‘My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring.’
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a story we all feel we know but, perhaps because of its familiarity, might not actually have read. This 25,000-word classic seems to me essential reading for anyone interested in novellas. Written in a frenzy in less than a week, including the alleged burning of the first draft, Jekyll and Hyde is full of intrigue and energy; it has a powerful narrative pull.
We are introduced to the story of Dr Henry Jekyll by his close friend Mr Utterson, who is bewildered by the doctor’s strange relationship with the rarely seen but increasingly notorious Mr Hyde. ‘“He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why.”’ Utterson observes that the unpleasant and violent Mr Hyde comes and goes from Jekyll’s home by the back way and seems to have an alarming hold over the doctor, who had previously been cheerful and sociable but now ‘friendship and peace of mind and the whole tenor of his life were wrecked’. Hyde is suspected of blackmailing Jekyll, of forcing him to commit forgery (their handwriting being alike, ‘only differently sloped’), of intending to harm him, and indeed, Hyde does becomes increasingly dominant and a threat to Jekyll’s life. When Utterson and Jekyll’s frightened butler force their way into the laboratory into which the doctor has locked himself (‘“Sir,” said the butler, turning to a sort of mottled pallor, “that thing was not my master…”’), the full and dreadful story is finally revealed.