Feodor Dostoevsky Dvoynik Essay - Critical Essays

Dvoynik, Feodor Dostoevsky


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.

Principal Works

Bednye lyudi [Poor Folk] 1846

Dvoynik [The Double] 1846

“Gospodin Prokharchin” [“Mr. Prokharchin”] 1846

“Khozyaika” [“The Landlady”] 1847

“Roman v devyati pis'makh” [“A Novel in Nine Letters”] 1847

“Belya nochi” [“White Nights”] 1848

“Chestnyi vor” [“The Honest Thief”] 1848

“Chuzhaya zhena i muzh pod krovat'yu” [“Another Man's Wife and a Husband under the Bed”; also translated as “The Wife of Another and the Husband under the Bed”] 1848

“Elka i svad'ba” [“A Christmas Tree and a Wedding”; also translated as “A Christmas Party and a Wedding”] 1848

“Polzunkov” 1848

“Slaboe serdtse” [“A Faint Heart”; also translated as “A Weak Heart”] 1848

“Malneki geroi” [“A Little Hero”] 1857

“Dyaduskin son” [“Uncle's Dream”] 1859

“Selo Stepanchikovo i ego obitateli” [“The Village of Stepanchikovo”; also translated as “The Friend of the Family,” “The Hamlet of Stepanchikovo,” and “The Manor of Stephachikovo”] 1859

Zapiski iz podpolya [Notes from Underground] 1864

“Krokodil. Neobyknovennoe sobytie, ili Passazh v passazhe” [“An Unusual Occurrence”] 1865

“Vechny muzh” [“The Eternal Husband”] 1870

“Krotkaya” [“A Gentle Spirit”; also translated as “The Meek One” and “A Gentle Creature”] 1876

“Muzhik Marei” [“The Peasant Marey”] 1876

Podrostok [A Raw Youth] 1876

“Son smeshnogo cheloveka” [“The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”; also translated as “The Dream of a Ridiculous Fellow”] 1877

The Short Novels of Dostoevsky 1945

Short Stories of Dostoevsky 1946

Ynizhenye i oskorblenye [The Insulted and Injured] (novel) 1861

Zapiski iz myortvogo domo [Buried Alive or Two Years Life of Penal Servitude in Siberia, 1861; also translated as The House of the Dead or Prison Life in Siberia] (novel) 1862

Igrok [The Gambler] (novel) 1866

Prestuplenye i nakazanye [Crime and Punishment] (novel) 1866

Idiot [The Idiot] (novel) 1869

Besy [The Possessed; also translated as The Devils] (novel) 1872

Brat'ya Karamazovy [The Brothers Karamazov] (novel) 1880


Stanley M. Coleman (essay date 1934)

SOURCE: “The Phantom Double. It's Psychological Significance,” in British Journal of Medical Psychology, Vol. 14, 1934, pp. 254–73.

[In the following excerpt, Coleman finds similarities between the treatment of doubles in the works of Dostoevsky and Guy de Maupassant and examines the psychological implications of doubles overall.]

Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen,
In diesen Hause wohnte mein Schatz:
Sie hat schon längst die Stadt verlassen,
Doch steht noch das Haus auf demselben Platz.
Da steht auch Mensch und starrt in die Höhe,
Und ringt die Hände vor Schmerzengewalt;
Mir graust es, wenn Ich sein Antlitz sehe,
Der Mond zeigt mir meine eig'ne Gestalt.
Du Doppelgänger, du bleicher Geselle,
Was äffst du nach mein Liebesleid,
Das mich gequält auf dieser Stelle
So manche Nacht, in alter Zeit?

—Heine, Der Doppelgänger.

Among nineteenth-century writers it would be difficult to discover two novelists more dissimilar than Guy de Maupassant and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Maupassant, materialist and atheist, was a master of style and clear thinking. He wrote austerely and with complete detachment. In later years, with the inroads of psychosis, sentimentality, self-pity and self-portrayal became increasingly evident. But in his best period he described exactly what he saw, used a minimum of words, added no comments and told nothing about his own thoughts or feelings. He was a realist.

