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Entries in Stevenson (5)

Thursday
Apr282016

Robert Louis Stevenson

The most really Stevensonian scenes, in their spirit and spitfire animation, are those which occur first in the prison.

                                                                                                             G. K. Chesterton

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors casually mentioned that he had been named for this writer whom, he implied, he was obliged to hold in high esteem. That he did not particularly care for Stevenson and was instead enamored with Russian writers whom he found infinitely more exotic than a shaggy-haired Scotsman who would suddenly die while mixing an exotic salad in the South Pacific, seems hardly surprising given that Stevenson is often seen as nothing more than a children's writer with success among adults. One of my favorite books as a child was this magical tome, and many of my coevals (but not I, for some reason) reveled in this classic tale whose villain became the name of a chain of budget seafood restaurants. Yet the most famous of Stevenson's creations, and the ones which have passed into common idiom, are the titular characters of this story, even though the two characters are actually the sum of one man. For that reason perhaps has modern criticism been rather harsh with Stevenson: he has been accused in reveling in boys' tales, children's worlds of fancy and monsters and pirates, and for never really developing a serious brand of literature to meet our serious tastes. Indeed, the same mudslinging that is pitched at this bestselling series (which, despite its massive adult readership, is intellectually designed for adolescents) has been the bane of Stevenson scholarship since his premature death in 1894. There have been encomia and anthologies, but few have been gracious or understanding. Maybe his stoic Scots wit lies at the center of this neglect; maybe Stevenson simply did not live long enough to manifest the true signs of his genius. One rather remarkable biography agrees with the first point but not the second.

There are many ways to approach Stevenson's oeuvre, and Chesterton is convinced they are all wrong. "The story of Stevenson," he writes, "was a reaction against an age of pessimism." Stevenson was born at almost precisely the median point between the publication of two books, The Voyage of the Beagle and On the Origin of Species, that would change our perspective on what it meant to be human; if this were not sufficiently disastrous, Stevenson was also born in Scotland. More than mild chauvinism coats the backhanded compliments that Chesterton hurls at his northern brethren ("A Scotsman is never denationalized"; "There is something shrill, like the skirl of the pipes, about Scottish laughter; occasionally something very nearly insane about Scottish intoxication"; "The Scots are in a conspiracy to praise each other"), and it is this "Presbyterian country, where still rolled the echoes, at least, of the theological thunders of Knox," that framed Stevenson's window on the world. Over his short lifetime Stevenson abandoned his faith to a great extent but retained his categories; in fact, he retained them so strongly as to make any real difference between his rhetoric and that of a Kirk pastor purely one of vocabulary:

Those dry Deists and hard-headed Utilitarians who stalked the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were very obviously the products of the national religious spirit. The Scottish atheists were unmistakable children of the Kirk. And though they often seemed absurdly detached and dehumanised, the world is now rather suffering for want of such dull lucidity.

This detachment, this streamlined austerity, this "economy of detail and suppression of irrelevance which had at last something about it stark and unnatural" – this was how Stevenson built his world that was both varied and thematically coherent. Gone are the comparisons to this writer (whose atmosphere Chesterton aptly describes as "a sort of rich rottenness of decomposition, with something thick and narcotic in the very air," a perfect account of hell), and provided are likenings to no one else because, as it were, Stevenson has no true peer. 

In fact, his combination of childish tenderness and zeal – hence the suppression of irrelevance – with the dark materials of adult interaction could be laughed at as puerile or praised as visionary. Chesterton suggests the latter course, for one very good reason:

But most men know that there is a difference between the intense momentary emotion called up by memory of the loves of youth, and the yet more instantaneous but more perfect pleasure of the memory of childhood. The former is always narrow and individual, piercing the heart like a rapier; but the latter is like a flash of lightning, for one split second revealing a whole varied landscape; it is not the memory of a particular pleasure any more than of a particular pain, but of a whole world that shone with wonder. The first is only a lover remembering love; the second is like a dead man remembering life.

