Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde:
The UK television of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has started with dramatic scenes of horror and intrigue. Holding the early edition book of this tale prompted a re look at the origins of the story and it’s publication. The plot recounts the investigation by a London lawyer into strange occurrences between his old friend Dr. Henry Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde who, as we probably know, turn out to be the same person. The themes of the two extremes of good and evil run throughout the story.
The Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson, was interested in the personality traits between good and evil at an early age. In his teenage years he produced a play about the double life of the thief, Deacon Brodie. In 1884 he wrote “Markheim” another plot about a respectable murderer. His family members included a religious minister, a professor of philosophy, engineers and scientists and they all influenced his thinking about ideas of how personalities can affect a human. In addition, the scientific and religious climate in England was ripe for his macabre tales.
In 1859, when Stevenson was nine years old, Charles Darwin published “The Origin of Species” introducing the Theory of Evolution. The idea that all humans had evolved from more primitive forms challenged the belief of God creating the world in seven days. Many believed that science was dangerous. It was meddling with the natural order of things which only God had control over. This pull between science and religion was the backdrop in which the characters of the Jekyll and Hyde were set.
In addition, the Victorians increasing conflict between science and religion was compounded by the ideas that humans have a dual nature. On one side was the calm and rational way of life and on the other was violence and destruction. A split between the supernatural and nature; the good versus evil. The famous Jack the Ripper struck in 1888 igniting these issues. The stories of the murderer being of Royal blood or highly educated fueled ideas of the Jekyll and Hyde double nature of mankind yet further.
Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was first published by The New York firm of Charles Scribner’s Sons on January 5 1886. Four days later the first UK edition was published by Longmans Green Company. A Times review of 25th January 1886 gave it a favourable review and after that the book became an instant success. Over the next six months over forty thousand copies were sold. By 1901 it has sold a reputedly 250,000 copies in the United States. Stevenson’s biographer, Graham Balfour, commented in 1901 that the book’s success was probably rather to the “moral instincts of the public” than to any conscious perception of the quality of the writing. “It was read by those who never read fiction… quoted in multiple sermons and in religious papers”.
The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde novella is a remarkable tale set in remarkable times. Ratings for the first UK television production are high, proving that the fascination of the divide between good and evil continues to captivate people now. Holding an early edition of this intriguing story is a reminder of the Victorian interests and social issues of the time.
Rare and Antique books holds two copies of the early editions of The Strange Case of Dr Jeykell and Mr Hyde. The first is a third edition by Longman in 1886 and the second book is a twentieth edition dated 1895, both in very presentable condition.