Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, published in 1886, was an instant bestseller in both Britain and the United States. Journalists and the public were eager to learn of Stevenson's inspiration for the story, and Stevenson responded to their inquiries with his essay A Chapter on Dreams, in which he claimed that his conscious mind had only a minor role in the story's genesis.
The fine bogey tale, as he called it, was generated in a dream, composed by the players of his mind's theater, which he referred to as his Brownies. The Brownies do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself, he wrote (Stevenson 159). Not fully satisfied with the dream explanation, many biographers of Stevenson have tried to unravel the experiences in Stevenson's past that may have played a role in the novella's conception and plot.
Although Stevenson may not have recognized it, the paternal, religious and moral discomforts that he wrestled with throughout his life likely informed the themes and narrative of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson had a troubled relationship with his father, Thomas Stevenson, from his early years. He rejected the career path of lighthouse engineering that his father expected of him (it was a profession that ran in the family for three generations) and instead chose to be a writer (Calder 2).
The rift between father and son was widened when Thomas Stevenson learned of his son's rejection of the Christian faith (Callow 46). Thomas Stevenson's intense anger at the discovery of his son's agnosticism profoundly distressed Stevenson (Calder 61). Although Stevenson made frequent attempts to placate him, Thomas Stevenson was prone to melodramatic fits of rage, and often accused his son of blasphemy (Harman 94).
Thomas Stevenson even claimed that he would ten times sooner have seen you [Stevenson] lying in your grave than that you should be shaking the faith of other young men and accused Stevenson of bringing ruin on the house (Calder 69). Perhaps it is understandable, then, that Stevenson had a dream in which he quarreled with his father and stung by some intolerable insult, struck down the father dead (Stevenson 156).
[...] Stevenson's father was a staunch Calvinist, and Stevenson's discomfort with the doctrine of Calvinism is reflected in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson was taught Calvinism at a very young age, mostly by his father and by his nurse Cummy, who was product of strict Calvinism” and whose teachings had a lasting influence on him (Calder 32). Calvinism emphasizes the inherent sinfulness of individuals and often provokes intense guilt in its followers. As a result of his Calvinist upbringing, Stevenson was deeply preoccupied with evil and sin throughout his life (Calder 33). [...]
[...] Stevenson's discomfort with Calvinism is evidenced by the fact that Jekyll's extreme, Calvinist guilt leads to self-destruction, and Stevenson's morally contradictory lifestyle is represented in the character of Jekyll/Hyde himself. From its origin on the stage of Stevenson's subconscious mind to its reflection of his inner conflicts, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of Stevenson's most personal and autobiographical works of fiction. Although Stevenson regarded his “fine bogey tale” as one of his lesser works, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde persists in public consciousness even today, and is widely regarded as a psychological and literary masterpiece. Works Cited Calder, Jenni. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study. [...]
[...] Dr Jekyll reasons that if he could separate the two natures of man, unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence” (Stevenson 53). However, Dr Jekyll's successful separation of his two personalities leads to torment, degeneration and suicide. The story is often read as an allegory with a simple Christian message: sin is powerful and destructive and must be avoided. As a didactic moral allegory, it was popular subject matter for sermons and articles in religious newspapers (Eigner 148). [...]
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