In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson unleashed a monster on the Victorian literary scene. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde offered complex, compelling characters and an unforgettable twist ending.
His novella, colloquially known as Jekyll and Hyde, is now cited as the gruesome birth of the Victorian Horror genre. It follows a London Lawyer named Gabriel Utterson investigating strange occurrences between his kindly friend Dr. Henry Jekyll and the mysterious evil figure Edward Hyde.
Hyde is Jekyll himself, the product of a potion gone wrong. But you already knew that. Even though the story was written over a century ago, it has permeated the culture of every decade since its initial release. That’s because like all great books, Jekyll and Hyde has influenced its share of literature, stage, and film. Read on to learn how.
Great Books Borrowing the Jekyll/Hyde Dichotomy
If you’re passionate about literature, a great books college will fuel that fire with some of the best novels the world has to offer. Many of these are inspired in part by Jekyll and Hyde.
For example, literary critics note that Nabokov took cues from Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde for his 1955 novel Lolita, particularly in the relationship between lead character Humbert Humbert and his nemesis Quilty. Readers may recall how Nabokov’s jumbled use of first person at the novel’s end chillingly hints at the men’s shared identity: “We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us…”
A similarly clear Jekyll/Hyde influence is found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien’s version involves no potion: sweet Smeagol transforms into grotesque, murderous Gollum when influenced by the ring’s evil allure. Since 1937, readers have described Smeagol/Gollom as Middle Earth’s own Jekyll/Hyde.
Most recently, Chuck Palahniuk’s best-selling novel Fight Club also features an honest, Jekyll-type lead and his violent, daring companion. The twist that they’re the same person is such a revelation to the Jekyll-type character himself that he kills his own Hyde in order to survive.
Hyde Alive: Stage Adaptations of the Classic Book
The books mentioned above were all turned into iconic films, but they’re far from the end of Stevenson’s influence on stage and screen.
Stevenson himself adapted his book for the theatre in 1887. The main character brought to life was originally so thrilling that reporters (falsely) suspected the lead to be London’s Jack the Ripper, making the claim: “no actor could make so convincing a stage transformation from a gentleman into a mad killer without being homicidal.”
The stage version of Jekyll and Hyde ran in London’s West End for 20 years. It also found success stateside, and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary on Broadway in 2016.
Dr. Jekyll’s Legacy: Great Books Influencing the Silver Screen
Great books studies value classic works over modern textbooks. When you interpret the text in your own ways, you perform the kind of analysis that modern screenwriters have brought to the Jekyll and Hyde story.
Stevenson’s double-identity theme is credited for shaping such notable cinematic characters as Citizen Kane and Batman. As Bruce Wayne says, "we're all two people. One in daylight, and the one we keep in shadow."
Screenwriters have also applied modern psychiatric advancements to an understanding of the Jekyll/Hyde character. Professionals suggest fictional Jekyll’s troubles could be caused by either schizophrenia or split-personality/dissociative identity disorder (DID).
One of the most recent Jekyll and Hyde adaptations, the 2013 NBC TV show Do No Harm, featured a neurosurgeon Dr. Jekyll with a diagnosed personality disorder. Korea’s Hyde, Jekyll, Me is following suit, with its psychiatric spin on the classic story hitting screens this year.