With Halloween now only a few days away, I suddenly realized this is my last opportunity to recommend to you all a throwback book for the holiday. However, with such a short time frame to work with, I had to think about which titles you all would have enough time to squeeze in before October 31st came and went. Therefore, we’re going to talk a little bit about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. With that being said, I’ll try to keep this throwback short, because I want all of you to spend as little time reading this as possible and as much time reading all of your spooky books as we close off the spooky season.
The one thing I would love for you all to know, though, is that Stevenson found the inspiration for his novella in real life. That’s right, this crazy and horrifying story is actually based on real people. Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850, which also happened to be where a man named Deacon Brodie deceptively broke into the homes of multiple families over the course of twenty years (1768-1788) and stole from them. Brodies crimes may have taken place a bit ahead of Stevenson’s time, but the story endured for quite a while. You see, Brodie was able to do this with absolute ease and lack of detection, because he came from a reputable family and was a City Councillor. He was also a skilled cabinet maker and locksmith, trusted by many rich families in Edinburgh. Why not give him the keys to their homes and allow him to do his work while the family wasn’t home, what could possibly go wrong?
Nobody expected that he would secretly be taking impressions of these keys, making copies for himself, and then returning in the night in order to steal from these homes. Eventually, Brodie recruited the help of three other men with his crimes, but when they failed while trying to rob a government tax office, he was outed by the other men as their leader. Brodie attempted to run away to the Netherlands, but was arrested and sent back to Edinburgh, where he would be hanged in front of 40,000 people. When Stevenson was a teenager, he became obsessed with the story of Brodie, writing a play about him. However, it did not do nearly as well as the novella would some years later, so many readers consider the play as the prototype to the novella.
The other person who served as Stevenson’s inspiration for Dr. Jekyll’s character is somebody who he not only knew, but who he spent time with from time to time. Eugene Chantrelle, a French teacher and drinking partner of Stevenson’s, seemed like a normal and pleasant man to frequent. However, Chantrelle had taken out an insurance policy on his wife and then murdered her by poisoning her with opium. Evidence of this was found on her nightgown and Chantrelle was found guilty. Since Stevenson was a friend of Chantrelle’s he sat through the trial as it was then uncovered that Chantrelle had a history of sexual assault, abuse, and poisoning other young women, in addition to his own wife. The experience of sitting through the courtroom and listening to this apparently had traumatized Stevenson and Chantrelle was sentenced to be hanged. Stevenson was not present for the hanging, though.
Turning now to the novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde combines these two stories in order to create the character of Dr. Jekyll, except Dr. Jekyll had taken a potion in order to split up his good and bad sides into two separate entities. Stevenson dives into the concept of duality within a person by having this result in Dr. Jekyll’s transformation into Mr. Hyde. While Dr. Jekyll is a gentleman and a respected doctor, Mr. Hyde is an aggressive and creepy man who is often spotted doing unspeakable things to other people. There are two catches to the story, though. The first, of course, is that Dr. Jekyll undergoes a transformation physically, not just in the eye of the public. The second is that when the transformation first occurs, Dr. Jekyll is portrayed as being happy about his new-found freedom, so did he really undergo much of a change at all
Don’t worry, though, there are still plenty of gruesome details that I did not spoil for you all, if you should decide to pick up your own copy of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The book is a little over 100 pages, so there’s just enough time to squeeze it in before Halloween arrives this Saturday. As one of the most commonly re-created costumes, I highly recommend you wrap up the spooky season of 2020 by giving this novella a try. Stevenson put it best when he said “It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it,” so why not conquer your curiosity surrounding an all-time favorite Halloween costume?