When Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886, he struck literary gold. Lots of people who’ve never read it or seen any of the adaptations still know what the story’s about. Mr. Hyde is such a familiar figure he’s battled everyone from Scooby-Doo to Marvel Comics’ Thor.
People who haven’t read the book still know exactly what it means to describe someone’s behavior as Jekyll and Hyde. There’s no higher compliment for a writer than having your creation turn into a metaphor.
Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde play a large part in my steampunk novel Questionable Minds. In an early scene, my protagonist, baronet Simon Taggart, talks about how Hyde blackmailed the respectable Dr. Jekyll over some sins the doctor committed in his younger, wilder days. Terrified of scandal, Jekyll paid up, even changing his will to favor Hyde. Fortunately, Jekyll’s lawyer, Utterson, found evidence enough to send Hyde to jail — the blackguard’s criminal record was long and ugly — and used the threat to make Hyde flee the country.
As so often happens, what “everyone knows” is a lie, cooked up by Jekyll and Utterson to conceal the doctor’s true relationship to Hyde. In the years since, Jekyll has devoted himself to doing good works and rejecting vice. He’s buried his darker impulses so deep that he has no fear of Hyde ever resurfacing. When Jack the Ripper winds up attacking Dr. Jekyll, however, Hyde surges out of the doctor’s subconscious to fight back. Once loose, he has no intention of letting Jekyll shove him back down again.