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11 Strange Facts About Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

“I am pouring forth a penny dreadful,” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a friend in the autumn of 1885. “It is dam dreadful.”

The pulp piece he was referring to was the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a novella about a man with a (now notorious) split personality: the good Dr. Jekyll and the terrible Mr. Hyde. The book taps into fundamental truths about human nature, and has influenced everything from the detective story to the Incredible Hulk.

1. THE STORY CAME TO STEVENSON IN A DREAM ...

Stevenson had long been fascinated with split personalities but couldn’t figure out how to write about them. Then one night he had a dream about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “In the small hours of one morning ... I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis," his wife Fanny said. "Thinking he had a nightmare, I awakened him. He said angrily: 'Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.'" Stevenson later elaborated on the dream in an essay called "A Chapter On Dreams."

2. ... AND IT MAY HAVE BEEN INFLUENCED BY A CABINET FROM HIS CHILDHOOD.

Many historians speculate that the duality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was inspired by an 18th century Edinburgh cabinet maker named Deacon Brodie, a respectable town councilor and an extremely successful craftsman. Brodie's job gave him access to the keys of the rich and famous, which he made copies of in order to rob them at night. After a string of heists, he was eventually caught and hanged (according to legend, on a gallows that he helped design). 

Brodie's story fascinated the people of Edinburgh, including Stevenson—even though the thief died more than 60 years before Stevenson was born. The future writer grew up with a Brodie cabinet in his room, and in 1880, he cowrote a play called Deacon Brodie, or the Double Life. But the cabinet, and the man who built it, may have influenced Jekyll and Hyde, too: In 1887, Stevenson told an interviewer that the dream that inspired his story involved a man “being pressed into a cabinet, when he swallowed a drug and changed into another being.” 

3. IT WAS PENNED IN A MATTER OF DAYS.

A lifelong invalid, Stevenson was sick with tuberculosis when he wrote the famous tale. He’d recently suffered a lung hemorrhage and was under doctor’s orders to rest and avoid excitement. Still, that didn’t stop him from cranking out the first draft of the 30,000-word novella in somewhere between three and six days flat, and then a second, rewritten draft in another meager three days (more about that in a minute).

4. STEVENSON MAY HAVE BEEN ON COCAINE WHEN HE WROTE IT.

In the book, Dr. Jekyll takes a drug from a chemist that turns him into another person. He likes it—until he loses control of the drug. Stevenson may have been drawing from personal experience. It's been reported that he was prescribed medicinal cocaine to treat his hemorrhage (it was discovered in the 1880s that cocaine tightens blood vessels), and that the inspired dream for the story occurred during a cocaine-fueled slumber. Stevenson later professed an affection for the drug and his crazy writing stint is consistent with someone on cocaine. Then again, it’s also consistent with a man faced with financial problems and his own mortality, swept up by inspiration and a great idea.

5. THE FIRST DRAFT WAS DESTROYED ... 

According to one version of events, after reading the manuscript for Jekyll and Hyde, Fanny criticized its failure to successfully execute the story's moral allegory (among other things). Fanny later recounted that she then found her husband sitting in bed with a thermometer in his mouth. He pointed to a pile of ashes in the fireplace, revealing he’d burned the draft. “I nearly fainted away with misery and horror when I saw all was gone,” she wrote

6. ... POSSIBLY BY FANNY.

There are actually several theories as to how the first draft went up in flames. In 2000, a letter found in an attic revealed more of Fanny's thoughts on the book, and her mysterious role in the manuscript's burning. “He wrote nearly a quire of utter nonsense,” she wrote to friend and poet WE Henley. “Fortunately he has forgotten all about it now, and I shall burn it after I show it to you. He said it was his greatest work.” The artifact contradicts Fanny’s previous recounting, as well the one her son told of Stevenson burning the manuscript after he and Fanny got in a fight. In any case, Stevenson spent six weeks revising the book before it was ready for publication.

7. DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE WAS AN IMMEDIATE SUCCESS.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sold 40,000 copies in six months, and soon there were more than 250,000 pirated copies in North America. People seized on the moral message of the story. They wrote about it in religious newspapers and preachers gave sermons about it in churches. Within a year, there was a play based on the book and soon there were productions in Scotland and the United States. It was Stevenson’s most successful novel.

