Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Source: Librivox
Length: 3 hr, 8 min
Reader: David Barnes

The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that has entered into the collective cultural consciousness
goes something like this: a mad scientist drinks a potion that turns him into an evil monster with superhuman abilities. This creature then goes on a murderous crime spree causing terror across London, while the scientist's friends try to change him back.This version of the story owes more to the monster movie adaptations rather than to the original book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

In Stevenson's novella, the plot unfolds in a very roundabout way. Because of gossip told to him through London society, Jekyll's lawyer and friend Utterson begins investigating Jekyll's unsavory associate, Edward Hyde, on suspicions of blackmail. Jekyll displays some unusual behavior with regards to Hyde, and Utterson grows more uneasy. In the final chapter the truth comes out about Jekyll and Hyde, but for us readers in the 21st century this revelation has lost its shock through frequent repetition of the hyped-up version of story.

I found myself getting impatient with the book, even though it's a fairly short one. I already knew the end, so the mystery of Jekyll and Hyde's relationship held no intrigue. On reflection, however, this is a profound work of philosophical and psychological fiction. Stevenson delves into the duality of the face we present the world and our selfish sinful desires. The lengths that Jekyll goes through to hide, but not wholly expel, his devilish friend form an insightful portrait of the society of Victorian morals and its seedy underbelly. My advice is to forget everything you think you know about the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and try to approach the book with a blank slate.

Rating: 7/10

The reader: David Barnes is one of the best readers at Librivox. His slow, rich British accent would be appropriate for a BBC announcer. I think this may be one of his earlier recordings - the background hum and some harshness in the microphone make it less professional-sounding than more recent releases. The overall effect is very soothing due to the slow pace and deep voice; it would be easy to fall to sleep listening to him, which could be good or bad, depending on what you're looking for.

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