'Jekyll & Hyde': Familiar tale has fable underpinnings
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2013
1/17/13 at 3:18 AM
'Jekyll & Hyde' star Constantine Maroulis talks about his journey to Broadway
'Jekyll & Hyde' trivia
All you need to do is say the names, and you know the story:
"Jekyll & Hyde."
One is distinctive and unusual, a name that no matter how proper it might be still contains within it something sinister.
The other is a familiar word made strange by the substitution of a single letter. The verb "hide" becomes the name "Hyde," the embodiment of all things dark and wicked.
Robert Louis Stevenson's "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" struck an immediate chord with readers when it was published in 1886. And although Stevenson would enjoy success from his adventure novels "Treasure Island" and "Kidnapped," among others, this short novel would become his most famous creation.
One reason for the enduring fascination with "Jekyll & Hyde," said Joseph Kestner, McFarlin Professor of English at the University of Tulsa, is that it is a story that can be interpreted in so many ways.
First and foremost, it's a thriller - what the English journalist and short story writer Maurice Richardson once described as "the only detective-crime story in which the solution is more horrifying than the problem."
Jekyll's experiments to discover a way to separate the good and the evil aspects of a man's personality make the book "a kind of moral fable," Kestner said.
"It's like G.K. Chesterton said - that the key element of the story is not that one man can be two different men, but that these two men really are one," he said. "That idea of doubleness - the doppelgÃ¤nger theme - runs all the through the text of the story, just as it runs through a great deal of Scottish literature. And this is a very Scottish novel."
Stevenson's story also evoked some of the issues of the day: the ideas propounded by Charles Darwin and the increasing urbanization of the world and the problems that are created. It served as almost a precursor to the concepts about personality that Sigmund Freud would develop and the theory that a person's character could be determined by their physical appearance.
"Some people in the 19th century believed you could read a person's criminal nature from their faces, their bodies," Kestner said. "But more and more evidence began to convince people that wasn't the case. And that becomes a critical part of the 'Jekyll & Hyde' story.
"Underneath this masquerade of sociability - the facade the respectable Henry Jekyll presents to the world - are all these darker impulses. And the transformation into Hyde allows Jekyll to enact them.
"In that sense, it's as if Stevenson has combined Mary Shelley's characters of Victor Frankenstein and his creature into one person - a created individual to do the things the apparently good person wouldn't allow himself to do."
Original Print Headline: Familiar tale has fable underpinnings
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Constantine Maroulis as Dr. Henry Jekyll performs an experiment in "Jekyll & Hyde." CHRIS BENNION PHOTO / Courtesy