1886 – Robert Louis Stevenson Publishes The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

This week, in our discovery of significant events from the last 200 years we find ourselves, once again, moving away from science and back into the world of literature to look at another incredibly famous book – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Stevenson’s short story features a pleasant character Dr. Jekyll who is taken over by his alter ego, the despicable Mr. Hyde and commits many murders including that of a child whose only crime was to bump into Hyde. Dr. Jekyll attempts to keep his alter ego under control using a special serum but when this starts to run out Jekyll fears Hyde will permanently take over so ends his own life after leaving a written confession of his crimes, ending it with “I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end”.

“Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale” Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The inspiration for this tale is said to have come from a number of sources, the first simply being a dream that Stevenson had. By his own admission Stevenson was fascinated by the idea of split personalities and how the idea of good and evil could be incorporated into a story.

It is also claimed that he may have got some inspiration from a friend, Eugene Chantrelle, who was convicted and subsequently executed for murdering his wife. Chantrelle is said to have given her an opium overdose. It was uncovered during his trial (which Stevenson attended) that sadly his wife was not his first or only victim as he had murdered other people in France and Britain by poisoning them with, effectively, cheese on toast laced with opium.

“It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it” Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Stevenson’s stepson is quoted as saying it can have taken no more than three days for him to complete his first draft of this short story. Struggling with a fever Stevenson would burst into the room, read out exerts and then disappear again.

Over time Stevenson became more unwell and was eventually bed bound. The family moved to Bournemouth as they believed the sea air would help with his recovery. It is there he finished his dark tale.

They’re so Jekyll and Hyde

As with other literature we have featured, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become incredibly famous, with over 120 versions created for stage and film as well as the characters name’s becoming part of the English language – people who are unpredictable or seem to have different morals in one situation than another are often described as being very Jekyll and Hyde. Maybe watch out if one of them offers you a slice of cheese on toast…