Literary Qualities

This is a good reading exercise for students who can read at a grade five level or better. Like most works in an older style, it is more understandable when read aloud. With an ordinary dictionary available, any middle-school or junior high school student can plough through the stiff, formal prose. There are phrases used throughout which are now regarded as literary cliches, such as: “his blood ran cold in his veins” and “with a heavy heart.” These give a sense of the time that has passed between the writing of topical, popular fiction with a contemporary setting, and the present day when this novel seems antique.

It is known that Stevenson read works by Dostoevsky, and also Edgar Allen Poe, and their influence upon Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is clear (particularly for Poe’s story, “The Imp of the Perverse”). It would perhaps have been better for him to learn more from the works of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), as the humor in Stevenson’s novels is thin and underdeveloped.

This short novel seems to be strongly influenced by the first modern horror novel, Frankenstein, written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in 1818. It is impossible to be certain of every book read by Stevenson during his short life, but it seems likely that the horror story of the scientist who creates a human monster may have become in Stevenson’s fevered mind a story of a scientist who makes himself a human monster. Stevenson learned as a child from his nanny, and never forgot that torment is the price of sin, and regret is not enough to redeem a sinner.