Book Club Questions: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Idealistic young scientist Henry Jekyll struggles to unlock the secrets of the soul. Testing chemicals in his lab, he drinks a mixture he hopes will isolate – and eliminate – human evil. Instead it unleashes the dark forces within him, transforming him into the hideous and murderous Mr. Hyde.

Both of us had never read this late Victorian novella, and figured there was no time like the present to do so. This classic story is a fairly quick read, and pretty accessible even for those who shy away from the lengthy sentences and long-winded plots of Victorian novels. (I am a big fan of Victorian literature, but I understand that not everyone is in the same boat.) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is also one of the Big Three classic literary monsters (the other two being Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster), which makes the story well-worth a read, given its frequent presence in pop culture.

Discussion questions below the cut!

In our general cultural understanding of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we typically get the sense that Jekyll and Hyde are two completely different people, when in fact they are one and the same in Stevenson’s original story. How do you think that difference alters the story? Which is more frightening?

Stevenson relies heavily on cityscapes to inform the mood of his story. Did you think these descriptions were effective?

The narrative approach of the novel is quite dry and factual—even, some might say, scientific. What does this style contribute to the story?

Thinking about narrative perspective as well, why would Stevenson choose to tell the story from Utterson’s perspective, rather than Jekyll’s? With what does Utterson’s perspective provide the story?

After his first transformation, Jekyll initially describes his actions while “in the semblance of Edward Hyde” with “I” as his subject of choice, but later in the novel eventually shifts to using “he” and “Hyde” after the first time he transforms into Hyde unwillingly, stating, “He, I say—I cannot say, I. That child of Hell had nothing human, nothing lived in him but fear and hatred.” Do you think Jekyll is accurate in doing so, or is he simply too horrified at what he has become to accept it?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is sometimes described as a forerunner to the detective novel. Do you agree? Disagree?

On that same note, would you consider Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde to be an apt metaphor for a modern day serial killer? Keep in mind that the actor Richard Mansfield who portrayed Dr. Jekyll in a play adaptation was one of the prominent members of society accused by the public of being Jack the Ripper.

The Gothic literary triptych consists of FrankensteinDracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—three monsters who have become one of the most basic parts of our cultural vocabulary. What about these three monsters is so important to us? How are they different? How are they similar?

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