Sunday, January 18, 2015

We are two

When at the neighborhood library book fair several weeks back, I spotted The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the "classics" shelf.  Like everyone else, I knew what people meant when they referred to  a Jekyll and Hyde personality, but I never had read the story.  So, I picked it up and put it in my bundle.

Until I started reading, I did not realize that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is only one of several stories in the book.  It is a novella, so it is longer than all the others, but there were a number of Robert Louis Stevenson's works inside.

I found his writing style tough to follow. He is very descriptive which, in itself, can be a challenge but the writing is from another era so, for me at least, it was not easy sledding. Also the vocabulary is from another time and while you can figure out what the words mean, it sometimes takes a second reading of a sentence.  The word, glass, for example, in one of the later stories is meant to mean mirror which I'll guess was common usage at one point. Still, the sentence did not make sense without an awareness that glass=mirror so I found myself not getting it without a couple of readings. Incidents like this made the book not the easiest of reads.

One of the stories in particular was nearly impossible to get through because not only was it written with a different era's slang, but the entire story was told in the voice of an old timer from that era with his peculiar accent--like listening to someone with a heavy cockney accent.  I barely could follow that one. And another of the stories--billed as a novella--"The Suicide Club" was three loosely connected stories that read like, and were, serial entries for a magazine of that time.  And it sure seemed to me that after he wrote the first one, he was not quite sure where the next one was going.

The "Body Snatchers" was a decent short story and I am almost sure I saw a Twilight Zone episode in its seventies incarnation that used this story loosely as the basis for plot.  The last story in the collection, "Markheim", I think had been assigned to me when I was an undergraduate in a short story class, but I wonder if I did not come prepared that day, because I don't remember much except the title.  If you can stay with the heavy description in "Markheim" it is pretty good. One line stood out.  "All men are better than this disguise that grows about and stifles them."

The title story, Jekyll and Hyde, is what one would suspect from the references to it throughout our lives. A serious and responsible Dr. Jekyll transforms--on occasion--to a reprehensible Mr. Hyde.  And sometimes this is done by design, but sometimes it just happens. And I will guess without much risk that that is the point of the story. We are two--our responsible selves--and our reprehensible selves. And sometimes we allow the miscreant to take center stage. If we are not careful the ne'er do well can command our performances without our awareness until the Dr. Jekyll who we are is overwhelmed by Mr. Hyde.

I can't really recommend the collection.  Those who like detail and the style from that era might have a different attitude about the readings.

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