Mary Reilly Paperback – Jan 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
Mary Reilly, housemaid and devoted friend of Dr. Henry Jekyll, senses pk that something is dreadfully wrong with the weary and laboratory-obsessed scientist, who has hired Edward Hyde as his assistant. ``Spare and atmospheric, this story is a dark, absorbing symphony; Mary Reilly is an unforgettable character,'' PW said.
Copyright 1991 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
This retelling of the enigmatic Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde tale deserves praise for suspense, character creation, and historical verisimilitude. Mary Reilly, a loyal, trusted servant in the household of Dr. Jekyll records in her diary the mysterious circumstances which lead to her Master's tragic fate. The hierarchy of social classes, relationships among servants and domestics, and details of language and dress enhance this marvelous re-creation with the realism of Dickens. Mary represents the apex of devotion, goodness, and honesty, in contrast to the dual nature and complexity of Dr. Jekyll, whose shadow side threatens to destroy all bounds of decency, law, and order. Less convincing is the tinge of romance between Mary and Jekyll. Most compelling is a forceful consciousness about the dual propensity of human nature and the awesome power which is ours. BOMC featured alternate; Quality Paperback Book Club selection. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/89.
- Addie Lee Bracy, Beaver Coll. Lib., Glenside, Pa.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The idea behind this story is a good one, but unfortunately what we got amounts to a dressed-up soap opera, sloppily written, pointless and uninvolving. I found myself counting the pages to the end, and I learned absolutely nothing new or useful about how servants worked. It's rare that I buy a book I decide not to keep, but this is one.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The plot follows two lines: the unuttered romantic love between Mary and Dr. Jekyll, and the comparison of Hyde, not to Jekyll, but to Mary's father. It's a brilliant device, and works itself out in ever more elegant ways. Mary, the rare Victorian domestic who is literate, seeks in Dr. Jekyll the emotional response of a father and a lover. Dr. Jekyll, in turn, seeks from Mary the emotional and intellectual response of a lover/wife and a best friend. You want it to work for them. Oh, you do so desperately want it to. But you know the ending for Dr. Jekyll, and it remains for Valerie Martin's incredible imagination to weave in Mary's hopeless end according to Stevenson's original plot. I taught this book in the classroom for years, and of the hundreds of students who read it, NOT ONE ever disliked it.
Approach Mary Reilly as an unfolding map of literary treasure and you will find more gold than most works of fiction can even hint it. Five stars aren't enough for a horror novel which is a romantic novel which is a suspense novel which is an historical novel. Mary Reilly is unlike anything else you will ever read. I thank Valerie Martin every time I pick up this book for giving us so great a literary gift.
I cared enough about this book to have been disappointed by the ending, though.
I'd still recommend the book, for its powerful and appealing heroine, and its stylish evocation of Victorian-Gothic Romance -- three contrasting historical periods, but one fun literary genre.
Warning! This review will hint at the book's ending, but will not spell it out. If you are familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide," on which "Mary Reilly" is based, you won't learn anything new.
"Mary Reilly" has one of the most riveting openings I've ever read, if not the most. It's a description of an episode of child abuse.
For the first time in my life, I was hooked from the very first line of a novel, and could not put the book down. I had to know what happened to that child -- even though, of course, since the child is the Mary Reilly of the title, I knew that she would survive.
Martin doesn't plunge to the depths of child abuse, but she writes of the surface with such power that I had the feeling that I was in the hands of a master.
Martin deeply impressed me with the terror and vulnerability of the abused child, as well as that child's resilience and drive to survive, and the twisted sadism of the abuser. All in a very few brief words and pages.
But that's just the opening pages.
The bulk of the book is made up of Reilly's crush on her "Master," Dr. Henry Jekyll. Reilly's history of having been an abused child is mentioned as part of the reason why Mary has this crush; like her master, Mary has a horrible, hidden wound that drives her apart from the rest of society.
It's the classic Gothic set-up, enshrined in literature at least since "Jane Eyre." Mary Reilly is a bright, principled, and spunky girl consigned by fate to a lowly life, that of serving her "Master."
Her Master, of course, is intense, mysterious and unconventionly attractive.
Like his spunky young servant, he does not fit into society's pre-ordained classifications.
And he pays an inordinate amount of attention to his servant.
He doesn't make clumsy or lewd passes at her; rather, he watches her, converses with her, confides in her, conspires with her in a way that breaks social expectations, and expresses frank admiration of her intelligence and spirit.
As is traditional in Gothic romance literature, Mary and Master's flirtation consists mostly of muted and aborted conversations. They have to be aborted -- for this upper class doctor and his serving girl to converse is against the rules.
Again, if you've read "Jane Eyre" or the thousand other Gothic romances modeled on it, you've read all this before.
If you enjoyed it in "Jane Eyre," you'll enjoy it here. This reader certainly did.
I did yearn for, and did not encounter, something more, though. This book is more of a novella than a novel; Mary has little to no life outside of her truncated encounters with her Master, and the novel has little to no other plot. This singleness of narrative strand makes the book a quick and easy read, but also something of a lighter read than I wanted it to be.
There is one extra feature here that Martin could have done more with, but she did not. The taboo intimacies between Jekyll and Mary reek of the power abuse of an older, established man of a young and vulnerable woman.
Dr. Jekyll is obviously arousing expectations in Mary that he will never satisfy. He uses her, on her day off, to do some truly vile tasks for him.
How does Martin feel about this? How does the novel want the reader to feel?
Most importantly -- Martin did such a fine job of depicting a believably perceptive, articulate, courageous, spunky, integral creature in Reilly that I never really believed the scenes in which Reilly lets Master walk all over her. I wanted Reilly to at least acknowledge that she knew that she was being used by someone who would probably only hurt her.
Too, Mary was as fetching to me as she was to Dr. Jekyll, and, so, I wanted to spend more time with her, and observe her inhabiting a richer world.
At a certain part in the novel it began to drag, for me; I felt that I'd gotten the point of all these hushed, rushed conversations between Mary, usually on her knees, with her skirts tied up, scrubbing something, and her Master, standing Masterfully over her, observing her carefully, complimenting her, finding some excuse to touch her hand, etc.
And I wanted to something else to happen.
When something else did happen, I was disappointed by that something else. Without revealing the ending, I can say that Mary behaved in a way that went against her every act so far, and that, I felt, betrayed both the spirit of the book, and of the genre.
Part of the point of "Jane Eyre," a book that this book bases itself on as much as on "Dr. Jekyll," is that Jane had so much self-respect that she was not, ultimately, willing to destroy herself to have the man she loved.
Again, I'd still recommend this book. I liked 99% of it so much that I've already "rescued" it by inventing an alternative ending to it, one in which the final Mary we see is more like the Mary of the rest of the book.
(I was excited when the film version was released. John Malkovich would make an awesome Jekyll and Hyde. But the star was Julia Roberts and the original story was completely destroyed. DO NOT go by the film. Horrible.)
Although I agree that this book was extremely well written, I have to say that the ending lets the excitement exceed. Through several chapters of very extreme detail, the ending comes up as a dead halt with no where else to look. As soon as the ending had come up I felt as if I was driving and I came up to a dead end and did not know where else to go to look for all the questions that arose in my mind.