Last summer, I downloaded a free audiobook from Sync (check it out again this summer for more free audiobooks!) of the classic, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Since our sons loved his Treasure Island when they were young, I was hoping they would listen to the book with us on our road trip this summer. No such luck, but on a recent trip to visit my dad, my husband and I listened to this creepy classic during a cold, dark night in the car and thoroughly enjoyed it (while the boys kept their earbuds in, listening to their own music!).
Is there anyone left anywhere in the world who doesn’t know the basic story of Jekyll and Hyde? Just in case, here’s a quick recap with no spoilers. I was surprised to find that the story is told by a third-party, a lawyer named Mr. Utterson who is a good friend of Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Utterson walks around town every Sunday with another friend, Mr. Enfield, who is also a good friend of Dr. Jekyll. One Sunday, the two friends pass a sinister-looking and neglected door in the midst of a cheerful village street, and Mr. Enfield tells Mr. Utterson about the mysterious occupant of the house, a Mr. Hyde, who is disagreeable and seems to be uncaring and perhaps even violent.
The story reminds Mr. Utterson that his good friend Dr. Jekyll had him draw up a will for him that leaves everything to an Edward Hyde “in case of sudden death or disappearance.” The lawyer found the phrase odd at the time, but now that he’s heard some negative things about the mysterious Mr. Hyde, he is concerned that his friend may be being blackmailed or worse, that his life may be in danger. So, he proceeds to investigate, determined to find out who this Mr. Hyde is and if he means his friend harm.
You probably know how this all turns out, but it is still a fascinating and suspenseful tale. While we were listening, I wondered what it must have been like for people reading it for the very first time in 1886. It may have been more of a surprise ending for readers back then, but the complexity and thoughtfulness of the story about man's nature holds up well even today. Seeing the story unfold from Utterson’s point of view is intriguing, and the violence and suspense make it just as compelling to listen to today.
I was fascinated by this background story from Amazon on how the book was written:
“The young Robert Louis Stevenson suffered from repeated nightmares of living a double life, in which by day he worked as a respectable doctor and by night he roamed the back alleys of old-town Edinburgh. In three days of furious writing, he produced a story about his dream existence. His wife found it too gruesome, so he promptly burned the manuscript. In another three days, he wrote it again. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published as a "shilling shocker" in 1886, and became an instant classic. In the first six months, 40,000 copies were sold. Queen Victoria read it. Sermons and editorials were written about it. When Stevenson and his family visited America a year later, they were mobbed by reporters at the dock in New York City. Compulsively readable from its opening pages, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is still one of the best tales ever written about the divided self.”
We were captivated by the short (4-hour) audiobook, and I was glad to finally hear the original book, since I’d only seen movies or plays of the story before. As with reading Frankenstein this fall, I enjoyed reading the original of this classic, as its author wrote it, without Hollywood embellishments.