“I am painfully situated… my position is a very strange–a very strange one. It is one of those affairs that cannot be mended by talking.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Every person, seemingly, has definitely heard of the tragedy of Jekyll and Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson’s shilling-shocker is captivating in its simplicity and the creation of creatures who dance in quick denouements of the plot and launch towards a tragic end of revelation. A favourite of many, RLS explores the duality of human nature, the dark, secret desire to dwell in the darkness, and till now it is an oft used term to hear someone term a disliked/volatile other as bearing a Jekyll-Hyde personality. In Jekyll and Hyde, I believe RLS engaged in some of the most innovative psychological thinking of his time.

Especially since I was an Edgar Allan Poe buff in childhood (into cults and cobras and the like then…thus now my capacity for strange tales if you care for it nowadays), the story of Jekyll/Hyde was attractive and deviant: a London lawyer Utterson investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the misanthropic Mr Edward Hyde, and discovers the two are one and the same. The failure to accept the necessary good/evil tension results in full-blown evil being projected on the other. The connection of modern beings with early revolutionary states, so called.

I picked up Robert Louis Stevenson again as part of my reading recently, and am reading a series of his stories – They have been brilliant reads, especially in the portrayal of Hyde beating down the poor woman in the streets, and its lack of proselytization and theorization (which Victor Hugo sometimes tires me for, though I still like VH).

The Body-Snatcher was especially a surprise, and simply because I don’t expect you, Beansprouts, to ever read a gothic tale as this, I think there is no crime in divulging the plot:

Four men sit drinking in a British tavern. There is a sick man in the house and a famous London doctor has been summoned to treat him. When one of the men, Fettes, hears the doctor’s name, Wolfe Macfarlane, he wakes suddenly from his drunken stupor and rushes to see the doctor’s face. He recognizes and threatens the doctor, who flees. Doctor Macfarlane and his accoster, Fettes, had studied medicine together under a famous–but unorthodox–anatomist.

They were in charge of obtaining bodies for dissection. Fettes regularly received and paid for corpses late at night from the men who robbed graves for them. One night, the body of a woman he knew was brought to his door; he was certain that she had been murdered but he said nothing. One day he met Macfarlane at a tavern. He was being strangely heckled by a man named Gray. The next night, Macfarlane showed up with Gray’s body and demanded payment for it. He had evidently murdered the man. Fettes was shaken but acquiesced. Soon the body was dissected, so the evidence of murder was gone.

Later, Fettes and Macfarlane were sent to a country church yard to exhume a recently buried woman. They sat their package between them as they traveled back. Suddenly, they perceived a change in the body. Unnerved, they got out a light and uncovered the face of the corpse. It was Gray.

Strangely, the tale stayed with me for quite awhile, long after I had read it. Perhaps it is because my mother in my childhood had recounted days where her medical school friends had gone to the cemetaries to dig up bodies for parts (illegal of course, shh) and the darkness of that act struck me, even as a child, though she recounted it in an air of nonchalance. But this nonchalance stays for some of my medical school friends, who after a period, would sometimes become desensitized to the thin line between life and death.

But cadavers are likely to stay with us for some time:

UCLA to Temporarily Stop Accepting Bodies

By MASON STOCKSTILL, Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES – Amid an internal probe into the alleged illegal sale of body parts, the University of California, Los Angeles, has agreed to stop accepting donated cadavers, a lawyer for the university said.

Officials with the medical school said the willed body program will hold bodies already donated for medical research and education in cold storage while the internal investigation continues.

“Whether or not UCLA will restart the program is a decision that has not been made at this time and will not be made for some period of time. It is being examined,” UCLA attorney Louis Marlin said after a Superior Court hearing Tuesday.

Marlin said the move, incorporated into a restraining order Tuesday, was needed to reassure anyone whose family members had willed their body to the university or anyone planning to.

“This was done … in order to protect all of those interests, and in light of the grave concerns that UCLA has for the family members,” he said.

As part of the deal, officials agreed that students in the gross anatomy lab would be able to continue to use 25 to 30 bodies. The university said it will not accept more bodies without Superior Court Commissioner Bruce Mitchell’s approval.

The hearing was for a lawsuit filed in 1996 by relatives of people whose bodies had been donated to the university for medical research. The suit charged that thousands of cadavers had been illegally disposed of.

On RLS’s grave it was quoted:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

 I mentioned The Body-Snatcher to my newfound tablemate, G, recently, and surprisingly he knew of it and shared with me of his personal experience. G came in from a background in biological science, and transferred to finance for reasons, as he explained, associated with the culture of labs and experiments, and how he had felt himself trip towards a certain path of madness. Well, most of the time I am more fond of animals than humans, so I could relate to that, ha ha.

(ps: G is awesome, Beansprouts. As I think I mentioned, he reads Dante, is a vocalist for a Japanese rock band, plays poker and is going to teach me bridge/shoji, plays all sorts of sports (a sort of Simon), gets lost in Japan and speaks rather fluent Japanese, did lots of xiang sheng when he was a kid, loves cats (he has a cat figurine on his table) and has Japanese sweets on his table (melon, milk, and all sorts). Of course, you know that since he sits just next to me, I am most thrilled about the last aspect ha ha!)

Another favourite of mine was Olalla – a lycanthropic tale of a young military man’s mystical love for the mysterious Olalla, the hauntingly beautiful young woman who represents the last of a dying family. According to one critic, writing in a review in 1887, “An eerier and more powerful tale than Olalla it would not be easy to discover” (R. H. Hutton, Spectator March 1887).

Robert Louis Stevenson was oft dismissed in his time as a writer merely to ‘capture the romantic spirit of the nineties’, as an embarassed dark child not to be associated with the classic literary canon, a writer whose tales were to be associated with the modern, discussed in hushed tones. Especially in the aftermath of the Great War, literature focused on the orgy of war propaganda and greatness (Dante and the like), but in a way, my liking was always spiralling down the dark downward imperial path (especially in my liking for Joseph Conrad), and so RLS fits befittingly well in that category. Stevenson’s originality, as Reid has suggested, lies in the full rejection of the idea of glorious progress towards a golden stage of human development and psychological history, and his celebration of primitive states of human consciousness. For him there were no such artificial and created boundaries.

“Man has risen; if he has sprung from the bones, he can descend again to the same level.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Have been slightly happier lately. I think. The cat’s helping. I’ve moved on from statistics to economics – and the economics portion is easy – so I hope to stay there longer so I won’t have to go back to chi square and f test calculations and what not. Wish I had Simon’s brain for that matter!


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