The Strange Case of DOCTOR JEKYLL and MANDATORY MIDNIGHT


I think it’s important to note that, as this blog’s readership increases, my writing of Mandatory Midnight is not a collection of my own personal favorite horror novels. There have already been entries which are among my favorites, yes, but this list is more about informing those who value horror literature as to why certain novels (or novella in this "case") are considered “mandatory reading”. 

There are criteria, to be sure. A good example is longevity. That is, how far-reaching a book is or shall become. Classics are Frankenstein and Dracula, and we all know why. There is no debate. Modern-classics are a bit more tricky. We just finished the Ray Bradbury Saga concerning his forever classic Something Wicked This Way Comes. There may be some who would argue it does not belong on the list of mandatory reading, but I don’t know those people. An easier argument could be made about Rosemary’s Baby, and, if I’m being honest, they could present an opposing dissertation and possibly win me over. It would have to be awfully convincing but I’m willing, especially after my research that revealed its incidental connection to The Satanic Bible. 

Mandatory Midnight is in its infancy. I’m still feeling my way in order to write about books (and their authors!) who have either out-lived their contemporaries, or are destined to do so. Shelley and Stoker are a given. As are Bradbury and King. No, I have not covered King yet, but you know it’s coming. 

What do I mean by a (horror) book out-living its contemporaries? I can answer that with another question: can you name a book of horror published in 1818 that is not Frankenstein? 

Probably not a fair question. Mary Shelley practically birthed the twins Horror and Science-Fiction. What about 1978? Can you name any books of horror published in 1978? Stephen King’s The Stand was #1. Any others? I couldn’t. I had to do some Googling and discovered The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft was ranked #32, according to GoodReads. Not a good year for horror fiction, I guess. 

I’m sure we could do some deeper research into that but I’m only making the point that there are some books that will out-live all others. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is one of those books.         

I’m treading some dangerous waters here. No author wants to know their book/s will not be remembered. Like Bradbury, we want to live forever. But there is a damn good reason these books out-live the rest. Are they written any better than their contemporaries? I think that’s an indulgent and loaded question. All art is subjective. I happen to think the book Violin was/is Anne Rice’s best-written. Am I right? I think so. You may not. But will it be remembered above her many others? I can’t answer that and neither can you. What we can do is safely guess that the one work she will more than likely be remembered best for is Interview With the Vampire.

In that frame of mind let’s tackle why Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is mandatory. 

The Writer 

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 13 November 1850. Stevenson's parents were both devout Presbyterians, but the household was not strict in its adherence to Calvinist principles. His nurse Alison Cunningham was more fervently religious. Her mix of Calvinism and folk beliefs were an early source of nightmares for the child, and he showed a precocious concern for religion. But she also cared for him tenderly in illness, reading to him from John Bunyan and the Bible as he lay sick in bed and telling tales of the Covenanters. Stevenson recalled this time of sickness in "The Land of Counterpane" in A Child's Garden of Verses (1885), dedicating the book to his nurse.

Stevenson was an only child, both strange-looking and eccentric, and he found it hard to fit in when he was sent to a nearby school at age 6, a problem repeated at age 11 when he went on to the Edinburgh Academy; but he mixed well in lively games with his cousins in summer holidays at Colinton. His frequent illnesses often kept him away from his first school, so he was taught for long stretches by private tutors. He was a late reader, learning at age 7 or 8, but even before this he dictated stories to his mother and nurse, and he compulsively wrote stories throughout his childhood. His father was proud of this interest; he had also written stories in his spare time until his own father found them and told him to "give up such nonsense and mind your business." He paid for the printing of Robert's first publication at 16, entitled The Pentland Rising: A Page of History, 1666. It was an account of the Covenanters' rebellion which was published in 1866, the 200th anniversary of the event.

