Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (First Edition) by Robert Louis Stevenson

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2015-06-26 10:50:38

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a novella by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). This work was first published in 1886 by Longmans, Green and Co, London. Background

Stevenson wrote Jekyll and Hyde in Bournemouth in 1885, where he was convalescing from an illness. It was inspired initially by a nightmare. He wrote a straightforward horror story, but his wife suggested more could be done with it – for example the allegorical undertones and ideas of duality found in the published version. Stevenson burnt his original manuscript and began again, re-writing the entire novel in three days.

Written at a time when the early Victorian enthusiasm for progress was waning, and writers including Stevenson began to question the benefits, or dangers, of scientific advancement. He also critiques the middle class high society, and their superficial obsession with appearance, concealing the internal and presenting a false, or one-sided, exterior. Stevenson had always had a fascination with how personalities and the temptations of good and evil can affect individuals.

The first edition had 3000 copies, only 1250 of them bound in cloth. While supposed to be released in December of 1885, the shops would not stock it until the Christmas rush had died down and The Times had given it a review. Therefore it was sold in January 1886, with the date changed by hand on some of the paper wraps that the first edition was mostly bound in.

The work was immediately popular, among both thrill seekers and readers of great literature. It remains, alongside Treasure Island, his most enduring and well-known work.

Plot, Characters, Themes

The story focuses on a man named Henry Jekyll, from the perspective of his friends. Jekyll has been acting strangely, and has changed his will, leaving a known villainous character called Mr Hyde his entire estate. His friends worry that he is being blackmailed by Hyde, but Jekyll refuses to discuss it and says that everything is fine. A year passes, and Hyde is seen murdering someone. Jekyll claims to have cut off contact with Hyde, and returns to his old affable self, socialising a lot. But suddenly he begins to refuse visitors, and then shuts himself in his laboratory and will not come out. His friends force their way in, and discover the body of Hyde, in Jekyll’s clothes, dead from suicide.

A letter comes to light explaining that Jekyll and Hyde were one and the same – after creating a scientific potion designed to separate good and evil impulses, Jekyll began to spend some of his time as himself, a relatively but not purely good person, and the creature free of conscience, the evil but morally free Hyde. He found that he enjoyed becoming Hyde, and the freedom it gave him. However, he soon began turning into Hyde involuntarily, without taking the potion. Jekyll resolved to stop becoming Hyde, and after Hyde committed a murder, strengthened his resolve. He engaged in philanthropic work and Hyde seemed to have disappeared. But Hyde began to come back, and Jekyll ran out of potion to reverse the transformation. He eventually committed suicide.

Themes include the nature of duality, the separation of external and internal, and the idea of a split personality. It also has been claimed to suggest the inherently animalistic nature of man, which much be overcome by civilisation – therefore it is often read by post colonialists as depicting the savage vs the civilising influences of the colonial.

Author

Robert Louis Stevenson was an extremely prolific and popular Scottish writer, of novels, poem, and travel narratives.

See main article: Robert Louis Stevenson rare books and memorabilia

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

First editions of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886, Longmans, Green and Co, London) are worth much more in their original paper wraps, or in their original cloth, than if they are rebound. Therefore it is not recommended to restore copies.

First edition copies were sold by Sothebys for $10,200 in April 2005, and by Christie’s for $9,200 in October 1994, $9,988 in October 2001, and £11,163 in November 2000.

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