8. STEVENSON WAS ADAMANT THAT THE BOOK WASN'T ABOUT SEXUALITY.

The most common interpretation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that Mr. Hyde’s corruption comes from sexual activity in the form of assault, promiscuity, or homosexuality. (Remember, this was the Victorian era). In a private letter to the New York Sun, Stevenson wrote that Mr. Hyde was not “... a mere voluptuary. There is no harm in a voluptuary and … none—no harm whatever—in what prurient fools call ‘immorality.’” He added that Hyde was a hypocrite: “... the essence of cruelty and malice, and selfishness and cowardice.” 

9. AN ACTOR PORTRAYING THE TITULAR DOUBLE ROLE WAS ACCUSED OF MURDER.

In 1888, a stage play of the novel opened starring Richard Mansfield as Jekyll/Hyde. The audience raved about Mansfield’s performance, finding it “thrilling and terrifying in equal measure,” according to Salon.

Then, two days after the play opened, Jack the Ripper began his infamous killing spree in London. It wasn’t long before people started connecting him to the stage adaptation, with some suggesting that the serial killer’s mind was poisoned by the play. Still others thought that Mansfield himself was the killer—and letters in the newspaper suggested that Mansfield was too good at playing a killer not to be Jack the Ripper.

10. A CINEMATIC SPECIAL EFFECT WAS A SECRET FOR DECADES.

By 1931, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had already been adapted for film 24 times. But the 1931 version impressed critics with its transformation scene in which the actor Fredric March—who later won an Academy Award for his performance—transforms into Hyde. The secret of how director Rouben Mamoulian shot the scene wasn't revealed until the 1970s: it was done with colored make-up and matching colored filters, which were removed or added to the scene to change March’s appearance. Since the film was in black-and-white, the color changes didn’t show. You can watch the scene above.

11. ITS POP CULTURE FINGERPRINT IS EVERYWHERE.

There are few books that have seeped more deeply into popular culture than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Beyond movies, there have been cartoon adaptations with Mighty Mouse and Bugs Bunny. Stan Lee has said that along with Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde helped to inspire The Incredible Hulk. There are musicals, too—like the recent Jekyll & Hyde, and a 1988 Nintendo game. There’s even porn, with names like Dr. Sexual and Mr. Hyde. Comedies and parodies abound, including Stan Laurel’s silent-but-amusing spoof Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride (above), which holds up pretty well.

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6 X-Rated Library Collections
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
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During the 19th century, some librarians became preoccupied with the morality (or lack thereof) of some of their titles. As a result, a number of libraries created special collections for "obscene" works, to ensure that only readers with a valid academic purpose might access them. Below are six examples, adapted from Claire Cock-Starkey’s new book A Library Miscellany.

1. THE "PRIVATE CASE" // THE BRITISH LIBRARY

At the British Library (or British Museum Library, as it was called then), it was John Winter Jones, Keeper of Printed Books from 1856, who was responsible for the creation of the “Private Case.” Titles that were deemed subversive, heretical, libelous, obscene, or that contained state secrets were kept out of the general catalog, stored in separate shelving, and marked with the shelfmark category “PC” (for private case). By far the majority of books in the private case were pornographic or erotic texts; it's rumored that by the mid-1960s the case contained over 5000 such texts, including George Witt’s collection of books on phallicism and Charles Reginald Dawes’s collection of French erotica from 1880–1930.

What was unusual about the Private Case was that it was so secretive: None of the books were recorded in any catalog, as if the collection didn’t exist. But starting in 1983, all books once in the Private Case have been listed in the catalog, and many have been returned to the main collection—although librarians may still check that a reader has academic reasons for consulting some of the more scandalous titles.

2. L’ENFER // BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE

General stacks of the Bibliotheque nationale de France
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L’Enfer, which translates as “the hell,” was created in 1830 to house the French national library’s large collection of erotica and other books that were considered “contrary to good morals.” Many of the works were obtained by the library through confiscation, but fortunately the librarians had the foresight to preserve these scandalous texts. The collection—which still exists—has been largely kept private and was only fully cataloged in 1913, when about 855 titles were recorded.

