Critics have speculated that both Jekyll and Hyde are guilty of sexual misdemeanors. But I read
the novel as essentially Scottish; the sins I attribute to Jekyll are the Edinburgh ones of secrecy and puritanism that
governed Stevenson's youth and my own. Whatever the author had in mind, vagueness has served
the novel well. Sin dates, and modern readers, although frustrated, we left free to imagine their
own version of horror.
Between Jekyll and Hyde and Weir, Stevenson wrote several more novels, among them The Master of Ballantrae and David Balfour. The former is commonly regarded as his greatest full-length work, although
the plot, about a life-long duel between two brothers, one of whom turns out to be an incubus,
defeated even as staunch an admirer as André Gide. What is notable in terms of Stevenson's
development as a writer is that the father remains alive through the first half of the novel and
that the characters include a strong-minded, intelligent woman.
Both these promises are fulfilled in the unfinished Weir of Hermiston. Here Stevenson at last
explored the quarrel between father and son and created two superb female characters. Lord
Braxfleld, the notorious Scots hanging judge, was, like Deacon Brodie, a famous Edinburgh
character. Stevenson became convinced that Braxfleld was his great subject, the one that would
allow him to achieve the epic qualities his work to that point had lacked.
The plot combines the dazzle of reality with the, significance of art. Archie, the only son of ill-matched parents, is raised at Hermiston by his religious mother, who
unthinkingly teaches him to criticize his father. After her death he moves to Edinburgh to live
with his father, the judge. The crisis between them comes when Archie, now a law student,
watches his father sentence a man to death.
Archie denounces the hanging as murder, and his father banishes him to Hermiston. There the
older Kirstie, his housekeeper, falls in love with him, while he falls in love with her niece, the
younger Kirstie. The idyllic pursuit of the latter, secret relationship is interrupted by the
arrival of Frank, an lago-like figure. Frank discovers the relationship and, with the worst
intentions, warns Archie against it. His advice is seconded by the older Kirstie, for very
different reasons. In chapter nine we see Archie attempting to act on it.
From letters and notes we have an idea of how Stevenson imagined the remainder of the book. Frank was going to seduce the younger Kirstie. Archie would shoot Frank and be
arrested. He would come to trial, and in some way—Stevenson was desperate to make this work—he would be tried by his father and condemned to death.
All this, whatever its credibility, does have the resonance of an epic. It is also Stevenson's
profoundest exploration of duality. Finally he laid aside the subterfuges of the supernatural and
created characters who are both in opposition to each other and at war within themselves. In his
single person the judge upholds the polite face of society while remaining firmly rooted in the
orgiastic foundations, and it is crucial to the tragedy that Axvhie is his father's son as well as
his mother's. Here we see him describing his tangled feelings:
I will be baldly frank. I do not love my father, I wonder sometimes if! do not hate him. There's
my shame; perhaps my sin; at least, and in the sight of God, not my fault. How was I to love
him?... You know the way he talks?... My soul is sick when he begins with
it;! could smite him in the mouth.
And yet, Archie goes on, he has asked his father's pardon and placed himself wholly in his hands. The two Kirsties also show us terrific vitality and subtlety of motivation.