In the format of a non-traditional critique, Writing that Scene examines the fundamentals of what it takes to capably convey a scene to one’s readers. The opinion expressed is my own, and other readers’ opinions may and will differ.

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Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Scene location: Middle of the book

Genre: Fantasy/Horror

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: (Original Scene Text)

It was a wild, cold, seasonable night of March, with a pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her, and a flying wrack of the most diaphanous and lawny texture. The wind made talking difficult, and flecked the blood into the face. It seemed to have swept the streets unusually bare of passengers, besides; for Mr. Utterson thought he had never seen that part of London so deserted. He could have wished it otherwise; never in his life had he been conscious of so sharp a wish to see and touch his fellow-creatures; for struggle as he might, there was borne in upon his mind a crushing anticipation of calamity. The square, when they got there, was all full of wind and dust, and the thin trees in the garden were lashing themselves along the railing. Poole, who had kept all the way a pace or two ahead, now pulled up in the middle of the pavement, and in spite of the biting weather, took off his hat and mopped his brow with a red pocket-handkerchief. But for all the hurry of his coming, these were not the dews of exertion that he wiped away, but the moisture of some strangling anguish; for his face was white and his voice broken.

“Well, sir,” he said, “here we are, and God grant there be nothing wrong.”

“Amen, Poole,” said the lawyer.

Thereupon the servant knocked in a very guarded manner; the door was opened on the chain; and a voice asked from within, “Is that you, Poole?”

“It’s all right,” said Poole. “Open the door.” The hall, when they entered it, was brightly lighted up; the fire was built high; and about the hearth the whole of the servants, men and women, stood huddled together like a flock of sheep. At the sight of Mr. Utterson, the housemaid broke into hysterical whimpering; and the cook, crying out, “Bless God! It’s Mr. Utterson,” ran forward as if to take him in her arms.

“What, what? Are you all here?” said the lawyer peevishly. “Very irregular, very unseemly; your master would be far from pleased.”

“They’re all afraid,” said Poole.

Blank silence followed, no one protesting; only the maid lifted up her voice and now wept loudly.

“Hold your tongue!” Poole said to her, with a ferocity of accent that testified to his own jangled nerves; and indeed, when the girl had so suddenly raised the note of her lamentation, they had all started and turned towards the inner door with faces of dreadful expectation.

Author’s Point of View: Mr. Utterson has not been to Dr. Jekyll’s house for some time, since a strange change in his friend’s behavior. This scene is his return to the house.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: (my comments in blue)

[It was a wild, cold, seasonable night of March, I like how it is a “seasonable” night of March. So many make a night unseasonable, but March is naturally strange, with weather alternating (at least, in the temperate portion of the northern hemisphere)] [with a pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her, Fun choice of word. The wind has jousted with the moon, knocking her down on this strange night.] [and a flying wrack of the most diaphanous and lawny texture This part confused me. Is the wind a wrack of a diaphanous texture? Or is this referring to the moon?]. [The wind made talking difficult, and flecked the blood into the face. Great word choice! Bringing in blood into the buildup for a scene of terror, when describing how it flushes the faces of the travelers, is great setup. We are looking for blood and terror, and for a moment, we think it’s arrived…but no, not yet.] It seemed to have swept the streets unusually bare of passengers, besides; for Mr. Utterson thought he had never seen that part of London so deserted.

[He could have wished it otherwise; never in his life had he been conscious of so sharp a wish to see and touch his fellow-creatures; You might have shown this, somehow, in his interactions with Poole, his companion, but Utterson is a thoughtful character, so his being aware of his own feelings is not that surprising.] [for struggle as he might, there was borne in upon his mind a crushing anticipation of calamity. I like your word choice, “crushing” anticipation. His expectation of calamity is hard to show, and I think your summary gives us the information without slowing the pace.]

[The square, when they got there, was all full of wind and dust, and the thin trees in the garden were lashing themselves along the railing. Nice choice of description. I think “lashing” has been a bit overused since your time, but it was probably original when you wrote this.]

[Poole, who had kept all the way a pace or two ahead, now pulled up in the middle of the pavement, and in spite of the biting weather, took off his hat and mopped his brow with a red pocket-handkerchief. But for all the hurry of his coming, these were not the dews of exertion that he wiped away, but the moisture of some strangling anguish; I like how you take the time to build the scene, instead of rushing us into the house. We pause at the door of the house, and note the cause of the delay in detail.][for his face was white and his voice broken. I don’t think you need this. The “strangling anguish” has already set up Poole’s mood.]

[“Well, sir,” he said, “here we are, and God grant there be nothing wrong.” Delightful line! Such understatement, such irony to encounter in a climax of a fantasy/horror novel. It makes us all the more certain that something will be horribly wrong.]

“Amen, Poole,” said the lawyer.

[Thereupon the servant knocked in a very guarded manner; the door was opened on the chain; and a voice asked from within, “Is that you, Poole?” Again, good detail. It fits that the door is only partly pulled open, still secured on the chain.]

“It’s all right,” said Poole. “Open the door.” [The hall, when they entered it, was brightly lighted up; the fire was built high; and about the hearth the whole of the servants, men and women, stood huddled together like a flock of sheep. I like the contrast. The empty night to the full, overcrowded hall, which is supposed to be reserved for Dr. Jekyll and his guests, not his servants.] At the sight of Mr. Utterson, the housemaid broke into hysterical whimpering; and the cook, crying out, “Bless God! It’s Mr. Utterson,” ran forward as if to take him in her arms.

“What, what? Are you all here?” said the lawyer [peevishly I don’t think you need the modifier. His words convey the tone.] “Very irregular, very unseemly; your master would be far from pleased.”

“They’re all afraid,” said Poole.

Blank silence followed, no one protesting; only the maid lifted up her voice and now wept loudly.

“Hold your tongue!” Poole said to her, [with a ferocity of accent that testified to his own jangled nerves; You might not need this, but it does underscore the situation, and hints that he is ashamed of his own, similarly unprofessional feelings.] and indeed, [when the girl had so suddenly raised the note of her lamentation, they had all started and turned towards the inner door with faces of dreadful expectation. We are introduced to the inner door, just as Mr. Utterson first notices it—when the other characters all turn towards it. Good pacing, and you did a great job keeping with the point of view of the main character, since all through the tale we follow Mr. Utterson through the strange case.

You’re welcome (and encouraged) to share your own comments, keeping a tone of constructive criticism in mind so we can all learn from this project together. And feel free to disagree with any and all of the advice and comments I gave. Thanks!

 Comments Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren
Photo The Sweet Grass at Sunset by Nomadic Lass, used according to Creative Commons License

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