The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Published in 1846, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Double is a tragic tale of an unfortunate, well-established, and humble titular councillor, Yakov Petrovitch Golyadkin. It explores hallucinations and sanity themes in the early 19th century, Saint Petersburg, through the fairly old idea of the double. 

The story revolves around Golyadkin’s sanity. Golyadkin was prescribed “cheerful company” as a remedy for his dangerously antisocial behaviour. In fear for his sanity, he tries to join society of every sort, feeling a kind of thirst for company. Though uninvited and not used for crowds, he attends the birthday party of his manager’s daughter, Klara Olsufyevna, but he leaves the party in acrimonious circumstances after a series of faux pas. On the way home, he bumps into his exact double, a man with whom he shares a physical resemblance, Golyadkin Jr.––as called by Dostoevsky.

Golyadkin and his double became friends initially, but their relationship increasingly deteriorated as Golyadkin Jr. had stolen Golyadkin Sr.’s life. Unlike Golyadkin Sr., Golyadkin Jr. is exceptionally charming, audacious, confident and, above all, socially cheerful. He has all the qualities that Golyadkin Sr. lacks, thus he earned respect and love of colleagues. Abused and victimized, Golyadkin Sr. was more and more overcome by dismay and confusion, began to see more and more replicas of himself. This had taken a new menacing shape, and he saw his life unravelling, in a spiral that led to a psychotic break. He was therefore taken to a mental asylum.

The novel depicts how Golyadkin was crushed by bureaucracy, with the anxieties of success worked terribly upon his already overwrought nerves. The insufferable loss of identity completed the revolting misery of his position. The feelings of insurmountable repulsion, which oppressed and tortured his heart had taken such a self-destructive form that led to a catastrophic denouement. 

[Saturday 09th January 2021, Durham]

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