Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of Stevenson’s most celebrated stories. He wrote it at Bournemouth in 1885 while he recovering from an illness. The idea for the story came to him in a nightmare, from which he was awoken by his wife Fanny. He was angry with his wife for breaking off such a wonderful tale of terror and developed the idea into a full-length narrative. Originally, the tale was a straightforward horror story without the allegorical element. It was his wife who, after he read it to her, suggested that it would be better if it was written as an allegory. Stevenson then re-wrote the story from scratch and burnt his original one. It is said that he was so obsessed with his tale that the re-writing of it only took him three days!
It was published in 1886 and was immediately recognised as an unusual but great work. Both his viewers and his readers responded to his story with enthusiasm. Nothing he had previously written, including Treasure Island, had prepared his readers for such a dark and powerful work with such serious intent. In previous horror tales such as Thrawn Janet and The Body-Snatcher, he had built himself a reputation creating horror and suspense, but in Dr Jekyll he created a full-length work, which was not only exciting and well-composed, but also a powerful parable.
Today many thousands of people are familiar with the basic plot of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde even though they have never read the book. This is because the story is so popular that numerous film versions have made this story one of the most well-known. The story became famous in Stevenson’s own time and its fame has lasted. The phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” has become part of English folklore and the story itself is often grouped with lurid tales such as Dracula or The Phantom of the Opera.
We as critical readers must be careful not to see it as merely a horror story. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is in a different category – it has great literary and imaginative power, is rich in symbolism, and is still relevant today.