“Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty, and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable. 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 these silent symbols of the after-dinner face, but more often and loudly in the acts of his life.”
– Opening of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A strange, deformed man haunts the streets, trampling over fallen children and seemingly wresting money from the good Dr. Jekyll to escape the consequences of his misdeeds. Jekyll has even gone so far as to make this mysterious Mr. Hyde the sole benefactor of his will, against all advice from Mr. Utterson, his lawyer. Utterson suspects blackmail, and he’s determined not to rest until he’s helped his dear friend and client escape with his life. For surely, he thinks, Hyde must be tempted to murder Jekyll in order to usurp him. Utterson doesn’t know how right he is, though not at all in the way that he suspects.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic horror novel, and one that has been referenced so often in modern culture that I knew its biggest secret going in. For me, the surprises and the appeal were in discovering the way in which the story was told. Much of the plot involves watching Mr. Utterson and others slowly uncovering the mystery, and, for me, this resulted in a very interesting dramatic irony. I knew exactly what the characters were missing, but I didn’t know all the twists and turns of the plot, how the characters would react to them, or how the story would reach its end. For me, this was enough to maintain interest, and I think other readers would have a similar experience if they have only a surface-level knowledge of the plot.
This is a short book, certainly a quick read, and I found it to be a good example of British literature of the nineteenth century. Characters’ physical descriptions are meant to signify aspects of their personalities, houses and the weather are likewise described with obvious symbolism, the omniscient narrator tells you what the characters are like, and the characters have over-the-top reactions whenever anything remotely horrifying happens. Because of this, combined with how easy it is to read, I think it would make a great introductory book for anyone looking to get into British classics from the same time period without immediately jumping in the deep end.
I also found it interesting as a window into the past, seeing how people lived and spoke and how they told their stories. I would recommend it if you have a similar interest, or if, somehow, you actually don’t know the secret behind this particular mystery. If that’s the case, I recommend you go out and read it right now. And then come back and tell the rest of us how the ending struck you. I’m very curious to know.