In November 1867, Stevenson entered the University of Edinburgh to study engineering. He showed from the start no enthusiasm for his studies and devoted much energy to avoiding lectures. This time was more important for the friendships he made with other students in the Speculative Society (an exclusive debating club), particularly with Charles Baxter, who would become Stevenson's financial agent, and with a professor, Fleeming Jenkin, whose house staged amateur drama in which Stevenson took part, and whose biography he would later write. Perhaps most important at this point in his life was a cousin, Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson (known as "Bob"), a lively and light-hearted young man who, instead of the family profession, had chosen to study art. Each year during vacations, Stevenson travelled to inspect the family's engineering works—to Anstruther and Wick in 1868, with his father on his official tour of Orkney and Shetland islands lighthouses in 1869, and for three weeks to the island of Erraid in 1870. He enjoyed the travels more for the material they gave for his writing than for any engineering interest. The voyage with his father pleased him because a similar journey of Walter Scott with Robert Stevenson had provided the inspiration for Scott's 1822 novel The Pirate. In April 1871, Stevenson notified his father of his decision to pursue a life of letters. Though the elder Stevenson was naturally disappointed, the surprise cannot have been great, and Stevenson's mother reported that he was "wonderfully resigned" to his son's choice. 

In other respects too, Stevenson was moving away from his upbringing. His dress became more Bohemian; he already wore his hair long, but he now took to wearing a velveteen jacket and rarely attended parties in conventional evening dress. Within the limits of a strict allowance, he visited cheap pubs and brothels. More importantly, he had come to reject Christianity and declared himself an atheist. In January 1873, his father came across the constitution of the LJR (Liberty, Justice, Reverence) Club, of which Stevenson and his cousin Bob were members, which began: "Disregard everything our parents have taught us". Questioning his son about his beliefs, he discovered the truth, leading to a long period of dissension with both parents:

What a damned curse I am to my parents! As my father said "You have rendered my whole life a failure". As my mother said "This is the heaviest affliction that has ever befallen me". O Lord, what a pleasant thing it is to have damned the happiness of (probably) the only two people who care a damn about you in the world.

Much more has been written about Stevenson and his works. He later married and eventually bought and settled on a Somoan island, where he was revered by locals. On 3 December 1894, Stevenson was talking to his wife and straining to open a bottle of wine when he suddenly exclaimed, "What's that?" He asked his wife, "Does my face look strange?", and collapsed. He died within a few hours, probably of a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 44 years old. The Samoans insisted on surrounding his body with a watch-guard during the night and on bearing him on their shoulders to nearby Mount Vaea, where they buried him on a spot overlooking the sea on land donated by British Acting Vice Consul Thomas Trood. Stevenson had always wanted his Requiem inscribed on his tomb:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Stevenson was loved by the Samoans, and his tombstone epigraph was translated to a Samoan song of grief.

Half of Stevenson's original manuscripts are lost, including those of Treasure Island, The Black Arrow, and The Master of Ballantrae. His heirs sold his papers during World War I, and many Stevenson documents were auctioned off in 1918.

Stevenson was a celebrity in his own time, being admired by many other writers, but for much of the 20th century he was seen as a second-class writer. He became relegated to children's literature and horror genres, condemned by literary figures such as Virginia Woolf (daughter of his early mentor Leslie Stephen) and her husband Leonard Woolf, and he was gradually excluded from the canon of literature taught in schools. His exclusion reached its apex in the 1973 2,000-page Oxford Anthology of English Literature where he was entirely unmentioned, and The Norton Anthology of English Literature excluded him from 1968 to 2000 (1st–7th editions), including him only in the 8th edition (2006).

The late 20th century brought a re-evaluation of Stevenson as an artist of great range and insight, a literary theorist, an essayist and social critic, a witness to the colonial history of the Pacific Islands, and a humanist. He was praised by Roger Lancelyn Green, one of the Oxford Inklings, as a writer of a consistently high level of "literary skill or sheer imaginative power" and a pioneer of the Age of the Story Tellers along with H. Rider Haggard. He is now evaluated as a peer of authors such as Joseph Conrad (whom Stevenson influenced with his South Seas fiction) and Henry James, with new scholarly studies and organisations devoted to him. Throughout the vicissitudes of his scholarly reception, Stevenson has remained popular worldwide. According to the Index Translationum, Stevenson is ranked the 26th most translated author in the world, ahead of Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe.

