Day of the Doubles
Friends, bloggers, countrymen. As you will no doubt be aware today I celebrated reaching double figures in followers. For my main post today I have therefore decided to stick to the theme of doubles and specifically character doubling within literature.
I am afraid to say I cannot accurately quote Freud on this, however for those interested check out his work on ‘The Uncanny’. In my last Gothic Literature seminar we brought up the idea of doubling. In particular that of characters mirroring each other. According to Freud, and I apologise if I misinterpret his work, there is a sense of doubling in the notion of the ‘immortal soul’.
To backtrack a little bit I should probably mention that the text in question here is Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. In a brief, albeit fairly accurate, summary, this Victorian Gothic novel follows the character Laura as a (supposedly) lesbian vampire infiltrates her life in an attempt to kill her. This book is fairly fascinating in the way the themes of sexuality and vampirism are represented. In fact, these themes are so closely and cleverly interwoven that I am debating choosing this topic as my Christmas assignment.
To bring my theme into relation with this text, doubling makes an interesting appearance in Carmilla. Most obviously, there are the characters of Laura and Carmilla. Laura, the kind, sweet, lonely country girl with no mother and very few friends or acquaintances, can be seen as a kind of mirror to our ‘villain’, if she can be so called. Carmilla has no father that we are ever introduced to, and as her story comes to reveal she too has very few friends, in the sense that she has none. Probably because she ate them. But that’s besides the point.
These two women can be taken as doubles in a physical sense because they are both beautiful young women. But the physical nature of their similarities extends further than this. As Laura becomes ill, the symptoms she displays are mirrored in Carmilla – the lethargy, the paleness, the loss of appetite. It is only when we become aware of Carmilla’s being a vampire that we can start making deeper connections with the idea of doubling. It may be said that Laura becomes vampiric in her state of illness.
I am aware of how much this sounds like an essay, and I wish to keep this light, but for the purpose of exploring the theme I’m afraid you’ll have to bear with me.
Going back to Freud’s idea of the ‘immortal soul’ can bring our theme under his psychological light – ‘immortal’ can instantly be linked with vampirism, so in turn, what does that make our heroine, Laura? The ‘immortal soul’ of Carmilla suddenly becomes the opposite to Laura’s mortality. Laura, the human girl, is the heroine and not Carmilla in her immortal state. Is this important? Perhaps. I shall come back to this later.
My theory with the idea of doubling in this sense is that, we shouldn’t forget that two similar characters can be used also to contrast massively. Our leading lady Laura survives to tell the tale of the eventually beheaded and burned-to-ash double. Why did Le Fanu choose to make two characters so alike, yet so completely different?
Along a similar line, I shall call PLOT SPOILER and delve into the world of Horowitz’s Point Blanc. I enjoy analysing Horowitz in this light because sometimes, I forget that he is a fantastic writer with more than just a fourteen year old’s adventure to relay. There is a point to his work, is what I’m saying.
In a quick-ish summary which will give away an awful lot of the book’s plot (skip if you wish to avoid revealing this to yourselves) I shall attempt to bring Point Blanc under the scope of literary doubling.
At the institute in the mountains that Alex is sent to, essentially it is revealed that the Big Boss Man is cloning the young male students. It is Alex’s job to stop him. What the final (and phenomenal) chapter drop-kicks at us is a massive twist that leaves so many questions at the final hurdle: Alex comes face to face with his own clone. Literal doubling.
I bring this up, because in this final scene the two Alex’s fight. Alex-2 attempts to kill Alex-1 and in doing so burns down the school. It is interesting to me, looking back on this, to note that we automatically see Alex-2 as the evil one that we wish for Alex-1 to beat. Why, though they are one and the same, do we root for the original? It is fascinating to consider the idea that we back the one we know is good, over the one created and held against his own volition by an evil madman. Perhaps Horowitz created this clone as a manifestation of Alex’s own rage. Perhaps as a representation of his longing to be free from the life of being pulled to and fro against his better judgement. Let us compare:
Alex 1 – No parents. Forced into MI6. Unable to leave or tell anybody about it. Made to suffer at the hands of the villain. Forced to fight himself at the end of the novel.
Alex 2 – No parents. Created against his own will by the villain. Unable to leave or do anything about it. Made to suffer at the hands of the villain. Forced to fight himself at the end of the novel.
When looked at like this, their situations really aren’t all that different. So why is it then, what part of our human nature is it that makes us, without hesitation, root for Alex-1?
It sure is mind-blowing. And most interesting of all is that, in the final scenes as the school collapses as it is engulfed in flames, only one Alex walks away. We are not told which. This Alex then goes off to carry on his life as a schoolboy-meets-spy. What if it was the clone that walked away? In creating a double of Alex, a ‘villainous’ counterpart, we see Alex facing off against his own best and worst qualities. Just as Carmilla, the friendless, parent-less girl is sentenced, by the reader, to death in preference of her living double, so too is Alex-2, though bearing all the same qualities as Alex-1, wished into his doom.
So next time you’re reading a book, examine the characters – are they mirrored by another? Do they have a double? And if so, what do you think the author was trying to say in doing so? True, similar characters may not be so just to create a point, but it’s worth considering.