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J Anesth Hist. 2015 Jan;1(1):18-24. doi: 10.1016/j.janh.2014.11.008. Epub 2014 Nov 27.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-was Robert Louis Stevenson inspired by Horace Wells?

Author information

1
Medical Student, Leeds University Medical School, Leeds, UK.
2
Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Electronic address: sdesai@partners.org.

Abstract

It has been suggested that Robert Louis Stevenson's masterpiece Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde derived inspiration from the real-life tragedy of the final days of Connecticut dentist Horace Wells, innovator of the clinical use of the anesthetic properties of nitrous oxide. We examined Stevenson's letters, biographies, and other references in the literature, press, and online to determine whether any factual basis exists for Stevenson to be aware of Wells' life, and also if it played any role in creating the novel's plot. Stevenson was born in Scotland, several years after Wells had committed suicide in New York. Wells' life and death received widespread coverage in the northeastern United States, but there is no evidence that it was printed in newspapers or periodicals in England or Scotland. On the other hand, novelists of the period, psychologists, and the lay public were quite interested in the concept of split personalities and the dual nature of man, so these may have been natural substrates for the novel. There is evidence that Stevenson dreamt about episodes similar to those depicted in his novel. All claims to any relationship between Wells and the novel come from the United States, and none of them are backed by evidence. In the absence of evidence supporting a relationship between the behavior exhibited by Wells during his final days and any inspiration that Stevenson might have derived from it, we conclude that there is insufficient evidence to suggest any relationship between them.

KEYWORDS:

Dr. Jekyll; Horace Wells; Mr. Hyde; Robert Louis Stevenson; Stevenson

PMID:
25748369
DOI:
10.1016/j.janh.2014.11.008

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