Would AA’s Fourth Step have changed the ending of the famous old horror story?
THREE-QUARTERS of a century ago, Fanny Stevenson, frightened in the night by her husband’s cries and moans, prodded him into wakefulness. In a dawning state of consciousness he was annoyed, and not for the usually mundane reason. Robert Louis Stevenson, who for weeks had suffered bouts of lung hemorrhage and prostration, nevertheless had been racking his brain for a plot of any sort. Accordingly the creative mind of the sleeping writer had been engaged by a fantastic and horrifying drama of extraordinary vividness and seeming reality that he had not had the opportunity of resolving.
He arose the next morning, despite illness, to work on his dream fantasy. Although he had a rough draft after three days, the tale left him unsatisfied, as had the interrupted original creation. Fanny didn’t like the story; besides, he had qualms about its psychological soundness. He destroyed the manuscript and launched into a second version, which he completed in another three days. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was the product of this intensive work, and it presented the psychological insights I wish to discuss here.
Robert Louis Stevenson isn’t likely to have missed much because of the interruption of his dream. The mind of genius, on which final evidence is not yet in, can be harvested by day or night. Creation during dreaming is a fascinating process. One night in 1865, Friedrich August Kekule, professor of organic chemistry at Ghent University in Belgium, had a dream about the molecular arrangement of the atoms within a molecule of benzene. Although considerable work had gone into the problem, chemists had been unable to discern the spatial configuration of this molecule. While Kekule slept, his active mind devised a solution around the image of a snake with its tail in its mouth. Although his dream creation of the benzene ring was not acceptable to his associates, Kekule used it to predict the behavior of derivatives of benezene. Considerable progress in the field of organic chemistry resulted when his predictions were verified.
A somewhat analogous experience was that of Otto Loewi of the Pharmacological Institute of the University of Graz in Austria, now a resident of New York City. In 1921, Loewi devised an experiment in a dream, or a daze, that led directly to the discovery of the chemical transmission of impulses along nerves, for which he shared the Nobel prize in 1936.
Other such creation has stemmed from dreams: one of the most interesting examples occurred in the late nineteenth century when Hilprecht of the University of Pennsylvania deciphered an Assyrian cuneiform inscription upon a broken clay cylinder that had defied analysis up to then. Some of the great composers are said to have derived themes in dreams on occasion. Coleridge’s account of the genesis of “Kubla Khan” is in this tradition. But how meager the crop when we consider the lushness of the material! There is good evidence that each of us dreams every night. If this is so, man is proceeding along in his usual, improvident way.
Like many another genius, Stevenson was able to share with us the fruits of his fertile mind. In “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Stevenson recovered his dream story and reworked it so provocatively that, like some other writers and poets, he is considered to have been in advance of the great sanitarians of the mind.
Most everybody has heard of Stevenson’s tale about the dichotomy resident in each of us. Edward Hyde, the prime mover in the story, is the embodiment of evil; loathsome and ape-like, he evokes hate at first sight, although sighting him is most unusual. Hyde’s alter ego, the admirable Dr. Henry Jekyll, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, an eminently successful and respected physician, handsome, wealthy, with a string of degrees attached to his name.
We no longer doubt that we are made as Dr. Jekyll and that our behavior is apt to contain Hyde-like vagaries. Human behavior is never quite predictable, mainly because the unseen Hyde, as Stevenson says, “never sleeps and constantly growls for license.”
Tenth Step Thoughts
“There is no release from the past, particularly if the past is inadequately considered or vaguely understood.”
“The goal to strive for is the proper integration of the various facets of a personality.”
“What is suppressed retains its full force–indeed, suppression may stimulate a swelling of the energy.”
“Harvest the strength of the partial evil.”
“The more a thing knows its own mind the more living it becomes.”
While our ability to predict behavior may not have improved since Stevenson’s time, we have advanced in our ability to understand the manner in which we have behaved, and in the opportunity to do something about it. “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward,” said Kierkegaard. Stevenson tells us little about Jekyll’s history prior to his maturity. We know that he is a prosperous bachelor of fifty and that he was wild when he was young. But as Stevenson had the lawyer Utterson remark in his soliloquy about Jekyll’s past, as it bore on his present tribulations, “in the law of God there is no statute of limitations.” It would appear, therefore, that Stevenson felt there could be no release from the past, particularly if the past was inadequately considered or vaguely understood.
