About the Book

IT is a tale so famous that the whole world now recognises a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character – but how did Robert Louis Stevenson come to write his dark tale of duality?

The Edinburgh-born author always claimed Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde came to him in a dream, but it may have owed more to unhappily married cousin Katharine de Mattos, who had just helped save his life and who wrote her own version of the tale.

The famous story opens with a dedication to his former childhood sweetheart but doesn’t explain why RLS dedicated the tale to his cousin.

In Mrs Jekyll and Cousin Hyde, RLS Club member, journalist and author Jeremy Hodges tells the story of Katharine de Mattos, who was at his home in Bournemouth when the story was written.

We asked Jeremy to give you a brief introduction to his new book.

 

 

Katharine had accompanied her cousin and his wife Fanny on a trip to the West Country to visit Thomas Hardy when Stevenson suffered a major haemorrhage in a hotel.

The two women struggled all night to stem the outpouring of blood and eventually got the author safely home, where to while away his recovery, Katharine read him horror stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

This led to the dream from which Jekyll and Hyde grew, and also to a similar story by Katharine which she could not get published until six years later, under a male pseudonym.

By then Jekyll and Hyde had earned Stevenson a best-selling fortune, and he and his cousin were permanently estranged by a bitter row over another of Katharine’s stories ‘stolen’ by his wife.

Stevenson had partly acknowledged his debt to Katharine by dedicating Jekyll and Hyde with verses to her, but without any explanation or mention of her own story, called ‘Through the Red-Litten Windows’ after one of Poe’s poems which they had read together.

Privately Stevenson wrote to her about the dedication: ‘You know very well that I love you dearly, and that I always will. I only wish the verses were better, but at least you like the story; and it is sent to you by the one that loves you – Jekyll, and not Hyde.’

But Katharine would later feel the wrath of Stevenson’s Hyde side after a version of another story she had written appeared in the mass-circulation Scribner’s Magazine with the byline ‘Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson’.

When Katharine had been unable to sell her story about a young man accosted on a train by a water sprite escaped from an asylum, Fanny had asked if she might use the idea herself. Re-written as ‘The Nixie’ and polished by Stevenson himself, it went straight into print.

This angered Stevenson’s friend WE Henley, who had tried unsuccessfully to sell the story for Katharine, and he wrote to the famous author saying ‘The Nixie’ was essentially hers and she should have been given credit.

Stevenson reacted with hysterical rage, insisting Fanny had Katharine’s permission to use to story. And when Katharine refused to be drawn into the argument, he turned his fury on her in an angry letter.

Like Mr Hyde raining down blows on the head of the MP Sir Danvers Carew, he raged: ‘I know, and you know, how you have used my wife. I know, and you know, how when this matter came up you failed me with Henley… I know, and you know, how I have sought to spare you till today. I now remind you nakedly of the truth…’

It came as a devastating shock to Katharine, who had always carried a candle for her cousin since a brief, childhood holiday romance in the Borders. For Stevenson, romance had soon been replaced by warm friendship and he had done what he could to help his cousin when her subsequent marriage to the Fabian socialist Sydney de Mattos proved a disaster.

De Mattos, whose belief in free love was such that George Bernard Shaw described him as a ‘satyromaniac’, was not only unfaithful but kept his wife short of money. Stevenson had helped her find work as a freelance journalist, and also looked after her and her little daughter in France after she ran away from her philandering husband before eventually seeking a legal separation.

Even after the Nixie row, Katharine still loved the cousin who now refused all contact with her, and she put her feelings into another story called ‘The Old River House’, which features a character based on Stevenson called Dick Shadwell.

In revenge for The Nixie, ‘stolen’ from an asylum, Katharine would put Shadwell’s wife there instead. Fanny Stevenson was at times mentally unstable and in the story Dick is to be pitied because he is shackled to a madwoman, locked away like Mrs Rochester in Jane Eyre.

But the significance was lost on readers who bought Through the Red-Litten Windows and The Old River House by ‘Theodor Hertz-Garten’, never knowing it was really by the cousin of the Jekyll and Hyde author. And only now is the true, personal tragedy behind the creation of the famous tale revealed.

Jeremy Hodges

Jeremy Hodges is a journalist and biographer with a passion for Robert Louis Stevenson, living in Falkirk, Scotland

 

 

 

The book was available as a free download during the RLS Day 2016 campaign but is no longer downloadable from this site. The author is in the process of getting it published.