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Mr Cornflower

I suppose that one of the features of great works is that they can be experienced several times and each time has the potential to reveal a fresh meaning or a new insight. Hitherto overlooked phrases can leap out at you; for me, the key moment, which I don't remember from previous readings, was when Jekyll says of Hyde: "This too was myself." What this says to me is that the dilemma which Stevenson poses is essentially unsolvable: he does indeed acknowledge the unsatisfactory nature of a morality which is externally imposed, but if we expect that the boundaries between good and evil can be effectively patrolled by introspection we are heading for disaster. Crucially, the balance between Jekyll and Hyde is unstable; Hyde will always try to take over and he will win unless he is stopped by a greater external force. Written before the full horrors of the twentieth century burst upon a world which, in Stevenson's time, tended to congratulate itself on the advance of reason and science, this remains a dark and prescient work.


Of course it makes sense that someone brought up in such a strong religious environment would have some issues. I must admit I struggled with it. I don't know if it was the font that my addition had been printed in but still I did not find it an easy read. Maybe that was the point, it was written in the language of his times covering a subject matter, dear to his heart.

In the introduction of my copy of the book it stated that originally it was a nightmare that RLS had had and he wrote the story in one go and then destroyed it, only to re-write it at a later date. I could see anyone being disturbed by such imagery.

I did wonder if this was a cautionary tale about scientific experiments or an example of either addiction, schizophrenia or any other kind of mental illness. But I missed the point entirely it was a nightmare about good and evil as presented in RLS's experiences of his Calvinist up bringing and his own doubts. Nightmare indeed! It did give me the shivers.

I will certainly have a good think about it and perhaps have another look at it, with that point of view in mind. The book is back on my shelf and I was so relieved that it was a short book, as I scrambled to finish it late last night while trying to watch the re-run of the men's gold medal match in curling!

It was also another case of the book being better than the movie,several movies in this particular case. None of which I particularly enjoyed.

Dark Puss

I have no personal comment to make on the entirely plausible comment from Anji about science since science is I feel entirely (and correctly) amoral. We should absolutely congratulate ourselves on the advancement of science; our opprobrium should be completely reserved for the evil things that some people do with the new knowledge gained.

The message I took from the book is (I think!) different from the Cornflowers and it is that in order for us to exist as whole humans and not become polarised we should understand and indeed (in a phrase I use from time to time) "embrace the dark side" of our natures. None of us is complete, nor indeed would we be properly human, if we did not have that important and vital duality. it is when darkness overtakes the light that things go badly wrong. However a world without some dark would be a dull, uncreative, and unproductive one indeed to my mind.

I found this a difficult book to read as it was to my modern senses rather melodramatic and in particular the final chapter is written in extremely flowery language. It is, of course, a seminal and extremely important work of fiction, but I found reading it slightly less enjoyable than I had hoped because of these stylistic aspects.


Important to read this rather than just use the title as a throw away line
And to listen to Ian Holm read it to me was also helpful. Now I can correct my Australian
pronunciation of Jekyll !!
Found the description of the evil concerning the young child just so disturbing bringing up all sorts of emotions of horror Far too resonant of past and not so past attitudes to the most vulnerable ones
Rather over heated narrative as I expected so the final analysis was particularly telling for me delivering a most satisfying conclusion. Made me so glad I had persevered


Stevenson's thesis applies not just to individuals but to society as a whole. In thinking about it I'm reminded of what my uncle (a prison governor in charge of some of Scotland's toughest gaols, i.e. housing men convicted of the most serious crimes) said was key to his job: ensuring that the force for good in the institution was always greater than that for evil.


Anji, all credit to you for sticking with the book, and kudos to the Canadian curling team!
I, too, was struck by the fact that the story came to RLS in a nightmare, and I wonder how the book was received - or more accurately - perceived when it first came out.


I'm not as drawn to the dark side as you are, DP, nor do I quite see how without it the world would be a dull, uncreative and unproductive place - but perhaps that's a discussion for another day!
I agree with you about the melodrama and the style, and to get back to a point I made above (about the book's reception), I wonder whether RLS was deliberately couching a very serious, far-reaching subject in gothic/sensational terms. The book can be read on several levels and would have thus appealed to a wide audience.


Many thanks for persevering, Martina - for a short book it offers much, albeit somewhat uncomfortably.
I'm sure the Ian Holm reading is an excellent one, and I'd like to hear him do it.

Dark Puss

I suspect I read things on a more superficial level than many folk.

Barbara MacLeod

I read the book at the last minute. I found I enjoyed the descriptions but struggled a bit with the style of language. Nonetheless, I am glad to have read the original story which gave rise to the description of a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

As it happened I was listening to Radio Scotland this week where the artist John Byrne was being interviewed. I did not know about him so looked him up on Google. This caught my eye:

“The other reason that Byrne remains an outsider is that he has a double talent, as a writer as well as a painter (and a comic writer at that). Critics and academics like to specialise in one discipline, and can never be sure that they have mastered their subject if, as here, the subject operates in two. It is another case of the double identity that runs through his work.
Scotland, too, has its double identity, the Jekyll and Hyde of Highland and Lowland, urban and rural, Gaelic and Scots. Since it regained a Scottish Parliament in 1999, however, that identity has become more and more secure, and its contemporary culture more and more confident. John Byrne is an artist and writer who has helped to make it so.”
[The Guardian Wednesday 17 August 2011]

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