"... all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil."
That line seems to get to the nub of the thing, and what an interesting thesis RLS proposes in his Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. The introduction (by Jenni Calder) to my edition stresses Stevenson's Calvinist upbringing and its influence on his work, and it's his exploration of what he sees as the duality of human nature - the evil side, always present but usually suppressed by the good - that is at the heart of the book.
His Dr. Jekyll is an upstanding man, respected, liked and admired, and thus his 'fall' - his unleashing of the dark side - is all the more chilling than if he'd been of lesser character. In choosing the path of temptation, corruption and depravity, he experiences a liberation as disquieting as it is dramatic. The morality by which he has lived a life "of effort, virtue and control" is set aside in favour of "the undeveloped, unexercised evil side of his nature", and "the greater the aspirations towards good of Jekyll, the greater the monstrosity of Hyde."
At 70 pages, this is a very short book but one which can be read on several levels; however, it's the moral analysis which is so fascinating. As Jenni Calder says, "[RLS] had experienced directly the iron grip of Calvinism and of bourgeois morality on human behaviour, and he recognised that it could be destructive, destructive because it affirmed that good for the majority was something external, artificial, not intrinsic to human nature: men could not be good unless they were told how to be good. Stevenson himself recognised a rather different kind of morality, a morality that came from within, that depended on a sensitive understanding of human relationships and responsibilities, that was flexible, individual, spontaneous. And it was this that made him so attractive, as man and writer, to so many, for at the time he was writing there was a certain weariness with the heavy-handed moral and religious principles of Victorianism."
There we have it.
What did you think?
(The 'books and cakes' post for the novel is here.)