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Approaches to Teaching the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde draws on Robert Louis Stevensons intimate knowledge of Victorian legal culture knowledge Stevenson acquired while studying law at the University of Edinburgh. (Although he was called to the Scottish bar in 1875, he abandoned the legal profession and never practiced it.) Its trace can be found in the work's title, main characters, and narrative structure: the title suggests a legal action; Mr. Utterson is the legal representative of Henry Jekyll, who is himself both a doctor of law (LLD) and a doctor of Civil laws (DCL); and the final two chapters function as depositions. So powerful is this aspect of the novel that it has led at least one criminal defense to cite Dr. Jekyll's plight in court (see Stern). This legal context provides me the occasion to engage students in a collective act of close reading and reasoned argumentation. Turning the classroom into a courtroom, the students place Henry Jekyll on trial for the crimes committed by Edward Hyde.


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