Modern pornographic magazines and erotic fiction do not get cast into L’Enfer: It is only for rare works or works of cultural significance, such as a handwritten copy of the Marquis de Sade’s Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1787) and The Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954). In 2007, the library put on a public exhibition of some of the more fascinating (and titillating) texts in L’Enfer, finally granting the public a glimpse of this hidden collection.

3. TRIPLE-STAR COLLECTION // NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

The New York Public Library Main Reading Room
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the New York Public Library, some obscene works were once hand-marked with "***", which indicated that readers who wanted to consult those volumes had to be supervised. (Librarians regularly collected erotica, including from nearby Times Square, as part of their "mandate to collect life as it was lived," according to The New York Times.This system began in the mid-20th century and caused certain titles to be locked in caged shelves; it also meant that the items could only be consulted in a small restricted part of the reading rooms after special permission was granted.

4. PHI COLLECTION // OXFORD'S BODLEIAN LIBRARY

Radcliffe Camera building, part of the Bodleian Library
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The restricted collection at the Bodleian Library was created by E. W. B. Nicholson, who was head librarian from 1886–1913. No one is quite sure why it was named after the Greek letter phi, but some have suggested it was because it sounds like “fie!” which you might exclaim when asked to retrieve a book from this collection. Or, perhaps it stems from the first letter “phi” of the Greek “phaula” or “phaulos,” meaning worthless, wicked, or base. The collection included pornography alongside works of sexual pathology, and students needed to ask a tutor to confirm their academic need for a book before the librarians would let them consult any texts with a phi shelfmark. Today, many of the books have been reclassified into the general collection, but the phi shelfmark still persists.

5. "XR" COLLECTION // HARVARD’S WIDENER LIBRARY

 Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

The Widener Library still holds its restricted collection behind a locked copper door in the basement of the library—not because they still want to hide it, but simply because (it's said) no one has the time to redistribute the collection back into main circulation. The collection was thought to have been set up in the 1950s, after a sociology professor complained that many texts he needed for his class were missing or defaced (the Playboy centerfold was apparently always going astray), and thus the restricted collection was created to protect and preserve rather than to censor. The collection was only added to for a 30-year period and is now closed; however, its classification reveals something of the social attitudes of the times towards titles such as The Passions and Lechery of Catherine the Great (1971) and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). The X part of the shelfmark does not stand for X-rated but indicates that the books are unusual; the R part stands for “restricted.”

6. THE ARC // CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

Trinity College Library, Cambridge University
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As library collections are frequently made up of a series of smaller collections donated to the institution, they may often acquire titles that the library may otherwise have not chosen to collect—such as some of the more risqué works. Cambridge University Library felt it had a duty to students to protect them from some of the more offensive books in their collection, and for this reason the Arc (short for arcana—meaning secrets or mysteries) classification was created. As with other restricted collections, Cambridge’s Arc provides a fascinating insight into changing moral attitudes. Some of the highlights included what is considered by some historians as the first gay novel, L’Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the Schoolboy), published in 1652; a 1922 copy of Ulysses by James Joyce (notable because at that time the book was being burned by UK Customs Officers); and a misprinted copy of the Cambridge Bible.

BONUS: "INFERNO" // THE VATICAN LIBRARY

The Sistine Hall, once part of the Vatican Library
Michal Osmenda, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

There has always been a rumor that the Vatican Library holds the largest collection of pornographic material in the world, in a collection supposedly known as the “Inferno,” but in fact this honor goes to the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in Bloomington, Indiana. It is thought that the Vatican Library’s collection was created from the thousands of erotic works that have been confiscated by the Vatican over the years. However, no evidence for the collection has been found, and the (admittedly incredibly secretive) Vatican librarians deny its very existence.

This article is an expanded version of an entry in Claire Cock-Starkey’s A Library Miscellany, published by Bodleian Library Publishing.

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8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words
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Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.

1. BREF

Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.

2. SANTIGUADORA

Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”

3. HELLHÖRIG

The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.

4. VORSTELLUNG

Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.

7. TERTULIA

Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.

8. PAN/PANI

Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to Culture.pl, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.

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