On the Necessity of Cultivating a Secret Life

When people hear of someone having a “secret life” or “secret self,” their first impression is probably negative. They might think of someone having an affair or extorting money from his company. They might think of a politician using secret funds to hide and mistress and a baby.

But a secret life—or lives—doesn’t have to mean hiding something illicit. I would go so far as to say that for me, maintaining a secret life is necessary for holding on to my joy and sanity.

One of the most popular novels of all time—Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—is about a secret life. I teach this book in an Honors literature course at my university, and every student who approaches it already knows the basic story, even though most have never read the original novel. The story is so popular that near 100 films and TV shows have been made of it. The story has been retold in comic books and in other forms. It has been translated into many languages.

Why is the Jekyll and Hyde story so popular? Some see it only as a morality tale about a man’s evil side taking over once that evil has been given free reign. I do think that’s partly what the book is about, but I think its deeper appeal is that it touches readers’ desires for a self that can experience lives other than the mundane, somewhat Continue reading