The online classics bookgroup I operate for my library is reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this month. Like all the monthly reads I have scheduled through March, this one’s a re-read for me, and with every re-read I find much more in the books than I did before.
In the case of Dr. Jekyll, the edition I’m reading has a wonderful introduction by Jenny Davidson, a professor of 18th century literature. One thing I found very striking in the intro is the fact Jack the Ripper made his first appearance very soon after the first stage play of Dr. Jekyll. Not that there’s a connection between these two things, but imagine how Victorian society would have felt first reading the book and seeing the play about a madman with no conscience ravaging the streets, then having this play out in real life to an even greater degree. That’s a very curious coincidence.
It also makes one wonder about the Victorian culture/society itself, and what spawned such anti-social/isolationist themes, or perhaps climate is the proper word. Perhaps there’s something about the strict controls of society that inspired both men, one to write a classic story and the other to murder prostitutes. Maybe.
“I have been made to learn that the doom and burden of our life is bound forever on man’s shoulders; and when the attempt is made to cast it off, it but returns upon us with more unfamiliar and more awful pressure.”
Dr. Jekyll is a very short book, less than 100 pp. I read it in the space of an evening, but will re-read it at least once, or maybe even twice, more in order to get more of the nuances. Having read Davidson’s intro I’ll have a better idea what to look for in re-reads, including Dr. Jekyll’s statements about what led him to try this experiment in the first place, as well as the background that led him to feel so isolated. Of course this dual personality is fascinating all in itself, and there’s much to be analyzed in that, but the intro also pointed out several less obvious points I’ll be looking at the next time around.
The Victorian era fascinates me, and coming back to even a short study of one aspect of it is like going home again. I’ve missed it.