Dostoevsky, on the contrary, was essentially the introspectionist. Neurotic, hypochondriac and epileptic, his mind was a seething mass of incompatibilities and contradictions. Every critic of this author, Gide1, Carr2 and Mirsky3 for instance, has stressed this state of conflict. For Gide the struggle was essentially ethical, one between good and evil. Freud saw in the rich personality of Dostoevsky four distinct facets: “the creative artist, the neurotic, the moralist and the sinner.” Dostoevsky's style is verbose and awkward; his novels are usually badly constructed and unwieldy. Sometimes, as in A Raw Youth and The Possessed, his ideas overflow and totally obscure the original plot. There is no coherence in Dostoevsky, no trite philosophy of life. In his writings, as in his life, all that is most despicable in human thought and conduct jostles cheek by jowl with the most lofty ideals.

It is not without interest, therefore, that for these two very different men the phenomena of doubles should have had a special significance. In the case of Maupassant it was not an active interest; the experience was forced upon him as an hallucination. Nowhere in his writing is there any direct reference to the experience, though it will be seen later that a whole series of horror tales bear directly on the phenomena. With Dostoevsky it was otherwise: there is neither evidence that he ever had any hallucination nor that his interest in doubles was anything more than a convenient device for giving expression to his subjective experience of intrapsychic conflict. […]


This story, written in the pre-Siberian period, is considered by Mirsky, Lavrin4 and by Dostoevsky himself to be a work of great significance. Carr is more sparing with his praise, pointing out that as a work of art it has the defect of holding an uneasy course somewhere between the macabre and the psychopathological. Narrated in the first person, the ‘double’ is presented as a tangible objective fact; but it is repeatedly indicated and is finally patent that this ‘double’ is a pure projection of the narrator's imagination.

Petrovitch Golyadkin is a petty official of insignificant appearance. He is without self-confidence, irresolute and burdened with an overwhelming feeling of inferiority. As first introduced he is rising from his bed one morning in a definitely clouded state. He feels ill and his brain is in the utmost confusion and chaos. It is soon clear that he is on the verge of a mental breakdown. Gradually it is divulged that he believes that people shout at him in the street; that something is being got up against him by his colleagues at the office; that there is a conspiracy afloat and that malignant enemies have sworn to ruin him.

On this morning, instead of proceeding to the office as was his custom, he astonishes his manservant by ordering a cab. After driving about indefinitely for some hours, he suddenly decides to visit his doctor. The latter, who had been frequently pestered by him of late, now regards his behaviour with some uneasiness. Petrovitch, on his side, is none too certain that the doctor is not in the gang and even suspects that the medicine may be poison. On this occasion it is advised that he should lead a less introverted and a-social life. He is recommended to try and get out of himself, see more people, have a little gaiety and so on. This gives Petrovitch an idea.

It appears that his former patron and benefactor is to give a ball this very night in honour of his daughter Klara's birthday. Petrovitch, though uninvited and on account of his recent behaviour under a cloud, drives up to his patron's house. He is refused admission and subjected to insults from the footmen, but finally succeeds in gaining entrance to the house by means of a side door. For several hours he lurks about in dark corridors in the vicinity of the ballroom, not daring to venture farther. There is an acute mental conflict taking place between his normal, timid, self-effacing personality and a new, until now unappreciated, urge to be in the limelight. Suddenly, almost against his will, he finds himself projected into the ballroom, stammering and floundering congratulations and birthday wishes to Klara. The girl, anything but pleased, moves away in the crowd. Repeated attempts by the butler to induce Petrovitch to leave the ballroom quietly are unavailing. Bewildered and confused, he is nevertheless dominated by one idea. At last he again sees Klara at the other end of the hall. Pushing violently through the crowd of dancers, this wild and dishevelled man again confronts her and implores her to dance with him. At this point Petrovitch is ignominiously propelled from the ballroom and then thrown into the street.

In a highly excited and wrought up state he wanders about St Petersburg far into the night. He hardly knows what he is doing nor where he is going. Exhausted at last he leans against the railing beside a canal. He is vaguely uneasy and frightened, he has the presentiment that something terrible is about to happen. Though the streets are deserted, he has a feeling that there is someone quite close to him. Presently he sees a figure hurrying towards him. As the stranger passes Petrovitch is struck by indescribable terror and, turning, he runs after the stranger. Catching him up at the next lamp-post his worst fears are confirmed. This stranger is his double. Fascinated, he is, in spite of himself, impelled to follow; what is his horror when the unknown stops before and finally enters the house in which Petrovitch lodges.

