BookTalk event, 30 Apr 2015: Robert Louis Stevenson, Jekyll and Hyde (1886)

Cardiff BookTalk, the book group with a difference, returned on 30 April 2015 – now based in Cardiff University’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy.

BookTalk J&HMembers of the public joined BookTalk for a drink as we uncovered the themes in Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic chiller, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which have made it such an enduring classic for over a century since its original publication in 1886. When Jekyll and Hyde first appeared, it sent a shiver of horror through its Victorian readers with the shocking revelation at the end of the tale: that the respectable scientist, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the monstrous criminal, Edward Hyde, were two halves of the same person. 

Bringing together science and supernaturalism, Stevenson’s novella suggests that the more advanced a civilisation becomes, the likelier it is to collapse into violent destructiveness. Set in a claustrophobic yet eerily disconnected London marked by urbanisation and industrialisation, this compelling tale poses a series of questions about modern life that remain pertinent to this day: What makes us human? Do our minds control our bodies or are we compelled by urges, compulsions and appetites? Can science be trusted to improve the quality of our lives?

Following a drinks reception, three scholars based in Cardiff University examined these different aspects of Stevenson’s classic tale, in a series of short talks:

  • Dr Anthony Mandal (School of English, Communication and Philosophy) explored Jekyll and Hyde as a parable of modernity, which drew together psychology and social critique to raise fundamental moral questions about late 19th-century British society.
  • Professor Keir Waddington (School of History, Archaeology and Religion) discussed the scientific context of Stevenson’s gothic narrative, considering in particular the medical controversies and laboratory spaces that shape the novel’s plot.
  • Dr Dawn Knight (School of English, Communication and Philosophy) considered the language and linguistic patterns of Jekyll and Hyde as a key to understanding its peculiar hold on our minds 130 years after its original appearance.

A lively Q&A session, chaired by Dr Jamie Castell, concluded the event, offering an opportunity for wider discussion with the audience of the topics raised or other areas of interest.

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