Andreas Dierkes (University of Paderborn)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Tracing the Roots of Evil: Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde in Contemporary Literature’

Popular culture is marked by its obsession with adaptation. TV and cinema productions, musicals, audio plays, computer games – the multimedia society constantly develops new channels for which to adapt and reinterpret familiar stories. Robert Louis Stevenson has a fixed place in this area of popular culture. His works are highly frequented sources for adaptations, especially his Strange Case of Dr  Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

My talk discusses adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde in 20th century short stories and novels. I argue that Stevenson’s text appeals to authors and readers of contemporary rewrites due to its very general handling of the unconscious fear of the “Other”. The “Other”, “evil”, even Hyde as character, are only represented as misty ideas or fears. When attempting to locate these fears and to identify Hyde, the reader largely depends on unreliable narrators. He shares their horror concerning the fictional Hyde (and, possibly, real-life Hydes), yet the essence for Hyde’s evilness remains unclear. The rewrites fill these voids; each of them establishes a different concept of “evil” in the story. Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly discovers it in the social differences between the classes, Kim Newman’s “Further Developments…” identifies it as society’s hypocritical attitude towards homosexual orientation, Emma Tennant’s Two Women of London marks discrimination against women as social evil. In other words, the rewrites reply to 20th century’s discourses that permeate academic and popular discussions: class, gender and feminism in general. To a large extent, adaptations of the story such as these are the roots for the ongoing popularity of Jekyll and Hyde.

The theoretical basis of my talk is Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Adaptation (2006).

Categorized as Abstracts

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