The Book

Gabriel John Utterson and his cousin Richard Enfield reach the door of a large house on their weekly walk. Enfield tells Utterson that months ago he saw a sinister-looking man named Edward Hyde trample a young girl after accidentally bumping into her. Enfield forced Hyde to pay £100 to avoid a scandal. Hyde brought them to this door and provided a cheque signed by a reputable gentleman (later revealed to be Doctor Henry Jekyll, a friend and client of Utterson). Utterson is disturbed because Jekyll recently changed his will to make Hyde the sole beneficiary. Utterson fears that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll. When Utterson tries to discuss Hyde with Jekyll, Jekyll tells Utterson he can be rid of Hyde when he wants and for Utterson to drop the matter.

One night in October, a servant sees Hyde beat Sir Danvers Carew, another one of Utterson's clients, to death. The police contact Utterson, who leads officers to Hyde's apartment. Hyde has vanished, but they find half of a broken cane (the other half having been left at the crime scene). Utterson recognizes the cane as one he had given to Jekyll. Utterson visits Jekyll, who shows Utterson a note, allegedly written to Jekyll by Hyde, apologising for the trouble that he has caused. However, Hyde's handwriting is similar to Jekyll's own, leading Utterson to conclude that Jekyll forged the note to protect Hyde.

For two months, Jekyll reverts to his former sociable manner, but in early January, he starts refusing visitors. Dr Hastie Lanyon, a mutual acquaintance of Jekyll and Utterson, dies of shock after receiving information relating to Jekyll. Before his death, Lanyon gives Utterson a letter to be opened after Jekyll's death or disappearance. In late February, during another walk with Enfield, Utterson starts a conversation with Jekyll at a window of his laboratory. Jekyll suddenly slams the window and disappears.

In early March, Jekyll's butler, Mr. Poole, visits Utterson and says Jekyll has secluded himself in his laboratory for weeks. Utterson and Poole break into the laboratory, where they find Hyde wearing Jekyll's clothes and apparently dead from suicide. They find a letter from Jekyll to Utterson. Utterson reads Lanyon's letter, then Jekyll's. Lanyon's letter reveals his deterioration resulted from the shock of seeing Hyde drink a serum that turned him into Jekyll. Jekyll's letter explains that he had indulged in unstated vices and feared discovery. He found a way to transform himself and thereby indulge his vices without fear of detection. Jekyll's transformed body, Hyde, was evil, self-indulgent, and uncaring to anyone but himself. Initially, Jekyll controlled the transformations with the serum, but one night in August, he became Hyde involuntarily in his sleep.

Jekyll resolved to cease becoming Hyde. One night, he had a moment of weakness and drank the serum. Hyde, his desires having been caged for so long, killed Carew. Horrified, Jekyll tried more adamantly to stop the transformations. Then, in early January, he transformed involuntarily while awake. Far from his laboratory and hunted by the police as a murderer, Hyde needed help to avoid capture. He wrote to Lanyon (in Jekyll's hand), asking his friend to bring chemicals from his laboratory. In Lanyon's presence, Hyde mixed the chemicals, drank the serum, and transformed into Jekyll. The shock of the sight instigated Lanyon's deterioration and death. Meanwhile, Jekyll's involuntary transformations increased in frequency and required ever larger doses of serum to reverse. It was one of these transformations that caused Jekyll to slam his window shut on Enfield and Utterson.

Eventually, one of the chemicals used in the serum ran low, and subsequent batches prepared from new stocks failed to work. Jekyll speculated that one of the original ingredients must have some unknown impurity that made it work. Realizing that he would stay transformed as Hyde, Jekyll decided to write his "confession". He ended the letter by writing this: "Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end." With these words, both the document and the novella come to a close.

Conclusions

Stevenson had long been intrigued by the idea of how human personalities can affect how to incorporate the interplay of good and evil into a story. While still a teenager, he developed a script for a play about Deacon Brodie, which he later reworked with the help of W. E. Henley and which was produced for the first time in 1882. In early 1884, he wrote the short story "Markheim", which he revised in 1884 for publication in a Christmas annual. According to his essay, "A Chapter on Dreams" (1888), he racked his brains for an idea for a story and had a dream, and upon waking had the intuition for two or three scenes that would appear in the story Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Biographer Graham Balfour quoted Stevenson's wife Fanny Stevenson: In the small hours of one morning, I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I awakened him. He said angrily: "Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale." I had awakened him at the first transformation scene.

