Hello everyone! Nephrite has returned once again in the month of spooks and scares! The only question is what do I write about this year for October? Why not a classic of transformation such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
Everyone will have heard of the phrase Jekyll and Hyde by now to refer to one’s darker instincts or impulses or a genteel public face with much darker inner thoughts but back when it was created The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr Hyde had quite the impact on high society. As well as helping to popularise and create the gothic literature genre, it also had quite the legendary apocryphal origin in one of Mr Stevenson’s nightmares as well as numerous drafts several of which supposedly burned in the fire grate.
Stevenson did create many great works – obscure and well known – but it is no exaggeration to say that Jekyll and Hyde have grown into two of his most ubiquitous characters with numerous adaptations going as far back as a stage version produced the year after publication in 1886 with a famous 1887 stage version, a lost film version from 1908 and a classic Paramount film version from 1931 just being three such examples.
Now time for a simple synopsis or blurb of the original story for those few who need it: Gabriel John Utterson is a skilled lawyer and often the last reputable friend of those approaching the path of the downtrodden. He is a recluse of sorts who finds himself drawn to the stories of Hyde as his client Dr. Henry Jekyll has recently changed his will upon death or disappearance extending beyond three months to bequeath everything to the disreputable Hyde.
Utterson begins to investigate with help from others under the assumption that Jekyll is being blackmailed by Hyde only for Hyde’s actions to become even more heinous and sadistic in character. The question of course is how does this impact Jekyll and his many high society friends? And just how will this strange case end once Utterson begins his investigation?
This story is genuinely a classic for a reason. The descriptions of some of Hyde’s actions, or Jekyll’s desperation or the effects of the serum are gruesome or engaging in a way that definitely grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Stevenson’s fame in his heyday is definitely understandable if this is the usual pedigree of his work. The format of the original novel – with a third person narrative intermixed, when necessary, with diary entries and letters – can be awkward on occasion for modern readers as that particular technique has fallen by the wayside over time but much like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – the latter of which I reviewed some years ago – the book manages to keep your attention throughout.
My main critique is not the book’s fault in the slightest. As my readers may guess, public domain works often end up with a VERY large amount of audio versions. Be it with narration from first time narrators, big name film actors or skilled voice artists in most cases you can usually find a version where the narrator or narrators grab you. No matter if it is Sherlock Holmes, the original Arsène Lupin novels or The War Of The Worlds, that is normally the case.
When it came to Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde however? I had some issues finding an audio version to settle on. No version I contemplated had bad narration. Allow me to make that clear right now. With some versions performed by skilled actors of the stage, one by Richard E. Grant of all people strangely and one by an up-and-coming talent I have heard is highly respected in the audio sphere, I fear this problem may have been purely a ‘me’ issue, but it did take some time to find an audio version I found a good fit to review. That is partly why it took so long to put my thoughts to words.
Eventually I listened to a complete reading with narration by Martin Jarvis who has quite the history with audio drama both in terms of BBC Radio 4 dramatisations and audiobook readings going back a long number of years. Jarvis’s narration as Utterson, Jekyll’s butler Poole and Jekyll and Hyde themselves is definitely enjoyable and makes for a quick and compelling listen.
Unfortunately, however despite Mr Jarvis’s clear efforts, it did take some time to get fully invested. Several of his character voices – namely for the upper-class characters – do feel like they blend together somewhat at least upon first hearing. The listener can differentiate them but it does take some doing initially. Mr Jarvis is a skilled narrator so any issues I may have with his chosen character voices are not due to a lack of talent, skill or effort but simply due to the character voices in question for some characters in the text. I reiterate my praise for his chosen voice for Hyde as it can be a chilling voice when one is in the right frame of mind.
In short the story is very well written with good narration and a fun Halloween listen. With the themes of transformation, the duality of human nature, the power of addiction and others that can be read into the text it works perfectly for this time of year with witches, ghouls and monsters in our nightmares. I do recommend this audio version for those of you who are interested and I hope that all of my readers have a fun and safe Halloween.
I will return when I can with another audio adventure to discuss and hopefully praise once again.