This compelling and powerful short novel, set in Victorian London, can be read as sciente fiction, a thriller, a Gothic tale, or an allegory of the dualism of human nature.
A distinguished London lawyer, Mr Utterson, hears from a cousin of a strange episode of cruelty performed by an ugly and repulsive man called Edward Hyde. To his surprise the lawyer finds that this man seems to be protected by one of his clients, the honest and respectable Dr Jekyll.
Worried by the strange behaviour of his client and old friend, the lawyer tries to find out the reason for this protection, and contacts another friend and colleague of Jekyll’s Dr Canyon, but to an end: the two scientists are longer in contact.
On another dark and foggy night, Jekyll’s servant goes to the lawyer’s house to ask for help because his master refuses to open the door of the laboratory and his voice seems strange. The two men rush to the doctor’s house, break the laboratory door open, and see a man on the floor, who dies, in agony, after a few moments.
They look for Dr Jekyll, but he is nowhere to be found. All they find is a large envelope addressed to Mr Utterson. The lawyer opens it, and sees that it contains several papers one of which is a brief note in the doctor’s handwriting and dated at the top. This means that the doctor was alive and was there, that day; if they can’t find him – or his body – he must have gone away.
The other papers are Dr jekyll’s will and two narratives, one written by Dr Canyon, and one written by Dr Jekyll himself. In his paper Dr Canyon relates how devasted he was when he witnessed a shocking experiment. The other narrative, written by Dr Jekyll, is a sort of respectable autobiography, and gives a complete solution of the mistery. He was born into a respectable wealthy upper-middle class family, and was heavily influenced by violence by the Victorian fixation with respectability. He was not exempt from natural inclinations to pleasure, but his principles were so high that he could not indulge himself and accept his “evil” side within himself. He carried on his studies and particularly investigated the phenomenon of the dualism of human beings. His aim was to separate the two elements, and finally he managed to compound a pot in which removed the supremacy of the spiritual powers and substituted for them “a second form”, e.s the “lower elements” of himself.
After much hesitation and doubt, he experimented upon himself, drank the pot and he changed into Dr Hyde. For a period he enjoyed the possibility of being transformed into a new person, because this allowed him to enjoy all the pleasures he wanted without feeling shame or remorse, above all without being discovered, but when he realized that he could not control his experiments and the change of self became automatic, he was desperate. He understood that he could get rid of Hyde only if he killed himself. And Hyde/Jekyll was the man that Utterson and the servant found dying on the floor when they broke into the doctor’s laboratory.