The Double (1846) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“The Double” has a very strong premise – a man meets someone who appears to be his exact double, who slowly usurps all parts of his life.

The story could have been some kind of psychological examination of the ego and identity, and on some level it is that, but I was surprised by how literal the majority of the writing is. Dostoyevsky’s mastery of psychological insight isn’t really turned here to using the protagonist and his double as a means of exploring questions of identity and the mind, but rather to delve deep into the mind of the increasingly insane man that is the protagonist.

The text itself is at times intentionally confusing, uncomfortable, and hard to grasp. It really puts you in the mindset of the protagonist. The emergence of his double sees his mind splinter more and more (or perhaps the double was symptomatic rather than the cause, that’s more the impression I got), and the prose cohesively communicates this through “deteriorating”, through becoming more frenetic as he does.

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The fear of the doppelganger seems to be a common, even primal, one, but Dostoeyevsky here uses it more to sink the reader into the increasing lunacy of an insane man, rather than to make any sort of social comment on it. Not what I expected, and certainly less resonant than Dostoevsky’s more nuanced major works, but still a compelling story. I give it three clerks, and a letter.

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