In 1880 Robert Louis Stevenson and his friend W E Henley wrote a play called Deacon Brodie, or the Double Life. It production on the London stage was unsuccessful. Stevenson’s wife, Fanny, in her 1905 preface to Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, states that the Deacon Brodie story, together with ‘a paper [Stevenson] read in a French scientific journal on sub-consciousness’, provided ‘the germ of the idea that afterwards developed into the play’, and later the short story Markheim, and the novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
What is the generally recognised story of the genesis of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
There is a widely-told story that Fanny woke Stevenson from a dream at the point of the first transformation of Jekyll into Hyde, thus causing an argument between them. Stevenson subsequently wrote the first draft of the story in three days; Fanny’s criticism was that, by using Hyde merely as a tool for the morally bad Jekyll, the story missed the potential to be a powerful allegory. This led Stevenson to burn his original manuscript, later rewriting it, again supposedly in three days. Both Fanny and her son insisted on the speed of the rewriting, Fanny stating ‘The amount of work this involved was appalling’.
How much does this coincide with Stevenson’s own version of events?
In Stevenson’s essay A Chapter on Dreams (1888) he writes that he ‘had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of a man’s double being which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature’. He does not talk about burning the Jekyll and Hyde manuscript, but mentions another story, The Travelling Companion, which he burned because it had been supplanted by Jekyll and Hyde. In the same year Stevenson told a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner that the novel had been drafted in three days and written in six weeks.