On the following day at the office ‘the double’ makes his second appearance. He is sitting opposite to Petrovitch at his desk. In the evening he accompanies him home and does not leave him all night. Poor Petrovitch indulges in an alcoholic debauch and on waking next morning is astonished to find his enemy has departed. There is not even a trace of the bed in which he had slept.

During the next few days ‘the double’ subjects Petrovitch to innumerable humiliations. In a café he behaves in an unseemly way, wolfs eleven pies, leaving the indignant Petrovitch to foot the bill. At the office he snatches his papers from him, presents...

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Clarence A. Manning (essay date 1944)

SOURCE: “The Double of Dostoevsky,” in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 59, No. 5, May, 1944, pp. 317–21.

[In the following essay, Manning provides a brief analysis of The Double.]

The Double marks Dostoyevsky's first attempt to delve deeply into the mysteries of human psychology, but, despite the high hopes with which he published the book, it did not prove successful and many years later in the Journal of a Writer, November, 1877 (ed. Lazhechnikov, p. 456), he confessed,

This story positively did not succeed, but the idea was quite brilliant, and I never introduced into literature anything more serious than this...

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Charles E. Passage (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: “The Double,” in Dostoevski the Adapter: A Study in Dostoevski's Use of The Tales of Hoffmann, University of North Carolina Press, 1954, pp. 14–37.

[In the following essay, Passage explores possible literary influences on Dostoevsky's The Double.]

Dostoevski's point of departure in the creation of The Double was clearly enough Poprischchin, hero of Gogol's The Diary of a Madman, a short story. Upon this fundamental figure, now rechristened Golyadkin (Poordevil), it was his intention to graft the whole lore of “Doppelgängerei” and his own analysis of that lore. The prime difficulty, which he could not resolve, was the disparity of the...

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Lawrence Kohlberg (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: “Psychological Analysis and Literary Form: A Study of the Doubles in Dostoevsky,” in Daedalus, Vol. 92, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 345–62.

[In the following essay, Kohlberg presents a psychoanalytic interpretation of doubles in Dostoevsky's works.]

Psychology is a knife that cuts both ways.

The Brothers Karamazov

Illness, delirium, amnesia, but why were you haunted by just those delusions and not by any others?

Crime and Punishment

To the psychologist looking at contemporary literature, there...

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Roger B. Anderson (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: “Dostoevsky's Hero in The Double: A Re-Examination of the Divided Self,” in Symposium, Vol. 26, Summer, 1972, pp. 101–13.

[In the following essay, Anderson examines Golyadkin's conception of himself as a divided personality.]

Dvojnik [The Double] has always occupied a unique place in Dostoevsky scholarship because of its multiple levels of meaning and its complexity. In one respect it presents an almost clinical profile of the hero's confused mind drifting into paranoia and schizophrenia. It can also be examined in its relation to developing social activism in Russia at the time of its publication in 1846. Literary depictions of...

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Joseph Frank (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: “The Double,” in Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821–1849, Princeton University Press, 1976, pp. 295–312.

[In the following essay, Frank provides an overview of The Double, including its place in Dostoevsky's canon and its relation to his other works.]

To attain a proper perspective on Dostoevsky's minor fiction in the 1840s after Poor Folk is by no means an easy task. It is impossible, of course, to agree with the almost totally negative evaluation of his contemporaries, especially since we can discern, with the benefit of hindsight, so many hints of the later (and much greater) Dostoevsky already visible in these early creations. On...

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Asya Pekurovskaya (essay date 1986)

SOURCE “The Nature of Referentiality in The Double,” in Dostoevski and the Human Condition after a Century, Alexej Ugrinsky, Frank S. Lambasa, Valija K. Ozolins, eds., Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 41–51.

[In the following essay, Pekurovskaya discusses “the nature of referentiality” in The Double.]

With a notable persistence (more than thirty times)1 number “two,” both cardinal and ordinal, appears in Dostoevski's narrative as the most explicit tool of executing the theme of the double referred to by the title of the novel. If his persistence is not gratuitous, which is a matter of simple certainty, one should be able to speak of some laws,...

