Not unlike Frankenstein, that other Gothic masterwork of the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—originally published in 1886—is a surprisingly slight book whose enduring impact has far outstripped its original ambitions. At barely a hundred pages, it is a quickly read novella, as noteworthy for what is left unsaid as for what is portrayed. This classic good vs. evil fable has provided the template and inspiration for an array of adaptations and interpretations over the last century and a quarter. The latest is Hyde, Daniel Levine’s ambitious and imaginative literary debut.
Hyde invites readers into the confused mind of Dr. Jekyll’s fascinating alter ego.
Touted as the first time the story has been retold from Hyde’s point of view—a claim that might be impossible to prove—Hyde is a far more psychologically probing work than the original. Levine has made a shrewd narrative choice crafting the story in the first person, which invites readers directly into the confused and conflicted mind of Dr. Jekyll’s fascinating alter ego. Stevenson’s story was born of a dream he had, and as Levine writes with post-Jungian insight in an introduction to the original tale—which the publisher has thoughtfully included in its entirety at the end of the volume—“Dreams span universal across human consciousness, evoking the primal fantasies and neuroses that define our peculiar species. Jekyll and Hyde’s extraordinary success can be linked not so much to its clever artistry as to its conjuration of our most nightmarish fascination: the horror of self-transformation. . . . The story is a veil masquerading as truth, stiffened into a simplified metaphor of human duality. But the dream lives behind it, complex and primeval, the untold tale of the inner man, the sociopath, the other I.”
Taking the parameters of Stevenson’s story, but deepening and extending the details, Levine allows us to view Hyde not merely as the venal incarnation of Jekyll’s soul, but as a fully fledged character in his own right—and, in many ways, a sympathetic one as well, as the unwitting end product, or victim if you will, of Jekyll’s violation of nature. The violence and the murders are here, but seen from Hyde’s perspective, they are often explainable in ways that Stevenson’s readers could not have imagined. Indeed, Levine answers many questions that Stevenson left unexplored. In the process, Hyde is offered up as a misunderstood outsider, a man who is riled by injustice and feels the pain of the mistreated. So, when he becomes the target of hatred and the quarry of a mysterious vigilante, we come to understand that guilt, if there is any, should be laid at the feet of Jekyll, not Hyde.
Levine is quite adept at lending his narrative a Victorian flavor. Hyde reads less like a historical novel written in our century than a work of its age, with one reservation, of course: Levine has the benefit of post-Freudian hindsight, and even as Hyde struggles to understand his own motivations, his self-knowledge is perhaps a bit “modern,” even if we allow for the fact that his host mind belongs to the “alienist” Dr. Jekyll. This is a visually dark and viscerally brooding tale that avails itself of a cinematic style of storytelling that, of course, Stevenson could never have imagined. And given the lean narrative skeleton Stevenson’s original provides, Levine at times tries to layer on too much skin. Still, Hyde is an entertaining and intriguing work, as much a meditation on and extrapolation of Stevenson’s original intentions as a freestanding work of popular fiction. With compelling intensity, Levine makes a noteworthy literary debut.