Feodor Dostoevsky Dvoynik Critical Essays


(Short Story Criticism)

Dvoynik Feodor Dostoevsky

(Also translated as Fedor, Fyodor; also Dostoyevsky, Dostoievsky, Dostoevskii, Dostoevski, Dostoiewsky, Dostoiefski, Dostoievski, Dostoyevskiiy, Dostoieffski) Russian novelist, short story writer, and essayist. The following entry presents criticism of Dostoevsky's novella Dvoynik (1846; The Double). See also Notes From the Underground Criticism and The Idiot Criticism.

One of Dostoevsky's most controversial works, Dvoynik (1846; The Double), remains puzzling for both readers and critics, in part because of its author's own ambivalent feelings toward it. As Dostoevsky's second published piece of fiction, The Double has variously been considered immature, experimental, and predictive of the greatness of Dostoevsky's later works.

Plot and Major Characters

The Double tells the story of Yakov Petrovitch Golyadkin, also called Golyadkin Senior, and his descent into paranoia and madness as he becomes obsessed with a man who is his exact likeness. A mid-level office worker, Golyadkin loses all sense of self and reality when his double, who shares his name and is referred to as Golyadkin Junior, comes to work at the same office. But Golyadkin Senior is a man of so little consequence or individuality that no one notices the striking resemblance between the two. As his double's actions gradually ruin his reputation and social standing, Golyadkin Senior falls deeper into insanity, eventually becoming convinced that he is surrounded by doubles in a waking nightmare.

Major Themes

Dostoevsky's purpose in writing The Double remains unclear. As the story progresses, the narrative becomes more rambling, dream-like, and repetitive, and themes that had been clearly established are forgotten, reversed, or abandoned altogether. The Double begins with themes that were pervasive in nineteenth-century European literature, including those of the Romantic doppelganger and the downtrodden Russian office clerk. But as Golyadkin Senior's life spins out of control, the themes become more ambiguous. Notions of selfhood, objective reality, and existential meaning break down as Golyadkin Senior succumbs to paranoia and psychosis, and the reader becomes increasingly disoriented with the text.

Critical Reception

Early reviews of The Double were for the most part negative. Critic Visarion Belinskij complained in an 1846 review that the circularity and repetition of The Double “wearies and bores.” Subsequent critics were no more forgiving of Dostoevsky's difficult text. It was not until the post-Freudian era of the twentieth century that critics began to recognize the complexity and psychological perception of the novella. Dostoevsky himself never felt satisfied with what he had accomplished in The Double. He revised it fifteen years after the first writing, but still he wrote, “I was again convinced that it wasn't successful.” Nonetheless, The Double continues to be studied both for its own merits and for the insights it provides into Dostoevsky's later works.