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David Ayers (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: “Two Bald Men: Eliot and Dostoevsky,” in Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, October, 1988, pp. 287–300.

[In the following essay, Ayers explores the influence of The Double on the works of T. S. Eliot.]

Students of the influence that one author has had on the work of another have at all times had reason to be careful, not to give too much importance to the superficial resemblance, the odd verbal parallel, while seeking deeper structural affinities—without, that is, making one or two centuries of high-brow literary effort appear to have repeatedly produced the same thing.

In the case of Eliot, possibly the most...

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David Patterson (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: “Dostoevsky's Dvoinik per Lacan's Parole,” in The Affirming Flame: Religion, Language, Literature, University of Oklahoma Press, 1988, pp. 58–73.

[In the following essay, Patterson attempts to apply Lacan's concept of “parole” to The Double.]

Having examined the implications of Lacan's parole for the literary critic, let us consider its implications for the critical approach to a specific literary text. As such an investigation, this [essay] provides an example of a response to a literary work in which personal presence achieved through the Word is an issue in the work itself. The [essay] demonstrates that Lacan's concept of the Word is...

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John Herdman (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: “The Russian Double,” in The Double in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Macmillan, 1990, pp. 99–126.

[In the following excerpt, Herdman examines The Double in the context of nineteenth-century European literature featuring doubles.]

The age of Hoffmann and Hogg might be called the ‘high noon’ of the double in Western Europe; in the middle years of the century … the theme fell somewhat into abeyance as a serious literary preoccupation, to experience a new resurgence in the last years of the century, a fresh access of vitality which was related to a revival of the Gothic mode and to new scientific developments which cast a beguiling light on matters...

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Julian W. Connolly (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: “Madness and Doubling: From Dostoevsky's The Double to Nabokov's The Eye,” in Russian Literature Triquarterly, No. 24, 1991, pp. 129–39.

[In the following essay, Connolly discusses The Double as a source of inspiration for Vladimir Nabokov's The Eye.]

Vladimir Nabokov often expressed himself harshly when evaluating Fyodor Dostoevsky's abilities as a writer: “He was a prophet, a claptrap journalist and a slapdash comedian,” he told an interviewer in 1963,1 and in his Lectures on Russian Literature he stated that Dostoevsky was “not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one.”2 Not only did he...

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Alba Amoia (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “The Double (1846),” in Feodor Dostoevsky, Continuum, 1993, pp. 149–56.

[In the following essay, Amoia discusses the importance of the characterization in The Double in the development of Dostoevsky's subsequent works.]

Some of Dostoevsky's most significant characterizations and themes are developed in his six short novels. Among them are the paranoiac split personality whose double materializes before his incredulous eyes; the decrepit dotard with his impossible marital dream; the “perfectly good man” confronted with the despotic hypocrite in the microcosmic village of Stepanchikovo; the unloved, unloving “underground man” in his...

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Gary Rosenshield (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: “The Bronze Horseman and The Double: The Depoeticization of the Myth of Petersburg in the Young Dostoevskii,” in Slavic Review, Vol. 55, Summer, 1996, pp. 399–428.

[In the following essay, Rosenshield discusses Dostoevsky's role in the development of the nineteenth-century myth of Petersburg, as well as its representation in The Double.]

In his discussion of The Double, Joseph Frank remarks that Dostoevskii's decision to change the original subtitle from The Adventures of Mr. Goliadkin (Prikliucheniia Gospodina Goliadkina) to A Petersburg Poem (Petersburgskaia poema) had, among other things, the “advantage of correctly...

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Further Reading


Anderson, Roger B. “The Double: Duality and Conflict.” Dostoevsky: Myths of Duality, pp. 12–26. University of Florida Press, 1986.

Identifies contradictory elements in The Double.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. “The Dismantled Consciousness: An Analysis of The Double.Dostoevsky: New Perspectives, edited by Robert Louis Jackson, pp. 19–34. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Examines speech and dialogue in The Double.

Gasperetti, David. “The Double: Dostoevski's Self-Effacing Narrative.” Slavic and East European Journal 33 (1989): 217–34....

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