Wednesday 25 November 2009

Ian Rankin and Jekyll and Hyde

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.


Uriah Robinson said...

I think those of us who were born in the 1940s were lucky in that without TV we read much more than many of the present generation. Wonderful books like Treasure Island and Kidnapped stimulated our imaginations and our reading appetites.

Anonymous said...

Martin - Stevenson certainly was a talented writer who died much too soon. I once read a short piece about him and his wife written by their grandson - fascinating perspective!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Did she dismiss him as being a genre writer or a children's writer or just not a good writer? Fascinating.
He has certainly endured.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Maybe the reviewers don't like his popularity. As if popular literature can't be really good. Poe gets the same treatment. Austen, too. And Dickens used to, although I think most people have gotten over it.

Treasure Island is one of the most influential books around. It's still being copied to this day for adventure stories.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Dorte H said...

When you consider the time it was written, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a well-written and very interesting novel. It is also quite teachable (said the English teacher).

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. Patti, I've read that Woolf criticised Stevenson for 'not being quite serious enough'. I dread to think what she made of, say, P.G. Wodehouse!