I watched Ian Rankn’s documentary about Robert Louis Stevenson and the writing of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with a good deal of interest. Ian is an effective presenter, and he did a good job in explaining the eternal appeal of this very memorable novella.
So the story goes, Stevenson’s wife reacted negatively to the first draft of the story, so he burned the manuscript. Thankfully, he rewrote it, and in the process created a masterpiece. The idea of the duality of human nature is truly fascinating, and in a short space, Stevenson told a tale so vivid that the phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ has entered the language.
It’s hard for me to understand why some commentators (apparently Virginia Woolf was one of them) have been dismissive of Stevenson’s literary accomplishments. Despite the fact that his life was short and dogged by ill-health, he produced an extraordinary range of work. As a boy, I loved Treasure Island and Kidnapped, but if he’d written nothing other than The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he would merit a place in a literary hall of fame.
Ian Rankin’s admiration of Stevenson’s imaginative power shone through the programme. It’s an admiration that I share.