Wednesday, 18 April 2012
"The slave of certain appetites..."
Dr Jekyll and a not so wicked Mr Hyde: how a portrait of evil was toned down
Robert Louis Stevenson deleted "certain appetites" to make his creation Mr Hyde less sinister, an edited draft of his novella to be displayed at the British Library reveals
Sunday 15 April 2012
Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of English literature's most famous stories: the enduring classic of a man's transformation into a monster, first published in 1886. Now the manuscript for the novella is to go on show, revealing its transformation as Stevenson toned down his more explicit ideas.
The most complete draft of the novella – Stevenson burned a first draft because his wife was so alarmed by it – is covered with corrections. Reading between its chaotic lines shows how Stevenson deleted details such as the sexual connotations of Jekyll becoming "in secret the slave of certain appetites".
It is one of two historic manuscripts whose loans have been secured from the US by the British Library. The other is an instalment of Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, which the author himself rescued from the wreckage of a train crash. The manuscripts will get pride of place at the library in Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, the UK's biggest literary exhibition this summer.
Stevenson's novella explores the psychopathology of the split personality in Dr Jekyll, whose development of a potion to separate good from evil transforms him into the murderous Mr Hyde.
It was written at feverish speed after Stevenson woke from a dream. He produced a draft that he showed to his wife who, it is thought, prompted him to burn it, though he brought it back to life, rewriting it twice in six weeks.
The 1885 manuscript which will go to the British Library reflects his obsessiveness. As ideas flowed, so did his pen, ignoring occasional grammatical and spelling mistakes as he struggled to get it all down.
Jamie Andrews, the exhibition's co-curator, said: "This is an incredibly interesting active draft. There's a sense of it stemming from a dream, the depths of the self. So the idea of this primal eruption of text is certainly there in the story, but then to publish something Stevenson really had to work it through to make it into that final version." Andrews believes that explicit references to Hyde's sexual "vices" might have concerned Stevenson's wife because of his reputation as a writer of children's novels.Andrews said of this draft: "It's a lot darker than the final version. This is the great psychological novel about a divided city and a divided self." He added that, because Stevenson was hard up, it was suggested that he should write a chilling shocker, as they called them.
Commenting on Stevenson's softening of his original ideas, Andrews said that sometimes individual words, lines or paragraphs were deleted. "There's a sense of bits being too sensitive to be published." For example, Stevenson deleted the following line: "From an early age, however, I became in secret the slave of certain appetites." He replaced it with: "And indeed the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition… hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public."
One of the exhibition themes examines how British landscapes permeate great literary works. Marking Dickens's bicentenary are pages from Our Mutual Friend – its first public show in the UK. Tanya Kirk, exhibition co-curator, said Dickens presented the Thames as a menacingly gothic place sustaining life but bringing death.
The pages to be displayed at the British Library come from the instalment saved from an 1865 rail crash by Dickens, who was hailed a hero for his role in rescuing the injured. The carriage in which Dickens was travelling through Kent with his mistress was derailed and suspended over a collapsed bridge. He risked his life in clambering back into the wreckage for passengers and the manuscript, its pages spattered with stains.
Both manuscripts are being lent by the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. It purchased the Stevenson manuscript in 1909 for $1,500 and the Dickens in 1944 for $17,000.
The exhibition, from 11 May to 25 September, will celebrate a superlative collection of literary works at the British Library spanning more than 1,000 years by writers from Chaucer to Hanif Kureishi. Exhibits will include letters penned by John Keats, Charlotte Brontë and Ted Hughes never before displayed.