Adventure, Historical Fiction, Stevenson, Robert Louis

Review of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

What was it about?

In the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745, recently orphaned David Balfour receives a letter from Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, to give to his uncle Ebenezer Balfour of the House of Shaws. It soon becomes clear to David that the Shaws have a bad reputation in Scotland. No one is comfortable to give David directions. When he reaches his uncle’s house, Ebenezer hesitates before accepting his nephew. He forbids David from asking questions about his father and generally seems displeased to have David in his home. But it is only when Ebenezer sends David to fetch his inheritance from the top of a tower without any light to guide him that David realizes that his uncle wants him dead. The tower is unfinished and the ladder leads to nowhere. He nearly avoids falling to his death. The next morning, Ebenezer has him kidnapped by a ship headed to the Carolinas. On the ship he meets Alan Breck, a Jacobite, who tries to convince the captain of the ship to drop him off on the mainland. When Alan learns that the crew is plotting to kill him, he and David work together to kill the assailants. Although David is a Whig, perilous circumstances cause him to befriend Alan and to help him in his quest to bring justice to the Highlanders of Scotland. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson highlights the tension between the Highlanders and Lowlanders in Scotland in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising, making it one of the most famous works of Scottish historical fiction.

What did I think of it?

I have absolutely no knowledge of Scottish history, so the Historical Note at the start of the book gave me a much-needed introduction to the Jacobite rising. In many ways Kidnapped reads like an adventure novel for young boys. The story line is simple and the conclusion quite predictable. Still, David and Alan’s relationship is quite interesting. Although their friendship waxes and wanes throughout the book Alan and David know that they need each other. Alan is a bad man, but the reader cannot but love him as a character. He has a lot of affection for the youthful David. I wasn’t overly impressed by the book, and some of the dialogue was poorly written, but it was much more memorable than Treasure Island, and it has made me want to learn more about the history of Scotland.

Favorite Quote

Sir,” says I, ‘with a proper reverence for your age and our common blood, I do not value your favour at a boddle’s purchase. I was brought up to have a good conceit of myself; and if you were all the uncle, and all the family, I had in the world ten times over, I wouldn’t buy your liking at such prices.’

Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Stevenson, Robert Louis

The Devil Inside: Review of the The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

1880s Poster
1880s Poster

I finally bought a Kindle Paperwhite. I had considered buying an e reader or a tablet for over a year. Now that I have bought my Kindle, I have no regrets. Since most of the books I read are in the public domain, I think the Kindle is a great deal.

Anyway, the first story I read on my Kindle was The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is very difficult to give a review of this novella without giving away too much of the plot. Therefore, there will be spoilers in this review.

What is it about?

Mr. John Utterson, a lawyer for Dr. Henry Jekyll, learns from his friend Richard Enfield about the recent murder of a small girl. This small girl was trampled by a frightening-looking man who then escaped from the crime scene. Oddly, Dr. Jekyll offers a large sum of money to the girl’s family to drop the search for the murderer. Over the next few months, Mr. Utterson learns more and more about this sinister man. He discovers that the designated beneficiary in Dr. Jekyll’s will is Mr. Hyde, the same man who had trampled the young girl to death. Here comes the spoiler. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are one and the same person. Dr. Jekyll wanted to learn more about his dark and sinister side – the side that he ordinarily represses. Therefore, he prepares and drinks a potion that changes him into Mr. Hyde. This dark side lives selfishly and without morals. Eventually, Dr. Jekyll loses the ability to control the transformations, and it becomes more and more difficult to suppress Mr. Hyde. When Jekyll is asleep or dwells too much on his evil nature, Hyde is released.

What did I think about it?

I know that  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a study of multiple personality disorder. However, upon finishing the novella, I felt that this story was also an allegory on substance abuse. Dr. Jekyll loves and hates Mr. Hyde. He loves Hyde because Hyde does not have to submit to the constraints placed on him by society or a conscience. Also, Jekyll does not have to take responsibility for Hyde’s actions. After all, Hyde is not Jekyll. Hyde is the murderer, not Jekyll. On the other hand, Jekyll has a conscience. He hates what Hyde has done. The transformations become more and more spontaneous so that Jekyll loses control over Hyde. Like someone with an addiction, Jekyll cannot be rid of Hyde. Hyde eventually takes over Jekyll. As I was reading the story, it became clear to me that Stevenson had personal experiences with addiction. It is believed that the author used cocaine as he wrote this novella. At that time, cocaine was legal. Stevenson used because he suffered from tuberculosis. One cannot help but pity Jekyll. Jekyll has good intentions. He wants to be himself again, but he just can’t get rid of Hyde. The temptation to evil is too strong, and eventually, Jekyll is permanently replaced by Hyde. I have never read a story that described addiction so accurately.

Here are some quotes from the text to give you a flavor of what I mean. The “I” in all these passages is Dr. Jekyll:

“Now, however, and in the light of that morning’s accident, I was led to remark that whereas, in the beginning, the difficulty had been to throw off the body of Jekyll, it had of late gradually but decidedly transferred itself to the other side. All things therefore seemed to point to this; that I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse.”

“To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper.”

“My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring.”

I absolutely loved this story. This is the ideal character study, and Stevenson is such a fantastic storyteller.  I know that I will be rereading this novella for years to come.