The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
Robert Louis Stevenson said that the plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (first published without “The” as the first word in the title) first came to him in a nightmare and that, after waking up, he wrote the first draft in three days. Stevenson introduces the mystery of the evil Mr. Edward Hyde—the central puzzle of the story—early in the novel, but he does not provide a solution to the mystery until the very end. The reader’s first encounter with Hyde is at second hand, in a story told to Gabriel John Utterson, a lawyer friend of Dr. Henry Jekyll, by Richard Enfield, who saw Hyde trample a child. Because Jekyll recently has changed his will to leave all of his money to Hyde, Utterson is intrigued and begins to investigate. He fears that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll and plans to murder him.
When Sir Danvers Carew, a respected member of Parliament, is murdered and Hyde is implicated by a witness, a manhunt begins, but Hyde cannot be found. Utterson begins to suspect that more than a murder is involved when he discovers that the handwriting of Jekyll is identical to that of Hyde, except for the slant of the letters. His suspicions deepen when he learns that Dr. Hastie Lanyon has developed hard feelings toward his old friend, Henry Jekyll. Although Lanyon is dying, he refuses to see Jekyll again.
The mystery that surrounds the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde is revealed gradually by means of a letter from...
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a disquieting story about the efforts of an individual to escape his own nature. The novel offers an account of Dr. Henry Jekyll, a Scottish scientist who, after years of attempting to accommodate both his moral side and his pleasure-seeking side, becomes convinced that a separation of the two would be desirable.
In his laboratory, Jekyll develops a chemical potion that is designed to accomplish the separation and drinks it. After a “grinding of the bones” and a horrible nausea, he begins to feel “incredibly sweet” and free. Looking in the mirror, Jekyll observes not himself but Edward Hyde, a smaller and younger person than himself. Jekyll delights in the division of himself and in his new liberty, but he soon begins to lose control of Hyde, who can assume Jekyll’s form at will. The novel follows Dr. Jekyll’s struggle with Mr. Hyde, who becomes increasingly evil and whom Jekyll refuses to acknowledge as a part of himself.
The enormous popularity of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has aided the perpetuation of a persistent view that it is a simple fable of the division between the good and evil that exists in everyone. The complexity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s imaginative story of an individual’s conflict with himself, however, is evident in its multiple narratives. Through the presentation of various points of view, Stevenson escalates knowledge of...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*London. Great Britain’s capital and leading city is the general setting for the novella. The story depends for its effect on a suitably gothic atmosphere, and its portrayal of London is one of the great triumphs of the work. However, in the view of many scholars, Stevenson’s London is based more on his native Edinburgh, Scotland, than on the actual London of his time.
The story’s London is full of ominously empty streets and glaring lamps; it is silvered by ghostly moonlight or drowned in impenetrable fog. Its streets echo with sinister footsteps, and it is a place of questionable neighborhoods, strange houses, and dubious doors. Fog penetrates the very interiors of houses; biting winds whip sparse trees against railings, and even in the daylight, fog and mist can create ghostly and frightening phantasmagorias. In this story, London is mostly a city of the night, a place in whose darkness or under whose lurid lamps a child can be trampled or a dignified old man be murdered. Stevenson creates the overwhelming sense that just beyond the warm hearths and respectable characters’ sitting rooms there lurks a dark and dangerous place.
Jekyll’s house. London residence of Dr. Henry Jekyll. Like Jekyll himself, his house is possessed of a dual and bifurcated nature. Indeed, almost every detail of the house reflects symbolically his character and situation. Jekyll’s...
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Benthamism, also known as utilitarianism, became an important ideology in Victorian society. The term came to be associated with a philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, expressed in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, that was adopted by a large portion of the Victorian middle class, affecting their habits and beliefs. By the 1820s, Benthamism gained a number of disciples who promoted his theories in theoretical debates. Supporters gained political power in the 1830s when approximately one hundred were elected to the first reformed Parliament in England.
At the core of this philosophy was the belief in "the greatest happiness for the greatest number," a phrase borrowed from Joseph Priestley, a late eighteenth-century Unitarian theologian. At the heart of this belief was the supposition that self-interest should be one's primary concern and that happiness could be attained by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. In Victorian People and Ideas, Richard D. Altick explains that "utilitarianism was ... wholly hedonistic; it made no allowance for the promptings of conscience, or for ... the forces of generosity, mercy, compassion, self-sacrifice, love. Benthamite ethics had nothing to do with Christian morality."