A close examination of the lively Edward Hyde at this later day will reveal that he has many qualities that we could wish for ourselves. He is strong and contemptuous of danger; he can be direct and vigorous; his faculties are sharp; he is completely lacking the dissemblance so crippling to ordinary man. Among his endowments is that of being able to arouse the doctor to do his bidding even in the dead of night, no mean feat in itself. In disaster he maintains a certain equanimity. There is no beating about the bush with Mr. Hyde; you know where you stand with him. Get in his way and he takes steps to go around you or, if necessary, over you–conduct sanctioned in some eminently successful men if we can believe their biographers. Mr. Hyde prefers to be abroad by night, as does the pestilence that walketh in darkness, and as do dreams. Released by the censor, he commits his vigorous predations when the coast is relatively clear, as with the action in dreams. Again like dreams, he is glimpsed by few. He handles troublesome situations forthrightly and with dispatch; this trait is also reminiscent of dream activity.
Stevenson goes to some trouble to impress upon us the reaction of the few who had caught glimpses of Hyde: disgust, loathing and fear are the strong words that he uses. Hyde evoked the desire to kill at first sight, a revulsion not unlike that evinced in even the highest medical circles later in the nineteenth century when glimpses were beginning to be afforded of the unconscious life of man, some of them through dreams. Today it is reasonably said that nothing provokes such fear as one’s unconscious. For what other reason is it that we would have inward peace, but will not look within? “The more obscure and unintelligible man’s world (including his own inner world),” said Walther Riese, “the more likely he feels threatened by the forces of nature, whether he experiences them in his surrounding, animate or not, or in his own body; thus, the more critical and the more precarious his existence. To be free from fear and malaise implies to a large extent to be free from ignorance.”
Every authority on behavior–has reiterated “know thyself” as the best means to achieve Plato’s mark of an educated man: that he should be able, and above all that he should always be willing, to see things as they are. With Albert Jay Nock we can believe that the conscious exclusion of reality is a distinct failure in integrity, a moral failure. Several centuries before Christ, Plato warned about the madness and misery of one who uses the appearance of things as a measure of their reality and makes a mess of it. Despite his eventual solution for the evil and lively Hyde, Stevenson betrays a certain fascination for him. Hyde’s spirits were always higher, sharper, more acute than Jekyll’s, and it appears that so was his love of life. In their day Jekyll and Hyde were coheirs to death; they were irrevocably oriented toward destruction despite any love of life. Deep, blind, primitive compulsions that bypassed consciousness drew them nearer and nearer to the verge of death. These forces, usually neglected and about which we are therefore unknowing, drag along such persons as Jekyll to premature destruction. Theirs is a drift toward tragedy. Stevenson said of this force “. . .that what was dead and had no shape should usurp the offices of life.”
Jekyll was frequently sunk in apathy, almost depression; he had little zest for life and seemed bored by his deadly round. His was, he said, “an aversion to the dryness of a life of study.” While Stevenson had glimmerings that strength, vigor and spirit were on the side of Hyde, he saw no constructive way in which they could be tapped. Indeed, in 1885 there was none. In the late nineteenth century these were waste products buried in the manifest personality, and there was no way to get to them. They were then about as hidden from man as was the force in the atom, and potentially as destructive. Our tools for working these deposits have improved, among them the analysis of dreams, an exquisite although highly subtile instrument.
Stevenson took the tack, perhaps poetic license, perhaps autobiographical and surely timely, that there was no resolution of the problem but death and oblivion. This remains a prevailing breeze, and it hardly matters in what quarter one is standing. Our current Hydes too frequently are given the now outmoded treatment of suppression. It is difficult to convey the fact that what is suppressed retains its full force. Indeed, suppression may stimulate a swelling of the energy.
We need constantly to be reminded that mystery will lighten and perhaps be dissipated altogether when it is competently examined. This does not guarantee resolution, but it is the starting point of any real investigation motivated by a genuine desire to find out. There isn’t one of the feared, loathed and hated groups or concepts–our Hydes–that does not contain strengths, if we have the curiosity, the wit, the courage and the energy to search them out and to temper them. Alexander Pope in a single line in his great poem, “An Essay on Man,” notes that “All partial Evil, (is) universal Good,” a prelude to truth dredged up from the subconscious of genius.
So the resolution of the Jekyll-Hyde dilemma is not repression or death, but rather the cultivation and harvest of the strengths and–by-products–of the partial evil.