Next week the King's Theatre in Edinburgh hosts a new touring production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novella of man's divided personality.
First published in 1886, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (to give it its full title) fast became a popular staple of Gothic melodrama, and has since been adapted countless times into film, stage, comic book and TV versions, and has influenced many more.
Stevenson's story concerns the visionary scientist Dr Henry Jekyll, who discovers a potion that allows him to change into an alternative personality, the evil Mr Edward Hyde. It is believed the first draft of the book was written in the space of just a few days, after Stevenson dreamed the whole basis for the plot during a terrible nightmare he experienced whilst living in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England.
The story is set in the dark and atmospheric streets of Victorian London, but it was Edinburgh who helped inspire Stevenson's writing, with one figure from the city's history who is alleged to have been the basis for the whole split personality concept.
Edinburgh's Deacon Brodie was a member of the church, member of the city council, and a successful businessman, with his own cabinet making and locksmith business in the Old Town. However, he harboured a secret life wherein he masterminded robberies of wealthy families in the city, using his privileged position as a locksmith to gain their trust (as well as access to their homes). After a bungled robbery on the city's customs house on Chessel's Court, Brodie fled Edinburgh to escape capture, only to be arrested in Amsterdam and brought back to Edinburgh to face trial.
He was found guilty in a sensational trial in the city, and sentenced to be hanged for his crimes. Legend has it that Brodie himself had helped to design the mechanism for a new gallows, featuring a trap door mechanism to ensure a faster, less painful death for those being hanged, and so it is considered a rare feat f poetic justice that he was hanged on an instrument of his own invention...
Stevenson had certainly heard the story of William Brodie - he owned a writing desk and a cabinet made by the man himself - and must have utilised the notion of one man embodying two very different characters in his creation of Jekyll and Hyde. It is often said that Edinburgh itself inspired something of that split nature, being one city with two very different sides - a medieval, dark, dangerous Old Town, and a clean, bright, comfortable New Town. The 'split personality' of Edinburgh's city centre is still in evidence today.
'Jekyll and Hyde' became a classic shorthand for describing the duality of man's nature, the competing elements of good and evil within our psychologies, and the split personality trope is still a common feature in many horror stories. We have Robert Louis Stevenson - and, by extension, Edinburgh - to thank for that!
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Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...