In contrast to so many literary biographies which underscore "real-life" events over the works in the author's library because most every reader can empathize with childhood, adolescence, marriage, heartbreak, children, aging, and even the death of a relative or friend, Chesterton's discusses Stevenson's works with occasional allusions to his life (the exact same biographic method used in this fine study). Stevenson's life is not particularly well-known (a dearth of detail has never stopped an imaginative biographer), and Chesterton farrows no new animalia in this distant kingdom; rather, he begins with "The Myth of Stevenson" and ends with "The Moral of Stevenson," as if a retelling of his life were something like a fable. He explores Edinburgh but makes almost no mention of those Pacific islands; he speaks of style but not in comparison to anyone else's, as if Stevenson's style were a reflection of his unique childhood; he suggests a philosophy of gesture in the sense of a chanson de geste; and he quibbles not unconvincingly over Stevenson's reaction to romance and Romanticism, although Stevenson was undoubtedly a Romantic if a rather meticulous one. And what is most remarkable is how little Stevenson himself is quoted, with one of his more famous lines being clipped into a short phrase.

Chesterton is more interested in Stevenson's books than his life not only because his books were deceptively demanding and literate, but also because for all authors – and especially Stevenson who spent most of his waking hours as a convalescent in the prison of his bedroom – their real life is in their books. Their biographies are not those of ordinary men because to achieve their artistic ends they forsake much of the lowlier stuff life has to offer. In our day and age these activities would include: television, video games, touristic vacations of mindlessly banal but often scenic resorts, magazines, gambling, motorcycles, drugs, hunting, and a variety of expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting sports.  In their stead would come daily reading and writing, long walks, sitting and staring at what nature mankind has left unharmed, talking warmly to loved ones and cherishing each moment as if separation were imminent, laughing at the silliness and fraudulence of the world, and loving what we have and what we might have in the future. But most people would find such a life devoid of intrigue and let it sit, unsurveyed, upon a dusty shelf like so many of Stevenson's works sit now in all the old libraries of the world.  What a mistake that would be.

Tuesday
Feb092016

The Body Snatcher

It might be better to pretend that this story never happened, which of course it did. Graverobbers are for obvious reasons of supply some of history's most chronicled criminals, yet with the explosion of medical science in the mid-nineteenth century, it was not graves which were violated but the bodies themselves. These bodies were sold in parts to anatomists and medical students for scientific purposes and tomb after tomb went hollow. Even more morbid is the fact that demand began to get fussier and fresher bodies became all the rage, leading one particular team to pursue the freshest bodies out there, those of the still living. The actions of William Burke and his accomplice were so notorious as to be immortalized in a verb, so when we meet Fettes and Macfarlane in this small masterpiece of horror, we understand them to be his direct descendants.

The story begins with their unwanted reunion: Fettes is constantly soused and impecunious; Macfarlane, garbed in the finest boutique-bought whitewash, a successful London physician. They meet by chance and are none too pleased about it, for their consciences share crimes of diabolical scheming. It turns out both were once students of a certain K., a physician who collected cadavers for his own medical experiments, and had no qualms or questions about the work of his minions. The tale is too brief to provide much characterization of their sinister master, so we only get the following snippet:
There was at that period, a certain extramural teacher of anatomy, whom I shall designate by the letter K. His name was subsequently too well known. The man who bore it skulked through the streets of Edinburgh in disguise, while the mob that applauded at the execution of Burke called loudly for the blood of his employer. But Mr. K- was then at the top of his vogue; he enjoyed a popularity due partly to his own talent and address, partly to the incapacity of his rival, the university professor. The students, at least, swore by his name, and Fettes believed himself, and was believed by others, to have laid the foundations of success when he had acquired the favour of this meteorically famous man. 
That K. is really Stevenson’s compatriot Robert Knox is not so much a secret as a literary device to prevent the piece from becoming historical journalism. Suffice it to say that imagining two of Knox’s suppliers, with a few pale strokes of ghoulish vengeance thrown in for good measure, would make a glorious tale of horror (not unlike what would be produced half a century later in a very different setting). Stevenson’s genius does not allow him, however, to stop at the Gothic. The arc of such a story (devised and perfected by, among others, this author) is built in five acts: the re-encounter, the origin of their acquaintance, an “agenbite of inwit,” the appearance of an even greater evil, and then the destiny of all souls involved. You might think the opening section clumsy and almost unconnected to the meat of the tale, and you would not be wrong. But the story makes us wait for the integrant appearance of a man called Gray.