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."

Inspiration may also have come from the writer's friendship with Edinburgh-based French teacher Eugene Chantrelle, who was convicted and executed for the murder of his wife in May 1878. Chantrelle, who had appeared to lead a normal life in the city, poisoned his wife with opium. According to author Jeremy Hodges, Stevenson was present throughout the trial and as "the evidence unfolded he found himself, like Dr Jekyll, 'aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde'." Moreover, it was believed that the teacher had committed other murders both in France and Britain by poisoning his victims at supper parties with a "favourite dish of toasted cheese and opium".

As was customary, Mrs. Stevenson would read the draft and offer her criticisms in the margins. Robert Stevenson was confined to bed at the time from a haemorrhage. Therefore, she left her comments with the manuscript and Robert in the toilet. She said that in effect the story was really an allegory, but Robert was writing it as a story. After a while, Robert called her back into the bedroom and pointed to a pile of ashes: he had burnt the manuscript in fear that he would try to salvage it, and in the process forced himself to start again from nothing, writing an allegorical story as she had suggested. Scholars debate whether he really burnt his manuscript; there is no direct factual evidence for the burning, but it remains an integral part of the history of the novella.

Stevenson re-wrote the story in three to six days. A number of later biographers have alleged that Stevenson was on drugs during the frantic re-write; for example, William Gray's revisionist history A Literary Life (2004) said he used cocaine while other biographers said he used ergot. However, the standard history, according to the accounts of his wife and son (and himself), says he was bed-ridden and sick while writing it. According to Osbourne, "The mere physical feat was tremendous and, instead of harming him, it roused and cheered him inexpressibly". He continued to refine the work for four to six weeks after the initial re-write. The novella was written in the southern English seaside town of Bournemouth, where Stevenson had moved due to ill health, to benefit from its sea air and warmer southern climate.

The name Jekyll was borrowed from Reverend Walter Jekyll, a friend of Stevenson and younger brother of horticulturalist and landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll.

Literary genres that critics have applied as a framework for interpreting the novel include religious allegory, fable, detective story, sensation fiction, Doppelgänger literature, Scottish devil tales, and gothic novel.

The novella is frequently interpreted as an examination of the duality of human nature, usually expressed as an inner struggle between good and evil, with variations such as human versus animal, civilization versus barbarism sometimes substituted, the main thrust being that of an essential inner struggle between the one and other, and that the failure to accept this tension results in evil, or barbarity, or animal violence, being projected onto others. In Freudian theory, the thoughts and desires banished to the unconscious mind motivate the behaviour of the conscious mind. Banishing evil to the unconscious mind in an attempt to achieve perfect goodness can result in the development of a Mr Hyde-type aspect to one's character.

In Christian theology, Satan's fall from Heaven is due to his refusal to accept that he is a created being (that he has a dual nature) and is not God. This idea is suggested when Hyde says to Lanyon, shortly before drinking the famous potion, "...and your sight shall be blasted by a prodigy to stagger the unbelief of Satan." This is because in Christianity, pride (to consider oneself as without sin or without evil) is a sin, as it is the precursor to evil itself.

In his discussion of the novel, Vladimir Nabokov argues that the "good versus evil" view of the novel is misleading, as Jekyll himself is not, by Victorian standards, a morally good person in some cases.

The book is commonly associated today with the Victorian concern over the public and private division, the individual's sense of playing a part and the class division of London. In this respect, the novella has also been noted as "one of the best guidebooks of the Victorian era" because of its piercing description of the fundamental dichotomy of the 19th century "outward respectability and inward lust", as this period had a tendency for social hypocrisy.

Another common interpretation sees the novella's duality as representative of Scotland and the Scottish character. In this reading, the duality represents the national and linguistic dualities inherent in Scotland's relationship with the wider Britain and the English language, respectively, and also the repressive effects of the Church of Scotland on the Scottish character. A further parallel is also drawn with the city of Edinburgh itself, Stevenson's birthplace, which consists of two distinct parts: the old medieval section historically inhabited by the city's poor, where the dark crowded slums were rife with all types of crime, and the modern Georgian area of wide spacious streets representing respectability.



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