In these two perennially popular, short, and sensational (i.e., teachable!) books, we are confronted with two of literature’s most enduring and chilling tales of a hidden or repressed self. Just what does the painting of Dorian Gray (hidden away in his closet and decaying while Dorian himself remains ageless) represent? And what is the relation of Stevenson’s hideous Mr. Hyde to the urbane Dr. Jekyll? Like many other nineteenth-century monsters (Dracula, for instance), we feel like we know these tales even before we open the pages. But where do we get our clues and our cues once we sit down with the book? Do these “double” figures represent the unconscious desires that lie in all our hearts? Do they represent some aspect of the human, or of human sexuality, that the nineteenth century feared? Both Stevenson’s and Wilde’s books have been interpreted as being about the fear of homosexuality, and this is an interpretation we may consider. We may also consider the implications and challenges of teaching the novels in this way, as well as the myriad other ways in which they are connected to fundamental attitudes about art, the self, and society.
Seminar led by Jules Law, Northwestern University