Biography of Deacon William Brodie the Original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Part 1
About the Scottish figure Deacon William Brodie who was the inspiration for Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, his biography and behavior
DEACON WILLIAM BRODIE (1741-1788). Prototype for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The real-life figure who inspired the fictional Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was an Edinburgh cabinetmaker and deacon named William Brodie. He was born in 1741. He died by hanging in 1788, after having made elaborate preparations to have his "corpse" secretly revived by a French doctor. Between reaching maturity and his death, William Brodie lived an incredible double life, by day a prosperous businessman and respected city official, by night the masked leader of a notorious gang.
In 1885, when the ailing Robert Louis Stevenson locked himself in his study for 3 days to write The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he used William Brodie for his model. All his life, Stevenson had had an obsession about Brodie. Raised in Edinburgh, where a street is named after Brodie, reared in a nursery that was furnished with a handmade antique cabinet produced by Brodie, Stevenson was steeped in the 2-faced gent's background.
At the age of 15, Stevenson wrote a melodrama called Deacon Brodie, or The Double Life. Later he rewrote the play in collaboration with W. E. Henley, and it was a moderate success in London, New York, Philadelphia. In it, foreshadowing Jekyll and Hyde, Stevenson had Deacon Brodie remark, "If we were as good as we seem, what would the world be? The city has its vizard on, and we, at night, are our naked selves." Later in the play Brodie reflects, "Shall a man not have half a life of his own? Not 8 hours of 24? Eight shall he have. Only the stars to see me, I'm a man once more till morning." However, Stevenson was not satisfied that he had made the best use of Brodie. In 1885, his wife woke him from a horrible nightmare. He had been dreaming the 1st transformation scene of Jekyll and Hyde. At once, basing his plot on the dream, he created his modern masterpiece. But the character itself, confirmed by Mrs. E. Blantyre Simpson, a friend of Stevenson's, was rooted in Brodie. Even William Roughead, the great Scottish crime authority, agreed that "there can be little doubt that Stevenson's subconscious was influenced by his old acquaintance with Deacon Brodie. For years he had been writing and re-writing plays about that admirable double-dealer, whose character supplies so striking an example of the individuality of man's nature and the alternation of good and evil."
William Brodie, well-educated, a member of Edinburgh's leading club, entered his father's prosperous woodworking business and became a deacon or headman of the Incorporation of Wright, a trade union of woodworkers. He also gained a seat in the town council. Since he obtained most of the municipal contracts, his business prospered. When he was 41, his father died, and he inherited pound 10,000 and a fashionable house in High Street. "A great man in his day was the Deacon," Stevenson wrote later. "Well seen in good society, crafty with his hands as a cabinetmaker, and one who could sing a song with taste. Many a citizen was proud to welcome the Deacon to supper, and dismissed him with regret at a timeous hour, who would have been vastly disconcerted had he known how soon, and in what guise, his visitor returned."
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