In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Since then, the novella has been adapted countless times. Though there are numerous definitions, adaptation can literally be defined as, “the action or process of adapting or being adapted”. Although the term adaptation originally referred to topics of biology, it’s frequent use in literature has become prevalent in developing the definition, “a movie, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work, typically a novel”.
In 1962, Italian author Italo Calvino wrote the original novella titled, The Cloven Vicount. Set in Italy in the late middle ages, the novella tells the absurd tale of a Viscount who becomes split in half during a battle against the Turks. In relevance, this work has been formally titled an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde. Similarly, Calvino’s adaptation employs the use of Stevenson’s overall message and morals while also adding this theme of personality unification.
When the Viscount becomes split into two, one half becomes his good side, while the other is bad or “Hyde-esque”. In fact, throughout the story the reader comes to see that the good Viscount spends most of his time correcting the horrible deeds of his other half. For example, there is a point in the novella where the bad Viscount wounds birds, and the good Viscount helps cure these injured swallows. “For some time the Viscount’s crossbow had been used only against swallows, but in such a way only to stun and wound them not kill them.
But now were seen in the sky swallows with legs bandaged and wings stuck together and waxed. A whole swarm of swallows so treated were seen prudently flying around together, like convalescents from a bird hospital, and there was an incredible rumor that Medardo was their doctor,” (213). At the end of the novella, however, both halves are united yet again.
As far as character relations go, Calvino’s novella has a few similar characters to that of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though the Viscounts are extremely analogous to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, there are also various other connections that can be inferred. In Calvino’s, The Cloven Viscount, the Viscount’s younger nephew narrates the story. In my opinion, Mr. Utterson is very relatable to this young narrator. Both Utterson and the nephew become very intrigued in investigating Hyde and the Viscount as they each develop into their true characters. For instance, at the end of Calvino’s novella, the Doctor (who sewed the Viscounts back together) and the famous Captain Cook are sailing away just after the Viscount and his wife departed. Concerned, the narrator states, “I began running towards the seashore crying, ‘Doctor! Doctor Trelawney! Take me with you! Doctor, you can’t leave me here! But already the ships were vanishing over the horizon and I was left behind,” (246). This goes to show how invested the nephew was with his Uncle’s condition as he has trouble letting go. I also have come to relate this Doctor Trelawney to Stevenson’s character Jekyll. In a way, the Doctor’s quirkiness in general and of course in uniting the two Viscounts provides a mirror character to somewhat off-shoot that of the original Jekyll.
Though both of these novellas have numerous similarities, they too have several differences. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde employs the use of a more real world approach, versus the skewed world in The Cloven Viscount. Calvino makes use of seemingly real world situations in his adaptation, but at the same time uses a very distinct form of narration to convey such remarkable events. His text is also more innovative than Stevenson’s, and as an adaptation, expands upon the original novella. In other words, in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the reader would not find it very likely for a man to have been cut straight in half and continue to live; however, The Cloven Viscount gives the reader the ability to accept such an absurd and impossible fact. Because of this acceptance, the novella is able to surpass the confinements of realism, which we see in Stevenson’s original novella.