Read an extract from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – translated into clear, modern English for GCSE


Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case

I was born in the year 18—[1] into a wealthy family. I had excellent talents and personal qualities and was, by nature, a hard worker. I was fond of being respected by wise and good people. Therefore, as you might imagine, everything was in place for my having an honourable and distinguished future.

Indeed, my worst fault was a sort of impatient high spirits. This has made many people happy, but I found it very difficult to square that fault with my pompous wish to carry my head high[2], and wear an unusually serious face when I was with other people. So it was that I concealed my pleasures. When I became old enough to think sensibly, to look around me and to see how far I had come in the world, I found that I was committed to a completely two-faced way of life.   

Many men would have blatantly revealed that they were guilty of such poor behaviour as mine; but, because of the bright future that was ahead of me, I thought guiltily of my sins and hid them with an almost morbid[3] sense of shame. So, it was mainly the demanding nature of my ambitions that made me the man I am, rather than anything especially disgusting about my faults. Good and evil – which make up the dual nature of human beings – were divided in me by an even deeper division than there is in most men. For me, the division was between my ambitions and my sins.    

And so, I was driven to reflect deeply and constantly on the hard law of life: the root of religion – a major source of people’s distress. Although I was committed to having two natures, I was not a hypocrite: both sides of me were serious. I was myself when I put restraint to one side and plunged into shameful acts, and I was myself when I laboured by day to improve my knowledge or to help to lessen sorrow and suffering.

And it happened that the direction of my research – which had always been towards the mystical and the transcendental[4] – made me more aware of this war between the two parts of my nature. With every day – and from both the moral and intellectual sides of my intelligence – I drew steadily nearer to that truth which finally shipwrecked me: that a human being is not truly one, but truly two.           

I say two, because my state of knowledge does not go beyond this point. Other researchers will follow me and make further discoveries, and I will hazard a guess that a human being will eventually be shown to have many aspects to its nature, all independent, none fitting neatly together. As far as I am concerned, I advanced in one direction and in one direction only. Of the two conflicting sides of my nature, I saw that the only reason I could be said to be either good or sinful was because I was actually both.

From a young age, I had learned to think of the idea of separating these elements. It was like a beloved daydream, years before my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest that such a miracle could actually be possible.  I told myself that, if the good and evil aspects of my nature could be housed in separate identities, then I could remove all the unbearable aspects of my life. The unjust part could go on his way, no longer worried by the shame and hopes of his more moral twin; and the just part could walk securely on his path to progress, doing the good things which gave him pleasure, no longer forced into disgrace and repentance by his unjust twin. The curse of humankind is that these two natures, like pieces of firewood which don’t fit together, are bundled together: that these polar opposites should continually be struggling. How, then, could they be separated?      

I had got so far in my thoughts when, as I have said, the laboratory itself began to shine a sideways light on the subject. I began to perceive more deeply than it has ever yet been said, that this apparently solid human body which we wear, is actually tremblingly fragile and can pass away like a mist. I found that certain chemicals had the power to shake our covering of flesh, just as a wind might toss the curtains of a marquee.

There are two good reasons why I will not go into more detail in this scientific part of my confession. First, because I have been forced to learn that when we try to throw off our shoulders the burdens of our lives, they only come back to us with a stranger and more dreadful weight. Secondly because, as my narrative will show all too clearly, my discoveries were incomplete. It is enough to say that I recognised my natural body to be merely the radiance which came from my soul. I managed to mix a drug which threw down the supremacy of the body and substituted a second body, a second face. This second body and face were as natural to me as my other body: they bore the stamp of the lower desires of my soul[5].                            


[1] Victorian writers sometimes cut the details of dates and places. The reason is that they are suggesting that the events of the novel are real and to discourage readers from seeking out or pestering these “real” people or their relatives. It wasn’t perhaps a very successful literary device, and later writers dropped it from about 1900 onwards.
[2] “Carry my head high” – to show that I was an important person.
[3] Morbid – death-like. [4] Transcendental – going beyond the laws of nature and physics
[5] “The lower desires of my soul”. This is a very old idea, found in many of Shakespeare’s plays. Jekyll and Stevenson refer to the theory that a human being is composed of two parts, reason and passion. Reason is the higher part of human nature. Reason is the capacity to think, to be logical, to be reasonable (represented in the novella by Jekyll). Passion is the lower part of human nature. Passion is the emotional side of a human being, and her or his desires, especially those which were considered sinful by the Christian church: greed, anger, hatred, sexual desire and so on. These passions are sometimes called our bestial, or animal, nature, as we supposedly share these qualities with the animals. In the novella, the passions are represented by Hyde, who is often described as a beast or an animal.
A human being is supposed to use his reason to keep his passions under control. It was thought shameful to allow your passions to get the better of you. For Christians like Jekyll, reason is the spiritual and better (or “higher”) side of a human being, and being ruled by your reason brings you closer to God. Your passions, however, are sinful, and if you are ruled by them you are closer to the Devil. Hyde in the novella is often described as devilish because he is ruled by his passions.The novella Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can be interpreted as a Christian story about the struggle between a man’s higher and lower nature: between his reason and his passion; between the side of his nature which brings him closer to God, and the side that comes from the Devil.[

Stevenson’s original:    

I WAS born in the year 18—- to a large fortune, endowed besides with excellent parts, inclined by nature to industry, fond of the respect of the wise and good among my fellow-men, and thus, as might have been supposed, with every guarantee of an honourable and distinguished future. And indeed the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public. Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life. Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame. It was thus rather the exacting nature of my aspirations than any particular degradation in my faults, that made me what I was and, with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature. In this case, I was driven to reflect deeply and inveterately on that hard law of life, which lies at the root of religion and is one of the most plentiful springs of distress. Though so profound a double-dealer, I was in no sense a hypocrite; both sides of me were in dead earnest; I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I laboured, in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering. And it chanced that the direction of my scientific studies, which led wholly toward the mystic and the transcendental, re-acted and shed a strong light on this consciousness of the perennial war among my members. With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous, and independent denizens. I, for my part, from the nature of my life, advanced infallibly in one direction and in one direction only. It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved day-dream, on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust delivered from the aspirations might go his way, and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil. It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous fagots were thus bound together that in the agonised womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling. How, then, were they dissociated?

I was so far in my reflections when, as I have said, a side-light began to shine upon the subject from the laboratory table. I began to perceive more deeply than it has ever yet been stated, the trembling immateriality, the mist-like transience of this seemingly so solid body in which we walk attired. Certain agents I found to have the power to shake and to pluck back that fleshly vestment, even as a wind might toss the curtains of a pavilion. For two good reasons, I will not enter deeply into this scientific branch of my confession. First, because I have been made to learn that the doom and burthen of our life is bound for ever on man’s shoulders, and when the attempt is made to cast it off, it but returns upon us with more unfamiliar and more awful pressure. Second, because, as my narrative will make, alas! too evident, my discoveries were incomplete. Enough, then, that I not only recognised my natural body for the mere aura and effulgence of certain of the powers that made up my spirit, but managed to compound a drug by which these powers should be dethroned from their supremacy, and a second form and countenance substituted, none the less natural to me because they were the expression, and bore the stamp, of lower elements in my soul.