Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Thursday, July 5, 2007
From This Issue
Volume 85 • Number 3
Summer 2007

A Strange Case for Collaboration
Student research helps professor find a new twist on a classic novella.
By Alicia LeBlanc '07

Thomas Reed had an inkling there was something more to Dr. Jekyll’s famous transformation into Mr. Hyde than met the casual reader’s eye. With the help of Nikki Slagle Lehman ’99, the professor of English uncovered a new twist on the classic story, which led to a recently published book.

The first time Reed picked up The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1990, he discovered that it “felt like a very different novel than I thought I’d be reading. The story is so well known but so rarely read.”

The Victorian-era novel, Reed believes, “is misunderstood. The wisdom that it gives to the world is a wisdom that’s not often explored. It shows the need to live a balanced life with the whole of your nature.”

Intrigued by the novella’s depth and complexity, Reed developed a course on Jekyll & Hyde outside his area of expertise (medieval studies)—a practice that Dickinson and the English department encourage. In preparing for and teaching the course, he “became interested in the allusions to alcohol in the text.”

Lehman, an English major also pursuing a certificate in secondary education, took the class because she “was curious about how one course could focus on a 50-page novella.” She found the course “amazing” and wrote her final paper on the subject of alcoholism in the text.

Reed then suggested that Lehman conduct an independent study on alcoholism in relation to the novella and to author Robert Louis Stevenson’s life. Her research revealed that alcoholism was something that Stevenson and his friends struggled with, which was borne out in the novel.

Lehman’s independent study resulted in a 12-page paper that Reed and Lehman submitted to the Modern Language Association Convention in 1998 for a session on Jekyll & Hyde. Reed was unable to attend the convention in Chicago, so Lehman presented the paper.

Reed admired Lehman’s bravery in doing the presentation, an experience that Lehman explained as “cool but terrifying.” She was nevertheless thrilled that she had the opportunity as an undergraduate to present the collaborative paper before academicians.

Fueled by the paper’s good reception, Reed took a sabbatical in 2001-02 to prepare a longer article on the subject. However, “after five or six months,” Reed says, “it was clear that it wasn’t going to be an article; it was going to be a book.”

When Reed completed his manuscript, he sent a copy to Lehman and incorporated her feedback into the final copy.

In late 2006, Reed published The Transforming Draught: Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Victorian Alcohol Debate, a book that explores the possibility that alcohol transforms Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Reed “sets the text against biography and social history” by analyzing the novel, Stevenson’s life, the Temperance movement and alcoholism in Victorian Britain.

When Lehman reflects on the entire experience, she feels “really honored that he approached me to begin with. I thought it was a great idea, and not much had been written on it. He was wonderful to collaborate with; he valued my opinion and the research that I did for him.”

Collaborative projects are common in the sciences, due to the objective nature of many experiments; however, Lehman and Reed believe that faculty-student collaboration is important in all areas of study.

Reed explains that “Nikki did a lot of great research, so I could see where I needed to go. Seeing students in the undergrad setting doing things of professional quality is impressive and encouraging.”

Lehman adds that the “chance to work closely with one professor is one of my most memorable academic experiences.”

It’s an experience that both still build upon. Reed continues to use Jekyll & Hyde in his English 220 workshop class, and Lehman, now a teacher at a Chantilly, Va., public high school, teaches the novel in her literature classes.

Reed “affected not only the way that I think about literature, but the way that I teach literature,” she says. “The students are really receptive to [Jekyll & Hyde] because of my excitement. I point things out, and they take it from there. They are contributing to my love of the novel and to my research about it.”

One critic said of Reed’s previous book, Middle English Debate Poetry and the Aesthetics of Irresolution, that it “says something I always half knew, but never really put into words.” He hopes that this book achieves something similar, a tribute to the idea that he and Lehman worked upon so diligently.

 


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