Gray is a marvelous sketch in the annals of literature, a being that barely defiles more than two pages and yet is etched deep in our memory. He becomes, I can say without being indiscreet, the unremovable stain. These are all evildoers, but there is something about him that outhowls the other devils:
This was a small man, very pale and dark, with coal–black eyes. The cut of his features gave a promise of intellect and refinement which was but feebly realised in his manners, for he proved, upon a nearer acquaintance, coarse, vulgar, stupid. He exercised, however, a very remarkable control over Macfarlane; issued orders like the Great Bashaw; became inflamed at the least discussion or delay, and commented rudely on the servility with which he was obeyed. This most offensive person took a fancy to Fettes on the spot, plied him with drinks, and honoured him with unusual confidences on his past career. If a tenth part of what he confessed were true, he was a very loathsome rogue; and the lad’s vanity was tickled by the attention of so experienced a man.
The end looms the moment Macfarlane is obliged to foot the bill for their long and gluttonous night, and then spend the next day “squiring the intolerable Gray from tavern to tavern.” This all culminates in a scene in a carriage that could be taken (substituting a car or train for the fly) from any contemporary horror film. If you haven’t read Stevenson, you are missing one of literature’s unheralded giants, capable of portraying both sides of human nature in equal load (as he does in a more famous work, one of the most perfect literary creations of all time). In The Body Snatcher, there is only one side, and it is remarkably vile; but its vileness wields the distinct advantage of making us cringe in fear of dark and darting shapes in the night. Endless, blackest night, that is. 
Sunday
Jan182015

The Bottle Imp

If you were lucky enough to be read fantastic tales as a child and regaled on the plenitude of the world's legends and myths (a distinction made elsewhere on these pages), you will surely have heard of the genie in the lamp. You were also probably told at some point during your scholastic trials that genie and genius are from the same root, since they are indeed found interchangeably in our books. But here lies the untruth of the matter. Genius, the effervescent spirit of wisdom and creation comes from the same Greek root as genesis, or of birth and origin itself; genie has a much nastier source. The OED thus comments:

The word génie was adopted by the French translators of The Arabian Nights as the rendering of the Arabic word [more precisely given as jinn; jinni is the adjective] which it resembled in sound and sense. In English, genie has been commonly used in the singular and genii in the plural.

This split etymology, the drifting of a word already in the language to accommodate a near-homonym from a foreign tongue, is common enough in our modern age of calques and wordplay, but let us be sure: the genie of the lamps of Aladdin and other wanderers are not the protective spirits born to guard our souls. Jinn in Arabic has, as older words often do, the capacity to refer with equal authority to one word and its complete opposite – in this case angels and whatever your mind tells you that complete opposite might be. A terse introduction to this dark fable.

