(Courtesy of Goodreads.com)
Are just a few of us truly wicked, or does darkness lurk in all of us? Few classics tackle this question with more pulse-pounding gusto than Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which a respected physician takes a potion that reveals his violent hidden self. The Jekyll/Hyde dichotomy has become shorthand for good juxtaposed with evil, but debut author Daniel Levine felt that there was much more to the story. His historical novel, Hyde, retells the suspenseful tale from the villain’s point of view, imagining how the rougher half of the doctor may have been misunderstood or even manipulated. In Levine’s gritty and chaotic Victorian London, good and evil are not so easily defined, and this moral ambiguity brings some psychological realism to Stevenson’s Gothic thriller. A creative writing teacher hailing from Colorado, Levine shares some of the visual inspiration for his mysterious, and perhaps heroic, Mr. Hyde.
Goodreads: What hooked you and inspired you to write your own novel about the tortured duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
Daniel Levine: I first read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in tenth-grade English. Our teacher divided the class into small groups and assigned portions of the novella for us to present to the other students. My two friends and I filmed a dramatic reenactment of our scenes, which included the killing of Carew and Hyde’s subsequent “cover-up.” I played Hyde, scowling and sneering at the camera, and bucking about in the agonizing throes of transformation. Even then I recognized that Hyde was something more than the apotheosis of pure evil, as Jekyll insists. There is a wretched humanity to him, an underdog quality that captured my interest and sympathy. Similarly there is a suspicious aspect to Jekyll’s self-affirmed goodness and innocence. His actions are hardly those of a victim—he flirts with danger and exposure as if he wishes on some level to be caught. The idea for Hyde came to me 15 years later, in my sleep: I woke one morning, staring at my hand, and remembered suddenly the scene when Hyde awakes unexpectedly in Jekyll’s bed, gazing at his own transformed hand. When I went back and reread Stevenson’s novella (the same edition I’d used in high school), my original impressions were strongly confirmed. Hyde was not a mindless monster. He was a vehicle for Jekyll’s deeply suppressed libidinal urges, an avatar through which Jekyll could behave as constrictive Victorian society—and his own exacting scruples—would never allow him to behave. The story isn’t a parable of good and evil. It’s a psychological case study of a man at war with his own animal instincts and a commentary on the masks all humans must wear in order to function in civilization and appear “normal.” I am very aware of this split within myself, the battle between primal impulse and proper etiquette. I wanted to explore this schism and give the misunderstood and maligned Hyde the chance to tell his side of the story at last.
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