Another equally important movement in the Victorian Age was Evangelicalism, a form of Protestant pietism. Evangelicalism focused less...
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The story is set in the 1870s, in London, England. The city, the buildings, and the people (whether servants or working-class or educated) are all historically consistent. The reader gets the distinct impression that the author may have walked streets like these, with foot traffic at any and all hours as people of nearly every living standard go about their business and leisure. He may have visited houses and buildings like those he describes, some showing improvements and social advancements, others neglect and decay.
The only fantasy element in the story is in the nature of Dr. Jekyll's research with mineral salts. This too is actually historically consistent, as the science of pharmacology was expanding at that time. While the doctor's bag in the 1880s contained no more potent substances than alcohol, iodine and opium, there was study being made of the efficacy of other medicinal substances. Studies by private researchers brought ether, for example, into medical use though it was not always handled with appropriate discretion.
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Point of View
Stevenson continually alters the point of view in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which creates suspense and reinforces the novel's concentration on duplicity. The novel opens with a focus on John Gabriel Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's friend and attorney, and his gradual uncovering of the horror that lies at the heart of the story. Then the narrative immediately shifts to Utterson's friend and relative, Richard Enfield, who first informs Utterson of the existence of Edward Hyde. Enfield expresses the problem faced by those who encounter Hyde and try to describe him when he comments, "I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why ... He gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point ... I can't describe him." Others who see him are struck by a "haunting sense of unexpressed deformity." The characters' inability to gain a clear vision of Hyde reflects his nature. Hyde represents Jekyll's dark side, an integral part of his soul that he had repressed for years. In his assessment of Hyde, Jekyll insists, "This too was myself." Yet readers do not gain a full understanding of Hyde or Jekyll until the end of the book when Jekyll makes his confession.
In his overview of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stewart F. Sanderson comments on the construction of the narrative: "The pace of the narration, the deft way in which details supporting both...
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The story is told from several perspectives. It opens in the third person, with the focus largely on the perceptions of Mr. Utterson. There are several important letters that help to reveal the horrible truth about Mr. Hyde, one of great importance by Dr. Lanyon; and the last thirty or so pages are Jekyll's "Full Statement of the Case." In this fashion, the author manages, in a quite credible manner, to conceal the dual identity from the reader until near the end of the plot.
Another vital feature of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the style. While Stevenson is renowned for an elegant writing mode in almost all of his works, in this story it is of particular significance, most notably in the passages of description, such as this early picture of Hyde: "Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave the impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering, and somewhat broken voice." Style is also essential in the creation of cold, damp London nights and, indeed the entire atmosphere of gloom and evil. Establishing the appropriate tone is of the essence for a narrative of this sort: An air of realism must be maintained to countervail the fictive aspects of the plot.
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Since there are so many parallel narratives, in a variety of forms (print, cinema, television, stage), it might be interesting to compare some of these treatments of dual identity with Stevenson's work.
1. Is there any justification at all for Jekyll's undertaking the daring experiment?
2. Several prominent readers, Henry James, for example, found the device of the drugs confounding and somewhat difficult to accept. Does this aspect of the plot seem unacceptable? Is there another way in which Stevenson could have solved the problem of transformation?
3. Although Hyde actually commits only one murder, does the author successfully create a sense of pervasive evil in this character?
4. Did the fact that you knew the basic outline of the plot before reading the text in any way lessen the effect of the climax on you?
5. Apart from the transformation itself, clearly in the vein of science fiction, is there any other aspect of the narrative that seems to strain credulity? For example, are the behaviors of all the characters realistic?
6. Is the tone of the story maintained satisfactorily all the way through the text? Could more have been done to intensify it?
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This is a good reading exercise for students who can read at a fifth grade level or better. Like most works in an older style, it is more understandable when read aloud. With an ordinary dictionary available, any middle-school or junior high school student can plow through the stiff, formal prose. There are phrases used throughout which are now regarded as literary cliches, such as: "his blood ran cold in his veins" and "with a heavy heart." These give a sense of the time that has passed between the writing of topical, popular fiction with a contemporary setting, and the present day when this novel seems antique.
