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Stevenson: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

4. Degeneration

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In this module, we think about the idea of degeneration in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, focusing in particular on: (i) the work of Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution; (ii) the work of Herbert Spencer and the idea of evolution as progress in a particular (positive) direction; (iii) the general sense of progress and optimism in mid-19th century, epitomised by events such as the Great Exhibition; (iv) the anxieties that begin to emerge in the 1870s-80s that evolution might go backwards, i.e. we might regress as a species; (v) the work of Sir Edwin Ray Lankester and Max Nordau and the idea of biological degeneration versus cultural degeneration; (vi) the work of Cesare Lombroso and the concept of criminal atavism; (vii) the idea of degeneration anxiety in the public discourse, the 1903 Committee on Physical Deterioration; (viii) the description of Hyde in atavistic terms, i.e. "ape-like"; (ix) the sense in which Hyde does not fit the Lombroso model of criminality; (x) the extent to which Hyde's degeneration is not a lack of civilization, but the result of (too much) civilization; and (xi) the idea of the dangers of repressed desires and the potential for Freudian readings of the novel.


In this course, Dr Christopher Pittard (University of Portsmouth) explores Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the first module, we think about the genre of the novel, before turning in the second novel to consider the implications of its title – not 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', but 'Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. In the third module, we provide a close reading of the opening paragraph of the novel, thinking in particular about the character of Mr Utterson and the extent to which the first paragraph introduces the reader (if obliquely) to some of the key themes in the novel. After that, we think about the theme of degeneration, before turning in the fifth, sixth and seventh modules to some Freudian themes in the novel: the unconscious, the uncanny and sex and sexuality. In the eighth module, we think about the extent to which the novel reflects on its own conditions of textuality, before turning in the ninth and final module to think about how the novel explores anxieties about national identity.

Note: Page numbers in these lectures refers to the Penguin Classics edition of the novel (‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Tales of Terror’, ed. Robert Mighall). Students using a different version of the novel may encounter slight differences in page numbering.


Dr Christopher Pittard joined the University of Portsmouth in 2009, having held previous teaching positions at Newcastle University and the University of Exeter. His main research focus is on the popular culture of the nineteenth century, especially the emergence of popular genres in the Victorian fin de siecle and detective fiction in particular. His monograph, Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction, considers how such fictions (and the periodicals in which they appeared) engaged with ideas of material and social purity, ranging from Sherlock Holmes cleaning the face of criminality in “The Man with the Twisted Lip” to the moral policing carried out by the Social Purity movements and late Victorian antivivisection campaigns. His publications in this area include discussions of Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Morrison, Fergus Hume, and of the Strand Magazine more widely.

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APA style

Pittard, C. (2021, March 08). Stevenson: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Degeneration [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pittard, C. "Stevenson: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Degeneration." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 08 Mar 2021,