“Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing, and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him. ‘There must be something else,’ said the perplexed gentleman. ‘There is something more, if I could find a name for it. God bless me, the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say? or can it be the old story of Dr. Fell? or Is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent? The last, I think; for, O my poor old Harry Jekyll, if ever I read Satan’s signature upon a face, it Is on that of your new friend.’”— Scottish fiction writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886)
The creation of Edward Hyde, the embodiment of pure evil in the physical ugliness so vividly portrayed above, is what has led so many to view this “Strange Tale” as a horror story.
But there is another horror that, to Dr. Henry Jekyll, might be just as dismaying: Hyde’s creator and opposite is not a saint, but the same old Jekyll: a proper, basically decent Victorian gentleman who cannot banish his primal urges—“that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had already learned to despair.”
According to a fascinating Huffington Post piece by Melanie Kendry, “When Does a Man Become a Monster?”, the original draft by Robert Louis Stevenson indicated that the crime of the “ordinary secret sinner” Jekyll was not murder (or even the consorting with prostitutes shown in so many cinematic versions) but homosexuality.
It was an anticipation of a later, wittier, but equally horrifying story of a double man in Victorian society, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Such were the taboos of the time in England, however, that even in the latter, more daring case, Gray’s secret sexuality could only be implied.
(The image accompanying this post shows John Barrymore, in the classic 1920 silent film version of Stevenson’s novella. Remarkably, Barrymore depicted the violent and disturbing physical transformation into Hyde without benefit of special effects. As fine as the 1933 Fredric March performance was—worthy enough of an Oscar---I still prefer Barrymore’s. I may be the only person I know who still recalls Kirk Douglas’ performance in a 1973 TV musical adaptation of the tale by composer Lionel Bart. That production was a horror story all its own!)