Friday, November 13, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Today is all about duality, two heroes, and the dual nature of humankind. The first heroine is the postage stamped lady to the left, her name is Dorothea Erxleben born this day 1715, in Quedlinburg, Germany. She is not particularly famous, but maybe she needs to be her claim to heroine status is based upon the fact that she was the first female doctor in Germany. She had to struggle mightily to be allowed to study, and then practice medicine. It took a special dispensation from Fredrick the Great just so she was allowed to study medicine. She obtained her M.D. from the University of Halle in 1754, and practiced medicine until her death. So, for being the trailblazer that opened the way for all those lady doctors to follow, Dorothea Erxleben, (November 13, 1715-June 13, 1762, at the age of 46), you are (one of ) my hero(ines) of the day.
Our second hero is the fellow above, one Robert Louis Stevenson, born this day 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Known for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, and numerous other wonderful tales, Stevenson was one of the favourite authors of my childhood. We all know the Jekyll/Hyde story, and maybe we all have a little bit of both Jekyll and Hyde inside of us. For some of us the magic potion that turns us into Mr. Hyde is booze, and that is one of my pet peeves. People who turn into radically different people when they drink. I like to think I am the same elegant, calm, sophisticated, man of the world sober as I am drunk. Actually, I consider myself the same asshole drunk as I am sober, and am quite proud of the fact. The story of development of the story is quite interesting (for any of us who have ever written about a dream before).
"One night in late September or early October 1885, possibly while he was still revising "Markheim," Stevenson had a dream, and on wakening had the intuition for two or three scenes that would appear in the story. "In the small hours of one morning," says Mrs Stevenson, "I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I woke him. He said angrily, 'Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.' I had awakened him at the first transformation scene."
Glad to see that other people can be "inspired" by dreams to write cracking good yarns, that can still, if told correctly, scare the crap out of people. The whole duality of human nature, that in each of us exists the capacity for good, and the capacity for evil is the major theme of the work. Of course I am not convinced Stevenson's world never saw the like of Stalin or Hitler, and I doubt very much either of those fellows had any capacity for good. One of my favourite books of his is The Master of Ballantrae, a ripping good tale of revenge, and "brotherly love." I recommend giving it a read. So for all those lovely tales of high adventure, revenge, and the duality of human nature, Robert Louis Stevenson (November 13th,1850-December 3 1894, at the age of 44, of cerebral hemorrhage), you are (one of) my heroes of the day.

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