Although Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is widely recognized as a monumental piece of fiction, Stevenson's concept of duality within human identity was not completely originally. In fact, he had encountered precursors to his tale long before he wrote the novel. Most frequently as influential to the development of Stevenson's work are . Hoffman's The Devil's Elixirs (1816), Thomas Jefferson Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), Edgar Allan Poe's William Wilson (1839), and most significantly, Theophile Gautier's Le Chevalier Double (1840). Gautier's story centers on the protagonist, Oluf, who has a double nature and leads a tormented life, much like Jekyll and Hyde.
Starred Review. Martin Jarvis delivers a gripping reading of Stevenson's classic. When Gabriel Utteron discovers that the sinister Mr. Hyde has moved into the home of his friend Dr. Jekyll and stands to benefit from his will, he becomes concerned and enlists the help of their mutual friend, Dr. Hastie Lanyon. Things go from bad to worse: Jekyll withdraws further from his social circle; Hyde's criminal sprees culminate in murder; and Utteron and Lanyon fight to save their friend and unravel the mystery of Hyde's origins and disappearance. Jarvis's pacing is excellent, his characterization spot on, and his renditions of Jekyll and Hyde perfect; he creates two distinct characters that illustrate the story's exploration into the duality of human nature. (Feb.)
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This dominance of Hyde—first as a latent force within Jekyll, then as a tyrannical external force subverting Jekyll—holds various implications for our understanding of human nature. We begin to wonder whether any aspect of human nature in fact stands as a counter to an individual’s Hyde-like side. We may recall that Hyde is described as resembling a “troglodyte,” or a primitive creature; perhaps Hyde is actually the original, authentic nature of man, which has been repressed but not destroyed by the accumulated weight of civilization, conscience, and societal norms. Perhaps man doesn’t have two natures but rather a single, primitive, amoral one that remains just barely constrained by the bonds of civilization. Moreover, the novel suggests that once those bonds are broken, it becomes impossible to reestablish them; the genie cannot be put back into the bottle, and eventually Hyde will permanently replace Jekyll—as he finally does. Even in Victorian England—which considered itself the height of Western civilization—Stevenson suggests that the dark, instinctual side of man remains strong enough to devour anyone who, like Jekyll, proves foolish enough to unleash it.