Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850, son of civil engineer. He went to Edinburgh University and studied engineering and law, he always preferred literature, rebelled against his father’s Calvinistic religion.
He travelled so much, France, California, Tahiti, Hawaii, Polynesia and Australia, finally setting in Samoa.
He got married in 1880. He died unexpectedly after a hemorrhage in 1894.
His first full-length adventure novel, Treasure Island had brought him immediate fame.
He was inspired to some aspects from Edgar Allan Poe, with his tales of mystery and horror.
The interest for the ethical problems raised by the enormous progress made by science in the Victorian Age
The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Stevenson’s most famous novel was an immediate success. The story of Dr Jekyll and his evil double Mr Hyde is a fascinating treatment of the double personality theme, which both shocked and pleased the readers: the fact that a respectable public figure like Jekyll leads a double life strikes at the core of the Victorian compromise.
Stevenson’s work has also some elements of crime stories:
-its title: “case” points to “police case”, as well as to “medical, psychological case”;
-the setting: a foggy, badly-lit London;
-the scattered clues that may lead to the solution of the story.
Narrators: Stevenson was one of the first English prose writers to show the same concern for language, plot and psychological realism. His work has a complex structure: this is showed in the shift of the narrative point of view: there are three narrators: the omniscient third person narrator, who can be personified with the detective Utterson, who tells most of the story; Dr Lanyon, who writes down his own version of the story; and Dr Jekyll himself.
In the first two accounts Jekyll appears as a respectable man of noble profession; however in the last part of the story Jekyll himself becomes the narrator and confessed his real story, before he killed Hyde and himself. The story moves from the atmosphere of a mystery tale to a profounder level of confession and self-examination.
The Theme of the double dominated the story: influenced by his Calvinist education Stevenson considered evil to be a real presence in human nature.
The novel presents man who embodies good and evil; these two forces may be separated but the ultimate result may be the destruction of the personality they originally made up.
Though Stevenson expresses this through the traditional conflict between good and evil, his sensibility heralds the oncoming age of psychoanalysis.
Transformation and symbolism
Jekyll wrote a final letter before he commits suicide, that sounds like a spiritual will and explained what he did, through the enunciation of the episodes of his experience and a combination of realism and symbolism.
When Jekyll is transformed into Hyde, he was afflicted by terrible pains, deadly nausea and spiritual horrors, but when Jekyll turned completely into Hyde he feels lighter, happier and somehow liberated, as if the respectability and morality were a bound, and definitely more wicked than before.
On stretching out his hands he realizes that he is shorter: symbolically the tall erect and virtuous Dr Jekyll has become the short, deformed, crooked, and malignant Mr Hyde. Here we move from the fear of the scientist to the satisfaction for what he has been able to create: in fact Jekyll feels almost attracted by Hyde’s ugly image, which to him seems livelier than his divided self.
After some time Jekyll realizes with horror that his evil side is gradually becoming stronger: Hyde is taking control over Jekyll or, on a moral level, evil is triumphing over good.