This is a story everyone thinks they know, and indeed knows by experience but few today have read the book. The concept of good and evil resident in the same person is as old as Oriental dualism. You know, the white dog fighting the black dog in a man’s heart, the angel and devil each perched on your shoulder – all of it the battle between the good and civil person we try to be and the self hearted demon we long for but repress.
We try to have it both ways in the name of compartmentalization, and the refinement of that rationalization is perhaps why the exquisite language of Stevenson’s book so resonates again.
In Jekyll’s confession we see it aired out. Here’s the way it goes –
“The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified; I would scarce use a harder term. But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn toward the monstrous. When I would come back from these excursions, I was often plunged into a kind of wonder at my vicarious depravity.
This familiar that I called out of my own soul, and sent forth alone to do his good pleasure, was a being inherently malign and villainous; his every act and thought centered on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture to another; relentless like a man of stone.
Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde; but the situation was apart from ordinary laws, and insidiously relaxed the grasp of conscience. It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered.”
Timeless and timely.