Ruining the effect

Much in the same way that reputation proceeds the characters in Victorian literature such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the novel’s twist proceeds its unveiling. The story by now is all too famous for collegiate readers to experience the shock. This is a very interesting example of how the reputation of a story can affect the way it is experienced.

When first published the novella was a smash hit, at least according to this Glencoe Library study guide. This begs the question, for how long was the mystery of this novel still a mystery. While classic murder mystery novels such as those written my Agatha Christie (some of my favorites guys, you must read at least And Then There Were None), retain some degree of infamy, they rarely achieve pop cultural status that lasts over a century. Jekyll and Hyde has become synonymous with split personality disordered individuals. As such the fact that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same does not surprise readers, a fact which may have surprised Stevenson.

As I was reading I could not help but wonder what the effect would be if I had not known they were the same. H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds suffered a similar but opposite effect when it was read on the radio and people did not think it was fictional. In this case the story’s reputation, in this case, the reputation that it was a story, failed to proceed its delivery, causing mass pandemonium and uproar. Ironically, a great mystery novel author, should never write a mystery novel too great.

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8 thoughts on “Ruining the effect

  1. Kevin Frazelis

    I liken this novel to a crime detective novel that is really the first of its kind. In all honesty everyone reads this books knowing the ending and if you think about it, most people in the era wouldn’t have known the ending. This eliminates the suspense that most people in the time would have gone through during the first read which most people do not currently go through when reading the text.

  2. mlfiloramo

    That’s a great point you have. It’s funny how so many people have a general idea–and even definite opinion–of popular books like “50 Shades of Gray” without even having read the work. I suppose this point somewhat defies the logic that “you can never judge a book by its cover” … people already know the premise of the book! Not that it should stop a person from reading it.

    But I think that’s very interesting how you had realized that knowing the premise of the story changed your perception of it. I agree that it loses the shock value as well… I believe the original intention of the story is to really surprise its audience, watching Dr. Jekyll fall victim to his own work. I’m sure there is a term for this ruining of the effect…

  3. alixg

    You’ve expressed the exact feeling that I had prior to reading the story again for this class: what’s the point if the suspense is already killed? My revelation was pleasantly surprising, but granted it wasn’t one of gasping at the big reveal since I had already known it. Instead, my reading this time around allowed me to zero in on aspects that I didn’t notice before. For example, there’s one point in the narrative where the layout of the street is described as the houses going into one another so that you couldn’t tell them apart and that automatically caught my eye as a stylistic foreshadowing of the case of Dr. Jekyll. Also, I was able to appreciate the brilliance of the way Stevenson writes; his diction is phenomenal and really makes for a fantastic read, plot lines aside. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re right- the mystery of a novel is killed after you read it and after it becomes popular, but at the same time we all go back and read it, eager to rediscover the path to the ultimate reveal and appreciating the steps that take us there, arguably more than we did the first time around.

  4. nathan farkas

    I guess maybe to give more to think about, there is nothing like when you read a book for the first time. For example: when I read the Great Gatsby in high school I loved it. Obviously this was enhanced by the fact that it could be used for any prompt on the AP lit exam. Yet, when I read it now, it does not have the same effect on me. The same is true for the Book Thief and Harry Potter. I think in some ways we are missing that effect in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

  5. Jason Tougaw

    This is a fascinating thread. Like A Christmas Carol, Jekyll and Hyde has permeated our culture. Its iconic status makes it impossible for us to experience it freshly–or even realize how extraordinary its plot is. It seems relatively ordinary to us because we’ve experienced it in so many forms. We even use it in everyday language to explain people’s behavior.

  6. davidginsberg

    Nathan – That’s a very interesting take on this story (and all classic stories that we already know, for the most part). I’m sure that the people who were lucky enough to read Jekyll and Hyde when it was first released were greatly affected by ‘the big reveal.’ I’m sure there were know-it-alls back then too, claiming they knew what was going to happen all along. However, like Kelsey said, I enjoyed the book more because I already knew the story. I didn’t have to focus intently and try to keep track of all the characters and other minute details that would otherwise distract me.

    In the end, a classic is a classic. Ideally, it would be nice to read everything upon its original publication and subsequently enjoy the book more and more as you read it over and over again. We are not so lucky in the case of Victorian literature since many of these tales are already widely known amongst us.

  7. kelsey214

    The point you make didn’t occur to me while I was reading even though I knew what was going to happen. It’s funny how because of “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde being so reknowned makes readers such as myself excited to read it despite the fact of a known plot. It’s almost like when you read a book for the second time and because you already kow the jist of the story, you’re able to focus more on smaller aspects of the novel. I think it’s both good and bad to have known the happenings before they actually happen.

  8. clemence

    I totally agree with your point about how the reputation of a book can distort our own experience of it. When I was reading, I thought “how come Utterson, an educated man, can not have any doubt about what is going on?”. Then I realized that Jekyll’s transformation is so extraordinary that no one could ever have imagined it; but I think it is difficult to appreciate the novel and to feel what Stevenson wanted us to feel when we all already know what is happening.

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