir,” said he, “you come as gently as you can. I want you to hear, and I don’t want you to be heard. And see here, sir, if by any chance he was to ask you in, don’t go.”

Mr. Utterson’s nerves, at this unlooked-for termination, gave a jerk that nearly threw him from his balance; but he recollected his courage and followed the butler into the laboratory building and through the surgical theatre, with its lumber of crates and bottles, to the foot of the stair. Here Poole motioned him to stand on one side and listen; while he himself, setting down the candle and making a great and obvious call on his resolution, mounted the steps and knocked with a somewhat uncertain hand on the red baize of the cabinet door.

“Mr. Utterson, sir, asking to see you,” he called; and even as he did so, once more violently signed to the lawyer to give ear.

A voice answered from within: “Tell him I cannot see anyone,” it said complainingly.

“Thank you, sir,” said Poole, with a note of something like triumph in his voice; and taking up his candle, he led Mr. Utterson back across the yard and into the great kitchen, where the fire was out and the beetles were leaping on the floor.18

“Poole,” replied the lawyer, “[…] I shall consider it my duty to break in that door.”

[…]

“”There is an axe in the theatre,” continued Poole, “and you might take the kitchen poker yourself.”

[…]

“This suspense, I know, is telling upon all of you; but it is now our intention to make an end of it. Poole, here, and I are going to force our way into the cabinet. If all is well, my shoulders are broad enough to bear the blame. Meanwhile, lest anything should really be amiss, or any malefactor seek to escape by the back, you and the boy must go round the corner with a pair of good sticks, and take your post at the laboratory door. We give you ten minutes, to get to your stations.”
As Bradshaw left, the lawyer looked at his watch. “And now, Poole, let us get to ours,” he said; and taking the poker under his arm, he led the way into the yard. The scud had banked over the moon, and it was now dark. The wind, which only broke in puffs and draughts into that deep well of building, tossed the light of the candle to and fro about their steps, until they came into the shelter of the theatre, where they sat down silently to wait. London hummed solemnly all around; but nearer at hand, the stillness was only broken by the sound of a footfall moving to and fro along the cabinet floor.

[…]

“Jekyll,” cried Utterson, with a loud voice, “I demand to see you.” He paused a moment, but there came no reply. “I give you fair warning, our suspicions are aroused, and I must and shall see you,” he resumed; “if not by fair means, then by foul—if not of your consent, then by brute force!”

“Utterson,” said the voice, “for God’s sake, have mercy!”

“Ah, that’s not Jekyll’s voice—it’s Hyde’s!” cried Utterson. “Down with the door, Poole.”

Poole swung the axe over his shoulder; the blow shook the building, and the red baize door leaped against the lock and hinges. A dismal screech, as of mere animal terror, rang from the cabinet. Up went the axe again, and again the panels crashed and the frame bounded; four times the blow fell; but the wood was tough and the fittings were of excellent workmanship; and it was not until the fifth, that the lock burst in sunder and the wreck of the door fell inwards on the carpet.

The besiegers, appalled by their own riot and the stillness that had succeeded, stood back a little and peered in. There lay the cabinet before their eyes in the quiet lamplight, a good fire glowing and chattering on the hearth, the kettle singing its thin strain, a drawer or two open, papers neatly set forth on the business table, and nearer the fire, the things laid out for tea: the quietest room, you would have said, and, but for the blazed presses full of chemicals, the most commonplace that night in London.

Right in the midst there lay the body of a man sorely contorted and still twitching. They drew near on tiptoe, turned it on its back and beheld the face of Edward Hyde.19

___

1. Though subsequent editions have often inserted the word “The” before “Strange” in titling this work, Stevenson in fact wrote the title out for his publisher exactly as it appears here, presumably wanting its abruptness to heighten the sense of strangeness surrounding his “strange case.” Additionally, “Dr” and “Mr” appeared in the original title without punctuation.
2. Possibly with the help of cocaine or ergot, according to William Gray’s biography Robert Louis Stevenson: a literary life. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004.
3. Lloyd Osbourne, Stevenson’s stepson, wrote: “I don’t believe that there was ever such a literary feat before as the writing of Dr. Jekyll. I remember the first reading as though it were yesterday. Louis came downstairs in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud; and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days.”
4. From Graham Balfour’s The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, vol. 2. London: Methuen and Co., 1901. 12.
5. From Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature. Boston: Harcourt, 1980. 179.
6. From Henry James, Partial Portraits. London: Macmillan, 1894. 170.
7. Nabokov, 180.
8. From Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selected Letters. Ed. Catherine Phillips, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. 243-244.
9. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ed. Katherine Linehan. Norton Critical Edition. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2003. 7.
10. Stevenson, 11.
11. Stevenson, Robert Louis. “A Gossip on Romance” Longman’s Magazine 1 (Novermber 1882): 69.
12. Stevenson, 8.
13. Stevenson, 11.
14. Stevenson, 17-18.
15. Stevenson, 24-25.
16. Stevenson, 31.
17. Stevenson, 31-32.
18. Stevenson, 33-34.
19. Stevenson, 36-39.

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