My Covid Year Reading: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Author Jim Belcher illustrates his chapter, “The Struggle Within,”[1] with a compelling psychoanalysis of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.[2] 

Dr. Henry Jekyll, a reputable scientist wanting to enjoy being exclusively good without the lure of lust—or, entirely evil without the conviction of conscience, concocts and ingests a potion to separate his experiences into two mental and physical manifestations of himself (Jekyll by day, and Mr. Edward Hyde by night).  At first, Jekyll successfully indulges as Hyde while later escaping guilt and punishment as his mysterious lesser self can’t be found; however, Hyde takes control, eventually causing the death of the same man.

Belcher shares Pastor Tim Keller’s hunch that Stevenson bases his dualistic characters on the Apostle Paul’s old and new man wrestling in Romans 7:4-24; vs. 23 is surely alluded to when Jekyll reveals a “perennial war among my members.”[3]

Perhaps Stevenson even personally confesses through Jekyll’s closing testimony of his battling alter egos.  Clair Harman’s biography observes that, “Just as in childhood Stevenson had found himself drawn fascinatedly toward the wickedness that his puritan upbringing taught him to revile, so in the freedom of adulthood and the long hours of college truancy he quickly became a habitué of some of Edinburgh’s most disrepute dives.”[4]  Belcher explains that Stevenson was personally “… plagued by this conflict and also intrigued by it at the same time.”[5]

Curious to investigate this Romans 7 connection during a COVID-19 lull,[6] I believe I found it to be there and yet agree with Belcher that, “Stevenson, while brilliantly describing the inner struggle … had no solution to offer for the reader …”[7]  Nonetheless, the novel’s penetrating look into the depths of our “dark side” serves as a shrewd warning not to dangerously satiate our own Edward Hyde.

Hyde sneaks around in sinister seclusion only to lash out with a “flush of anger … snarled around into a savage laugh” (17).  Early on, he injured a young girl trampling over her after colliding and paid off her family with callous coolness.  Later, he bludgeoned and stomped an unassuming gentlemen with such feverous ferocity that his heavy cane splintered in two and his victim’s bones were heard breaking.

One acquaintance chillingly described Hyde to another: “There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable … he gives a strong feeling of deformity …” (10-11); “Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish … he had a displeasing smile … a murderous mixture of timidity and boldness … the mere radiance of a foul soul … [with] Satan’s signature upon [his] face …” (18). 

The forsaken Mr. Hyde was overheard, “Weeping like a woman or a lost soul …” (49).  Another said, “I could hear his teeth grate with the convulsive action of his jaws …” (60).   And inner Hyde caused Jekyll to outwardly write with his own hand “startling blasphemies” in a “copy of a pious work” (52).  Hyde “would be not even conscious of all that he had lost” (73).  “That child of Hell had nothing human; nothing lived in him but fear and hatred” (78).

When Jekyll foolishly gave way to Hyde, he who was “pure evil” (67) grew in size and to the point where the potion was needed in heavier doses to recover, eventually powerless to reverse the wicked transformation.  Hyde’s pleasures in sin “began to turn toward the monstrous” (69), as “ … his every act and thought centered on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity …” (69).  Over time, simple impulses alone initiated involuntary reversion to the hideous one while walking or even sleeping.

Beware: “… I thought I sat beyond the reach of fate” (70).  Jekyll testified that when he excelled at being good his pride would fall into Hyde’s horrible sins; and Hyde did not in fact free his conscience but increasingly haunted him.  Fully mortify: “I made this choice [to reform] perhaps with some unconscious reservation, for I neither gave up the house in Soho, nor destroyed the clothes of Edward Hyde, which still lay ready in my cabinet” (73); “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring” (74) though, “ … the fall seemed natural …” (76). 

Let us fear such an ending:  “ … I became, in my own person, a creature eaten up and emptied by fever, languidly weak both in body and mind, and solely occupied by one thought: the horror of my other self” (79).

Don’t free and feed the beast.  May Dr. Henry Jekyll teach us not to be subdued and undone by Mr. Edward Hyde.[8]

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He also serves the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals as community engagement coordinator as well as assistant editor for MeetthePuritans.org.  He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.



[1] Jim Belcher, In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2013), 73.

[2] Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: And Other Stories (New York: Sterling Publishing Co. for Barnes & Noble, 2016).

[3] Belcher, 73-74.  As read in Stevenson, 64.

[4] Belcher, 75.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Also because my eldest daughter had just enjoyed the novel in her British Literature class and highlighted its brevity to me following our mutual intrigue with Belcher’s and Keller’s connecting it to Romans 7:23.

[7] Belcher, 78. This seems to be because Stevenson apparently does not express the inner-outer converted struggle of Paul, but more generally all mankind’s universal experience as images of God yet reflecting Him in totally depraved shattered remains restrained by general providence and common operations of the Spirit (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9; see also Westminster Confession of Faith 5:7 and 10:4).  Paul didn’t resign with verse 23 but rejoiced in his rescued resolve of verses 24 and 25 pouring into and throughout chapter eight.  Our new man cannot be a bettered version of our old self, but must put on more of Christ Himself (Romans 13:13-14; Gal. 3:27).

[8] Another intriguing mystery arose not long after reading Stevenson’s novel while consulting, “A Brief History of English Puritanism,” by Kapic and Gleason, who note that the vengeful Anglican loyalists drove Charles II to restore religious conformity through a series of acts known as the Clarendon Code which began a horrible period of Puritan persecution.  The Clarendon Code was named after the earl of Clarendon, who was also known by the name Lord Chancellor EDWARD HYDE!  Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason, A Brief History of English Puritanism,” in Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints, Eds. Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 8.  Could there be another subtle Christian and conflicted allusion by Stevenson in naming his impish character (considering his locale and staunch Puritan and Presbyterian roots)?