Our latest novel, Cold Stone and Ivy, by H. Leighton Dickson, is a Gothic steampunk mystery. Set in England, (Lancashire and London, mostly) during 1888, the book features several real people as characters. We will be showcasing some of these historical figures in the next few weeks. (Make sure to begin with a review of Jack the Ripper.)
Christien de Lacey’s neighbour in London is a physician: Dr. Henry Jekyll. Christian is leery of Jekyll, suspecting the man of conducting unnatural experiments in his basement, although Jekyll has kindly offered to mix potions for Christien’s headaches.
Today’s featured character from Cold Stone and Ivy is a bit of a cheat. Dr. Henry Jekyll, after all, isn’t a real person, but the fictional creation of Robert Louis Stevenson, first appearing in 1886’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Jekyll’s presence in the novel is fun, with sly mentions of his laboratory, his reputation for unauthorized and unsavory experiments, and “some fellow named Hyde”, whose mail keeps getting delivered to Jekyll’s address.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Jekyll and Hyde in 1885 in a frenzied burst of writing (the canonical account says that Stevenson was feverish and ill; other biographies posit that Stevenson was on drugs), producing a first draft of the novella in under a week. According to his wife, Fanny, Stevenson destroyed the first draft and wrote a second draft in another three days. The novella was published three months later and became one of Stevenson’s best-selling works, selling forty thousand copies in six months and spawning multiple stage (and later, film) adaptations.
One of the novella’s major themes explores the duality of human nature, although Stevenson kindly leaves open to interpretation what exactly those dual natures are. Good versus evil? Civilization versus barbarism? Man versus animal? Is it an exploration of drug or alcohol addiction? A commentary on urbanization? Anti-science? All of these things, or none?
The abundance of possible interpretations speaks to the richness of the text–and to how we, as a culture, are fascinated by Stevenson’s strange case. Even you, who haven’t read the original story (you know who you are), know Jekyll and Hyde–you’ve probably even used their names at some point.
Which brings us back quite nicely to Cold Stone and Ivy. Duality exists here, too, with the seedy district of Whitechapel contrasting sharply with the wealthy neighborhood where Dr. Jekyll and Christien de Lacey live. With characters hiding their true selves behind masks of joviality and urbanity. With the profane and the sacred living side by side, housed in the same vessel . . .