It is known that Stevenson read works by Dostoevsky, and also Edgar Allen Poe, and their influence upon Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is clear (particularly for Poe's story, "The Imp of the Perverse"). It would perhaps have been better for him to learn more from the works of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), as the humor in Stevenson's novels is thin and underdeveloped. This contained world of the Presbyterian city-dweller has every bit of horror that can be seen in the 1999 feature film The Matrix, but none of the self-deprecating humor.
This short novel seems to be strongly influenced by the first modern horror novel written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in 1818. It is impossible to be certain of every book read by Stevenson during his short life, but it seems likely that the horror story of the scientist who creates a human...
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It is difficult for a modern reader, surely familiar with the Jekyll/Hyde dual identity, to imagine the shock of those in Stevenson's time who had no notion of the phenomenon and who believed, until near the close of the text, that there are really two people involved. The social class of the main characters is significant. They are all "gentlemen," the only exception being Jekyll's servant Foole. This fact makes it possible for Hyde, who dresses like an upper-class person and who has adequate funds, to be as independent and free in his dire actions as he is.
The gentility of Mr. Utterson, Dr. Lanyon, Mr. Enfield, and Jekyll himself sets the tone of the novella: Only the highest moral behavior should be expected of people in this class of society. Thus, the disgrace that Jekyll works to avoid is all the more devastating and motivates his suicide at the end of the plot. Also, the class of the main characters emphasizes the degradation of Hyde when he enters the lower-class regions to perpetrate his foul actions.
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This novel will come as a refreshing change for readers and movie-goers accustomed to stories about self-indulgent and licentious characters. It is no longer currently fashionable for authors to write from the point of view of characters who value self-restraint and courtesy above achieving personal goals. Readers who have never read the works of Dickens or Tolstoy may find this short novel a good start to the study of classic novels.
Though this is a story about an educated, upper-class snob who learns to his horror that he has shameful, base drives like anyone else, the author has transcended his own elitist culture. There is no hint that the child trampled by Hyde, or the witness to the murder Hyde commits, are anything but our fellow humans, worthy of respect though they are female, lower-class and poor.
The physical appearance of Mr. Hyde bears some resemblance to the racist descriptions of stereotypical "Irish" persons in newspapers and political tracts of the late 1800s, and to non-British Caucasians. To this extent, the author does not transcend his own elitist upbringing. Mr. Hyde is supposed to represent the "base drives" from which Dr. Jekyll would like to free himself, and so he has the physical appearance that racists scorned in the so-called "lower orders." Social Darwinists regarded the Irish people and non-British Caucasians as less highly-evolved than the British and Northern Europeans. (Fortunately for fiction readers this...
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Compare and Contrast
1886: Britain annexes upper Burma after the Anglo-Burmese war, but revolutionary forces will try to regain control for several years.
Today: The British Empire exerts its influence over only a handful of colonies, protectorates, or trust territories.
1886: Das Kapital by Karl Marx is published in English.
1887: "Bloody Sunday," a Socialist demonstration, erupts in Trafalgar Square.
1926: Joseph Stalin becomes dictator of the Soviet Union. His reign of terror will last for twenty-seven years.
1991: On December 17, president Mikhail Gorbachev orders the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and a new Commonwealth of Independent States is formed by the countries that formerly made up the USSR.
1882: The Married Woman's Property Act passes in England, granting women several important rights.
Today: Women are guaranteed equal rights under the law.
1901: Queen Victoria dies and the Victorian Age ends. She is succeeded by Edward VII and the beginning of the Edwardian Age.
Today: The British monarchy has been damaged by several scandals including the reported infidelities of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, their subsequent divorce, and her subsequent death.
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Topics for Discussion
1. What was Dr. Henry Jekyll trying to discover?
2. What do his colleagues and friends do when they feel anger and revulsion at Mr. Edward Hyde? Do they treat him as he did weaker people?
3. In what ways does Jekyll contribute to his situation? What are the choices he has made? Are all of his choices mistakes?
4. Why do the servants wait eight days before Poole brings Mr. Utterson to see what has become of Dr. Jekyll?
5. What societal and behavioral expectations contribute to Jekyll's original search? What expectations make it harder for his friends to determine what is happening?