Although we will spend almost all of our story in the Hawaiian isles, we begin our tale in this Western city. Our protagonist Keawe is a young and impecunious man who "could read and write like a schoolmaster" but who has seen little of the world. His education and lack of exposure to other ends of the earth conspire to lead him to San Francisco, and here he is amazed by what he sees. He notices one house in particular:

This is a fine town, with a fine harbour, and rich people uncountable; and in particular, there is one hill which is covered with palaces. Upon this hill Keawe was one day taking a walk with his pocket full of money, viewing the great houses upon either hand with pleasure. "What fine houses these are!" he was thinking, "and how happy must those people be who dwell in them, and take no care for the morrow!" The thought was in his mind when he came abreast of a house that was smaller than some others, but all finished and beautified like a toy; the steps of that house shone like silver, and the borders of the garden bloomed like garlands, and the windows were bright like diamonds; and Keawe stopped and wondered at the excellence of all he saw. So stopping, he was aware of a man that looked forth upon him through a window so clear that Keawe could see him as you see a fish in a pool upon the reef. The man was elderly, with a bald head and a black beard; and his face was heavy with sorrow, and he bitterly sighed. And the truth of it is, that as Keawe looked in upon the man, and the man looked out upon Keawe, each envied the other.

Were our story merely an allegory, a couple of repartees about the inevitable unhappiness of those who chase money and wealth could end the narrative right here. Yet we are not as enmeshed in allegory as in the imagination of a warning brought out by the sweeping interest in the fate of the human soul and the choices it is allowed to make over a lifetime. Keawe enters this beautiful house and ultimately purchases for a small amount the source of the old man's prosperity, "a round-bellied bottle with a long neck." Glass in appearance and touch, it cannot be shattered; the glass itself "was white like milk, with changing rainbow colors in the grain," and inside Keawe sees "something obscurely mov[ing], like a shadow and a fire." A careful reader will note the equanimity of the spectrum beheld, as if all the colors, including white – which is all colors combined – and black – which is the absence of color – were contained, and therein were contained as well all possibilities of all things on this earth. So came the old man into the fortune Keawe sees before him, and so plans he to leave it all behind. Forces of evil will impose contracts because only they, in eternal damnation, will have the time to read every last clause. For that reason there are ground rules to the purchase of this bottle: it must be bought at a lower price than what the current owner paid for it and cannot simply be given away or abandoned; and if the owner dies still in possession of it, he will burn for all eternity in the slow flames of hell. With this in mind, Keowe has a palatial home built back in Hawaii (the money inherited from suddenly deceased relatives) and then finds Kokua, a woman beyond his wildest dreams – although his wildest dreams are not necessarily wreathed with joy and good fortune, and, by this unwilling association, neither are hers.

The vision that Stevenson imposes on his odd Hawaiian cast has much to do with his own Presbyterian upbringing and the cataclysmic consequences of greed and diabolical pacts. The main value of The Bottle Imp, apart from its remarkable concinnity of style, is the wholly unexpected dénouement to Keowe's crisis of conscience. We will not remark here that Stevenson's decision was influenced by his growing antipathy to European mores and his concomitant sympathy with the South Sea islanders among whom he died, although there is great plausibility in such an assertion. More likely, as in so often the case in art, there obtained a happy combination of his long-held tenets on the fate of the human soul and the setting which inspired him to re-imagine an old trope. There is one paragraph in this regard which is particularly magnificent:

Kokua concealed the bottle under her holoku, said farewell to the old man, and walked off along the avenue, she cared not whither. For all roads were now the same to her, and led equally to hell. Sometimes she walked, and sometimes ran; sometimes she screamed out loud in the night, and sometimes lay by the wayside in the dust and wept. All that she had heard of hell came back to her; she saw the flames blaze, and she smelt the smoke, and her flesh withered on the coals.

"All that she had heard of hell came back to her" might be the finest short description ever furnished on the subject. And the funny thing is, all of us know exactly what she means.

