As I reread the last chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, John Tenniel’s illustration of the cards “flutter[ing] down” on Alice reminded me of my earliest memories of Robert Louis Stephenson. He was part of my childhood not only as the man behind A Child’s Garden of Verses but also as one of the faces that stared out from the cards in my hand when my sister, my cousins, and I played the game of Authors.
Writing of Stevenson as a children’s author, the Scottish novelist Margot Livesey notes:
That I and so many others came to his work so young has made us consider him a children’s author from whom we have little to learn as adults. This opinion is one that his contemporaries would not have shared, either in his particular case or as a general rule. Victorian adults felt free to embrace so-called children’s books without apology. Stevenson’s father often reread The Parent’s Assistant, a volume of children’s stories, and Virginia Woolf records being taken to Peter Pan on her twenty-third birthday with no signs that this was a childish treat.
Though Stevenson’s first commercial successes were two of his books for children—Treasure Island and A Child’s Garden of Verses—The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde marks a major departure from the realm of childhood, a journey into what Livesey calls “[t]he labyrinthine streets through which we pursue Hyde.”
Writing of the experience of reading Stevenson’s Gothic tale, Livesey observes that
[s]lowly but inexorably we are being led into a strange country, where the relationship between Jekyll’s prim white hand and Hyde’s orgiastic hairy paw will be revealed. The two are not merely opposites, or alter egos. In [novelist Vladimir] Nabokov’s helpful analogy Hyde is a precipitate of Jekyll. We might also think of him as Jekyll’s son.
That idea of Hyde as Jekyll’s son inspired the first option for this week’s assignment.
Henry Jekyll’s scientific ambition and its monstrous product, Edward Hyde, link Stevenson’s novella to one of its Gothic precursors, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Do the similarities between Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll seem more apparent in Dr. Hastie Lanyon’s accounts of Henry Jekyll, or in Jekyll’s own “Full Statement of the Case”? Why?
The editor of the Victorian volume of The Norton Anthology of British Literature notes that “our familiarity with the outline of the story may not prepare us for the psychological and ethical complexity of the original” (Robson 766). What passage in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde best exemplifies that complexity?
In “The Double Life of Robert Louis Stevenson,” Margot Livesey names Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer, as “the best possible witness to the horror of Hyde.” Do you think Utterson is the best character to guide readers through the story? Which other character might serve as guide, and how would that change alter the narrative?
Early in “Dr. Lanyon’s Narrative,” Robert Louis Stevenson made an error that went unnoticed by his editor. What is it?
Robson, Catherine. Biographical Note: “Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894.” The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Victorian Age. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W.W. Norton, 2018. pp. 765-66.