6. In what ways is Dr. Jekyll a product of his time and place?
7. In what ways is Mr. Hyde also a product of his time and place?
8. What do we learn of Poole, and the other servants? What role do they play in the story, beyond the superficial one of keeping house for Dr. Jekyll?
9. What do we learn of Guest, and other secondary characters? Are they well defined as people? Is the author, or Utterson, at all comfortable with them?
10. What kind of a man is Mr. Utterson? What does he learn about himself, as he learns more about Jekyll and Hyde?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Are anger and hatred natural emotions? Are criminal behaviors necessary? Can people choose alternatives?
2. What benefits can scientific research bring to a scientist? To his or her community? To the world at large?
3. Is a scientist responsible for the consequences (positive and negative) of his or her research? To whom can he or she be held accountable? How does this motivate research?
4. What is the proper study of man? Are there some things that man was not intended to know? The cliches quoted in these two questions are assumed to include women as well—or are they? Why?
5. Compare Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the novel Frankenstein, written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. What are the scientists looking to discover? What faults are revealed in the scientists? What flaws are revealed in their research materials? What above all else is revealed by their studies?
6. In an era when the human genome is being studied for reasons of personal profits as well as benefits to humanity, what can be learned from studying Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
7. When human behaviors are evaluated as "good" or "bad," what are some of the consequences? Do behaviors have any value in and of themselves, or are circumstances a factor? Are there any moral absolutes?
8. What is tuberculosis? How is it transmitted? What treatments are now available to prevent or cure it? How many people...
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Topics for Further Study
Research Freud's theories on sublimation and apply them to the character of Dr. Jekyll.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was Stevenson's contemporary. Investigate Nietzsche's theories of good and evil and apply them to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Write your own detective story or tale of the supernatural.
Compare and contrast the structure of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to that of one of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories
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Probably the most relevant influence was Edgar Allan Poe, whose story "William Wilson" deals with dual identity. However, the direct origin of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as Stevenson claimed, was a dream, in which the basic outline of the plot developed. The same type of grim narrative can be found in the excellent short stories "Markheim," in which the central character has a sort of alter ego, and "Thrawn Janet," a tale of demonic possession. Also, perhaps the Faust legend, which Stevenson knew, was something of an influence. Of course, the folk tales and weird myths told to the young Stevenson by Alison Cunningham to entertain the ill child played a large part in the development of such phenomena in the author's unconscious mind — being released in impressive literary form many years later.
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There have been at least ten film adaptions of the novel, and at least four versions are available in video format through stores and libraries. The most critically successful film adaption was the 1931 Paramount version directed by Rouben Mamoulian; but Lon Chaney's performance in the 1920 version included phenomenal transformation scenes with no use of heavy make-up or appliances.
Since Stevenson's copyright expired, dozens of variations on the story have been written as short stories, novels, made-for-television films, feature films, and episodes of television series. There is no way of cataloguing them all. Generally, these can be summed up as successful only in so far as they are derivative.
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This novella has invited more adaptations than anything else that Stevenson (or almost anyone else wrote). The semi-Faustian aspect of the work seems to have "charmed" a number of producers. There is even a musical version, staged in 1995, which has achieved moderate success. An early stage version was written by T. R. Sullivan and was used by several film producers as a basis for later cinema versions. The first of these was the Vitagraph silent production, in 1908, directed by Sidney Olcott, who also wrote the screenplay. Four years later, Independent turned out another silent version, with James Cruze as director and in the leading role. Perhaps the best silent interpretation was the 1920 film starring John Barrymore, directed by John S. Robertson and produced by Famous Players-Lasky. Twelve years later, the version that many critics believe to be the finest was created by Paramount. It won Fredric March an Oscar for the leading role and cast two female parts for Miriam Hopkins and Rose Hobart, who contributed a more sexual aspect to the film than had appeared earlier. Rouben Mamoulian directed and produced the movie for Paramount. In 1941, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released another highly praised rendition, directed by Victor Fleming and starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner. A British version appeared in 1959, entitled The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (also titled House of Fright). It was produced by Hammer and was directed by Terence...
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• There have been several film, television, and audio versions of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The six silent films that were made from the novel were produced from 1908 to 1920. The most notable of this group was the version produced by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, starring John Barrymore and Nita Naldi in 1920. In 1932 Paramount Publix Corp. produced a version starring Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins. Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman starred in the most famous film version, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's production in 1941. An educational version was released by Sterling Educational Films in 1959.