Sunday
Nov082009

Aes Triplex

After a certain distance, every step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through.  By the time a man gets well into the seventies, his continued existence is a mere miracle; and when he lays his old bones in bed for the night, there is an overwhelming probability that he will never see the day.  Do the old men mind it, as a matter of fact?  Why, no.  They were never merrier; they have their grog at night, and tell the raciest stories; they hear of the death of people about their own age, or even younger, not as if it was a grisly warning, but with a simple childlike pleasure at having outlived someone else; and when a draught might puff them out like a fluttering candle, or a bit of a stumble shatter them like so much glass, their old hearts keep sound and unaffrighted, and they go on, bubbling with laughter, through years of man's age compared to which the valley at Balaclava was as safe and peaceful as a village cricket-green on Sunday.  It may fairly be questioned (if we look to the peril only) whether it was a much more daring feat for Curtius to plunge into the gulf, than for any old gentleman of ninety to doff his clothes and clamber into bed.

Those of artistic bent face a quandary that, compared to the perdition looming over so much of the world's population, may seem petty.  When we are young and unsung there are few who will heed our opinions.  Our parents and teachers smile at our sudden discovery of age-old platitudes, while the women we seek to impress cannot possibly be impressed with the unsteady observations of callow manhood.  As time progresses we marry and procreate, become greater experts in whatever field we have chosen either provisionally or as a simple means of sustenance until we blossom as artists, and if we are not careful, we wake up one morning and find ourselves no longer young.  Around us walk members of a whole new generation that consider us nothing more than martinets of stale values and ideals; if they're particularly rebellious, they will even deride our playfulness as inappropriate.  To all this, of course, we nod our heads and remember our own churlish gibes at our elders, part and parcel of becoming authorities on what it means to live.  Yet what no one can hold forth on with any credibility is the end of days, how life resolves itself either into nothingness or something greater still.  And how we should approach our evenings is the subject of this famous essay.

The most important thing about death is that we have no contrast for its understanding.  Life as we know it is not really life, but the pursuit of living – be that living wildly or quite prudishly with one eye cast above to the gathering clouds.  We continue nevertheless to prattle on about life in the most abstract terms as if it were a recipe or an amorphous mass of an invisible element, which is precisely what bothers Stevenson:

In taking away our friends, death does not take them away utterly, but leaves behind a mocking, tragical, and soon intolerable residue, which must be hurriedly concealed .... and, in order to preserve some show of respect for what remains of our old loves and friendships, we must accompany it with much grimly ludicrous ceremonial, and the hired undertaker parades before the door.  All this, and much more of the same sort, accompanied by the eloquence of poets, has gone a great way to put humanity in error; nay, in many philosophies the error has been embodied and laid down with every circumstance of logic; although in real life the bustle and swiftness, in leaving people little time to think, have not left them time enough to go dangerously wrong in practice.

A cursory glance at these words and further inspection of the essay should not result in the indifference so commonly incident to daredevils and other defiers.  Practice has been to worship those we loved, and that practice will never stop, at least inwardly.  But as children, a stage of life that greatly concerned Stevenson, we are told and shown a plethora of rituals that, as we age, do not necessarily become more intelligible.  Surely a blessing for safe passage is clear even to the greenest among us, but what of wakes, cremation, or burial among the filth we scrape daily off our shoes?  What possesses a society to exalt the enskied spirits of our beloved if we rudely dispose of their former forms?  This is no place for comparative anthropology on death rituals – a subject that always seems to infiltrate college curricula – so let us but roam amidst an infirm Scotsman's preset boundaries.

Death has its admirers, normally those among us who either seek exculpation from their sins or a release from what they perceive as unending torment.  The monk who beseeches his Lord to do away with his sullied body so that his soul may be clean is worthy of both our respect and pity; and those poor mortal coils who take matters into their own hands deserve even greater remorse.  But Death lingers on as the most impenetrable of human mysteries because it sustains more readings than life.  Ask a physician about our terminus and he will point to diagrams and x-rays; ask a theologian and he will nod in grave acceptance of our Fate; ask a soldier and he will see battlefields strewn with his companions, fallen but never forgotten; ask a very old man and you may notice a sadness as all of life flashes behind his eyes.  As the highest form of human expression, it is literature which assumes the task of imagining death most explicitly, and we do so by "rising from the consideration of living to the Definition of Life."  Death becomes what will be taken away and, in the view of some, never replaced:

