I have just watched an excellent TV Show on BBC Four (what has happened to my Saturday nights?) about the real story behind ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. It was presented by author Ian Rankin – I must confess I have never read one of his books but I might do now – and was actually quite fascinating. I knew known of the history of the book by Robert Louis Stephenson I didn’t even know he was from Edinburgh… and I call myself a book buff. The reason for this show was the one prior on BBC1 ‘Jekyll’ staring the guy from Cold Feet. It was quite good actually, not quite gripping but good none the less.
It told of how the story came to him in dreams when he was suffering from TB and was taking a drug that suppressed the bleeding of his lungs which had side effects and lead him to having a slight split personality. The thing is it starts so much earlier, even in his youth he had the start of it. The dual city of Edinburgh with its old and new town, bridges linking the posh new area of the town with the old area and the drinking dens and whore houses. The latter of which Stephenson used to frequent in his youth and strangely whore houses feature highly in the book.
Why did he set the book in London? Well Edinburgh had the famous body snatchers ‘Burke and Hare’ but London had a very famous doctor and surgeon who used to go through over 2000 bodies a year (generally via illegal means – but it was all for good so he was overlooked) Hunter. The book is so closely based on him that the book that Hyde resides in is the exact same plan of Hunter’s abode in Leicester Square (now a Wetherspoon’s) so the book was set there. I also like to see that we gays had a helping hand in the creation of the book. For it was the outing of a male whore house that brought morals to the forefront of the papers and the age consent went up to 16 from 13 and this also is shown in the book.
I think what hit me was how underrated writers are in general. I mean some books that are written take months, years (as I am finding) in being created. It’s the depth that people go into that’s overlooked. I mean I might see something on a bus that totally changes my writing – ok I am not published yet, but I am bloody well trying! So next time you go into a book store and merely flick through the pages and put it back or when you finish a book and start on the next, just sit and think how that book was constructed and the time it took. I have started doing this and it adds to the value of it, I promise, even a Mills and Boon! Ha!