Jekyll and HydeThose long road journeys enabled me to shift from one literary genius to another. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella  The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde once in my youth, mainly I suspect for its worth as a renowned ‘horror story’. But listening to this re-‘reading’ (by Ian Holm), I realised just how sophisticated the story and how far-sighted Stevenson were. Although popular and with many friends, Dr Jekyll was not, by the standards of contemporary society, a particularly good man and in his testament confesses to his frequent struggle with the strong evil impulses within him. The serum he develops is designed to suppress and veil those impulses, not concentrate them and simultaneously transform him. And, in the end, the impulses are so strong that Jekyll becomes Hyde anyway. The story is part allegory and part an early portrayal of a split personality (or what would now go under the scientific term of ‘dissociative identity disorder’). But surely what also gave the novella its huge initial sales (over 250,000 copies by 1901!) was its raciness. For Hyde goes out on nightly forays, and though the reader learns only about the violent episodes that ultimately occur we are left to understand that the others are evil and lustful. The rest was left, brilliantly, to Victorian gentlemen’s imaginations, which is where the allegory kicks in. Dr Jekyll and his friends may be debonair sophisticates but Stevenson lets us know that they all – Utterson, Enfield, Lanyon – have dark secrets. Thus, the story is not just about the dualism of human nature but also the hypocrisy of Victorian society. It can surely not be by chance that Hyde felt more at ease with himself than Jekyll did, nor that whilst others recoiled from him, he did not recoil from them. In effect, Hyde/Stevenson was holding up a mirror to polite society. To add to the fascination, like Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn, the inspiration and writing of the piece provides a story in itself. This may or may not have involved drugs, but the more mundane explanations of  high fever, a period of enforced rest and convalescence in Bournemouth provide their own charm.