Into the views of the least careful there will enter some degree of providence; no man's eyes are fixed entirely on the passing hour; but although we have some anticipation of good health, good weather, wine, active employment, love, and self-approval, the sum of these anticipations does not amount to anything like a general view of life's possibilities and issues; nor are those who cherish them most vividly, at all the most scrupulous of their personal safety.  To be deeply interested in the accidents of our existence, to enjoy keenly the mixed texture of human experience, rather leads a man to disregard precautions, and risk his neck against a straw.  For surely the love of living is stronger in an Alpine climber roping over a peril, or a hunter riding merrily at a stiff fence, than in a creature who lives upon a diet and walks a measured distance in the interest of his constitution.

Death, we recall, "outdoes all other accidents because it is the last of them"; after that some might say that there are no accidents, only destiny.  Yet as we pass middle age and move gently into that good night, we may have prudence and caution as our only bedfellows.  We may desist in any acts of generosity and instead devolve into an insular being surviving against the rest of the predatory world.  That survival has so casually come to replace life in common parlance among men of science says much about the world that now surrounds us: we have relinquished any hope for salvation and put our efforts into genetic experiments that may prove to be the greatest catastrophe we will have ever wrought upon mankind.  Already in Stevenson's age  and shortly thereafter there appeared scientists (including this scholar who inspired more than one literary understudy) who felt untouched by God's hand and yearned for a reality they could fashion in the image of our most perfect beast.  What you may think of these would-be creators will probably reflect what you think about our ultimate destination – but that is a subject best left to one's own conscience.

The title of the essay is from a citation by this Roman writer, but applied in anecdote to an English lexicographer and critic whose weighty step still resounds in our best libraries.  One may chuckle at the famously elephantine Johnson garbed in three layers of brass, but one should remember where he was at the time: roaming the Scottish highlands, ill of health, and accompanied, as one now imagines always to have been the case, by another Scotsman named Boswell.  A model of "intelligence and courage" to expose oneself to such a climate when many a physician had already surmised the end to be near.  But for some of us, our beginning is in our end. 

Friday
Aug012008

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Some of us have the unfortunate habit of ignoring those works or manifestos which do not concur with our own.  Only too natural, we might say, because life is short and consecrating time to theories we know to be patently false (for whatever reason) is a waste of our dwindling days.  So bereft of imagination or credibility are many of these decrees that more demanding readers, readers whose main aims are beauty, truth, enjoyment and a moral framework for all aspects of life, are infuriated.  If that sounds like a lot to ask for, you might question why you read at all.  Personally, I read to seek out that one moral law that has always existed within me and is reflected by the starry night above me.  I do not find it often; sometimes it only exists in snippets or flashes amidst a garish carnival of platitudes.  In some rather infrequent cases there obtains a concatenation of detail evoking the shadow of that law, however ignored by the text itself, and the result is what the Greeks called irony.  Rarer still are images of purported truth cast in colors and shapes that could not possibly mean anything more than earthbound pleasures – until you look very closely and see that a few of these pleasures (especially affection, physical attraction, laughter, and friendship) are indeed reflections of something much, much greater.  Thus we are bound to examine all information we come across.  In fact, we can and should assume that within the maze of misperception, bias, and fear there lurks a crazed beast whose roar can bring us something of this law.  Modern psychology, a field with which I am very unfortunately well-acquainted from readings, has taken it upon itself to explain all our dreams, nightmares, waking moments and desires through a children’s set of boxes and crayons.  It has tried (and failed gloriously) to make us think we are all puerile players in a nonstop run of a tasteless musical on the Great White Way, singing the same chants and dancing to the same bongo drums.