• The four television productions include an adaptation by director Charles Jarrott in 1968, starring Jack Palance as Jekyll/Hyde; one by David Winters as a musical in 1973, starring Kirk Douglas; another by Alastar Reed in 1981, starring David Hemmings; and a version by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, starring Anthony Andrews. Hollywood also produced an animated version.
• Several versions have appeared on cassette in abridged as well as complete form. Naxos Audio Books produced an audio compact disc of the novel.
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What Do I Read Next?
Mary Reilly (1990), by Valerie Martin, tells the fictional story of the young maid, Mary Reilly, sent to live and work in the house of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818), by Mary Shelley, focuses on another man who tries to alter nature and, as a result, destroys himself.
For another complex study of good and evil, turn to Stevenson's Treasure Island (1884), his first bestseller.
Bram Stoker's classic Dracula, published in 1897, presents a penetrating commentary on Victorian society as well as the nature of evil.
The psychological studies of the criminal mind presented in Edgar Allan Poe's short stories like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado" also reveal the author's mastery of the detective fiction form. A good collection of his works is The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, published by Doubleday in 1966.
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For Further Reference
The Complete Short Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson. Edited by Charles Nieder. New York: Doubleday, 1969. Includes Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and a substantial introduction by the editor.
Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Edited by Richard J. Anobile. New York: Avon, 1975. A reconstruction of the 1931 Paramount film in book form. Over 1,500 frame blow-up photos shown sequentially and coupled with the complete dialogue from the original sound track. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in film adaptions of classic novels in general, and of this novel in particular. The introduction is very informative, and the editor states plainly that this film version is the only one fine enough to be called a "classic film."
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Greenwich Unabridged Library Classics: Treasure Island, The Maste of Ballantrae, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped. Chatham River Press, 1983. Includes illustrations and also a foreword by Karen Burke.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Altick, Richard D., Victorian People and Ideas: A Companion for the Modern Reader of Victorian Literature, Norton, 1973. Gwynn, Stephen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Macmillan, 1939.
Halevy, Elie, England in 1815, Barnes and Noble, 1968.
James, Henry, "Robert Louis Stevenson," in The Century, Vol. XXXV, No. 6, April 1888, pp. 868-79.
Kiely, Robert, "Robert Louis Stevenson," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 18: Victorian Novelists after 1885, Gale, 1983, pp. 281-97.
Nabokov, Vladimir, "Robert Louis Stevenson," in Reference Guide to English Literature, 2d ed., edited by D. L. Kirk-patrick, St. James Press, 1991.
Noble, James Ashcroft, Review, in The Academy, Vol. XXIX, No. 716, January 23, 1886, p. 55.
Sadler, Michael, Forlorn Sunset, Constable, 1947.
Sanderson, Stewart F., "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Overview," in Lectures on Literature, edited by Fredson Bowers, Harcourt, 1980.
Saposnik, Irving S., "Robert Louis Stevenson, Chapter 6: The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," in Twayne's English Authors Series Online, G. K. Hall & Co., 1999.
Smith, Curtis C., "Robert Louis Stevenson," in Supernatural Fiction Writers Vol. 1, Scribner's, 1985, pp. 307-13.
Stephen, Leslie, "Robert Louis Stevenson," in Studies of a Biographer, Duckworth...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Eigner, Edwin M. Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966. Relates The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the tradition of the nineteenth century prose romance. As evidence, Eigner considers the novella’s narrative structure, the theme of pursuit, and the struggle of the hero against self.
Geduld, Harry M., ed. The Definitive “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Companion. New York: Garland, 1983. An anthology offering a wide spectrum of approaches from commentary to parodies and sequels. Appendices list the main editions; recordings; staged, filmed, and televised versions; and published and unpublished adaptions.
Jefford, Andrew. “Dr. Jekyll and Professor Nabokov: Reading a Reading.” In Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Andrew Noble. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Evaluates the main points of writer and teacher Vladimir Nabokov’s eccentric reading of the work. Provides a brief summary of Nabokov’s lecture.
Maixner, Paul, ed. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In Robert Louis Stevenson: The Critical Heritage. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. This selection of opinions from Stevenson’s contemporaries, while often superficial and out of date, is of historical interest. Includes a...
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