Robert Louis Stevenson, Amazon Digital, 1886. 82 pages. Five of Five stars
In 1885 and at the age of 36, Robert Louis Stevenson published his third and most popular larger novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is a dark and complex tale about corrupt human nature.
In real life, Stevenson experienced a grim story of his own. Always tormented by poor health, Stevenson dropped out of his law profession, married a divorcée against his parent’s wishes and died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 44.
The protagonist is Dr. Jekyll, an elderly scientist who has discovered how to change himself into the grotesque form of Mr. Hyde. It began as an innocent experiment by which Hyde could indulge in carnal delight by night and Jekyll could maintain his high social standard by day. It was the perfect life of two identities.
The doctor made systematic provisions for his evil nature, including his own quarters, wardrobe and bank account. Though Jekyll was confident that he could control Hyde, he soon found that his evil nature was gaining strength.
If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure…
But Hyde had energy and the will to be alive. One morning, Jekyll awoke to discover that he had transformed into Hyde without taking the potion. “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring.” He then realized that a choice had to be made between the two.
The story races on as Mr. Utterson the lawyer mercilessly attempts to solve the murder assigned to the suddenly vanished Hyde. In the end, Jekyll is unable to resist the cruel pleasure of being Hyde and is found dead in his laboratory.
A few theological observations are in order. First, man does not have the inherent ability to tame the passions of sin within. St. Paul wrote about such things nearly two millennia before Stevenson. In Romans 7 he speaks of “the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Jekyll fell because he thought he had the will power to control his inward urges.
The moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde. I will just add one little word, Utterson, that I’m sure you’ll take in good part: this is a private matter, and I beg of you to let it sleep.
Second, the deceptive power of sin is that we choose what is worst for us. The beauty of the garden’s fruit was really an open grave and the venom of asps (Rm. 3:13). Jeckyll was pulled to that which would bring temporary pleasure and endless pain.
To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper. To cast it in with Hyde, was to die to a thousand interests and aspirations, and to become, at a blow and forever, despised and friendless.
Finally, sin is deceptive and inherently hypocritical.
I was the first that could plod in the public eye with a load of genial respectability, and in a moment, like a schoolboy, strip off these lendings and spring headlong into the sea of liberty.
Deceiving others (Gn. 30:35) will often mean we too will be deceived. Jacob the deceiver (Gn. 31:34-35) was deceived (37:26-28). David the deceiver (2Sm. 13:5) was deceived (15:10). So it was with the doctor. He had fooled everyone with Mr. Hyde. In the end, however, it was Dr. Jeckyll that was duped.