Now there is nothing wrong with childhood, but there is something terribly wrong with its ignorant revolt against authority.  Curiosity, optimism, the sense of immortality that many children’s circumstances permit them to enjoy – all of this we should never forget; the love of family, of one’s homeland, of the moments and other souls that make us into responsible adults, all of this we should cherish.  When people long for their childhood, it is either because their childhood was very happy or their current life does not contain this sense of immortality, of unending meadows cascading among unending hillocks.  The assumption of another persona to the psychologist indicates a deep-seated urge to escape one’s existence, although every writer of fiction, like every actor, assumes a myriad of guises over a career and can still be (and often is) very content with his “real” self.  To what other vocation does such an apparent paradox belong?  To those persons of deep faith, those who appreciate their earthbound existence but also look forward to redemption in some higher state; loving one does not mean hating the other.  A lengthy but necessary introduction to one of the finest short stories of the English language.

The basic facts are known even to people who have never opened Stevenson’s text: Dr. Henry Jekyll, a scientist of genius and loner by nature, has acquired a nasty and violent friend by the name of Edward Hyde.  That Hyde might be sponsored by Jekyll is the direct suggestion of the narrator, who culls his details from Mr. Utterson, a London lawyer who hears of an awful crime involving a young girl and a payoff to her relatives from very respectable circles (a strange foreshadowing of these legendary crimes).  Since Utterson is in every way an upstanding Victorian citizen as well as a scholar of the law, this crime of moral turpitude cannot go unpunished.  The trail boomerangs back to Jekyll, who happens to be one of Utterson’s clients as well as an old friend, reminding us of the aphorisms about how well we think we know our dearest comrades. One wonders what the first-time reader might have made of the strange comings and goings of Hyde from a building adjacent to that of Jekyll, and from the physical deformity and abhorrent cruelty that distinguish Hyde from his maker:

The lawyer stood awhile when Mr. Hyde had left him, the picture of disquietude.  Then he began slowly to mount the street, pausing every step or two and putting his hand to his brow like a man in mental perplexity.  The problem he was thus debating as he walked was one of a class that is rarely solved.  Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him.  ‘There must be something else,’ said the perplexed gentleman.  ‘There is something more, if I could find a name for it.  God bless me, the man seems hardly human!  Something troglodytic, shall we say?  Or can it be the old story of Dr. Fell?  Or is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent?  The last, I think; for, O my poor old Harry Jekyll, if ever I read Satan's signature upon a face, it is on that of your new friend!’

The story proceeds in magnificent suspense until a pair of fatal decisions are made, and Utterson is left with a letter from Jekyll detailing his descent into hell.  The letter, which I should like to quote in toto, is such a literary delight that we are struck anew by the ability of its author, and of the temptations of evil in the face of knowledge and progress.  It is here that Jekyll becomes Hyde and Hyde turns into Jekyll, that the two persons once thought distinct appear as anagrams of their own weaknesses.  It is also here that Jekyll reveals why he might have wanted such an escape, and his explanation – for a moment, in any case – appears to be as lucid an ancient codex on combating evil as anything else we might have heard, in this case by grasping, literally and figuratively, at its tenebrous strength.

What one shouldn’t conclude, however, is that the titular bicephalous beast somehow metaphorizes an affliction.  Nor should we suppose that the whole project can be reduced to the modern plight of a small percentage of our population with a misunderstanding of their proper persona, in some cases leading them to conduct their business as totally separate people.  Stevenson, like Utterson, was a lawyer not a doctor, and his interest is in the motives of men not some cerebral malfunction.  That evil and goodness should operate within the same immortal soul is our oldest and still our most critical moral quandary; nevertheless, that a man of superior intellect would generate, in his own nightmare, such a lowlife scum as an alias speaks more of his own inner darkness than any shame he might have had in inducing the transformation.  Despite his claims, Dr. Jekyll is not a good man gone wrong: he is a bad man who finds an outlet in his creative work, in time making himself into his own Frankenstein's monster.  For that reason perhaps is man “commingled out of good and evil,” whereas Edward Hyde, “alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.”