At the start of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel ‘The Double: A Petersburg Poem’ (1846), Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin prepares for a society ball. He is delirious with nervous excitement and consults Dr Rutenspitz about his stress. This impromptu counselling session reveals Golyadkin’s narcissism and paranoia—people insulting him behind his back; and the scandal of his failed romance with a questionable German woman. His speech is manic, he repeatedly addresses Dr Rutenspitz by name and he refers to himself in the third person. Golyadkin’s had broken off an engagement with the German woman (unnamed through the story) because he was in love with a woman who he knows is not in love with him. Once he arrives at the ball it is revealed that he isn’t invited. The scandal of the German woman has caused him to be ostracized from peers. His shame, of course, knows no limits he crashes the party and is crudely ejected.
During this journey home in the cold and rain Golyadkin senses the presence of his double. He imagines himself at the edge of an abyss. Another Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin enters the story. He is a man who has a striking resemblance to Golyardkin senior. He begins working in the same office as Golyardkin senior works. He becomes friends with Golyardkis’s senior’s friends. He begins to take over Golyardkin senior’s space in the community: his life.
Like Narcissus Golyadkin gets lost in his own reflection. He becomes obsessed with a rivalry with Golyardkin junior. He loses interest in his own affairs. He loses touch with the appropriate etiquette of his community. All the time he demonstrates the ambivalence of love and aggression central to narcissism. In his spoken thoughts he oscillates between frustration and pleasure; righteousness and guilt; vengeance and love. His perverse devotion to his double leads to the neglect of his own life. His repeatedly second-guesses his actions to the point where he becomes unable to act. Finally, after his tragic story has taken its course, he is taken away to a hospital clinic by Dr Rutenspitz.
The double in psychoanalysis is the subject’s identification with themselves as an object of their libidinal energy. It represents and ambiguity between immortality and death. In Golyardkin delusion we see the splitting of the ego as a means to preserve the ego—a delusion that enables him to vicariously remain amongst his peers even though he has been removed from the social order. While the splitting of the ego enables Golyardkin to maintain doing what he does and be likable to himself he is also alienated from himself. This however, is the price he pays for deriving satisfaction from his drive.
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis of Dostoyevsky in ‘Dostoyevsky and Parricide’ (1928) discusses the author’s introjection of the death of his father. Within the logic of Freud’s analysis ‘The Double’ represents Dostoyevsky compulsion to enjoy suffering the castrating symbols of paternal power over him while a fantasy reproduction Dostoyevsky can live life the way it is expected. The fantasy can live in the city and go to parties etc while the real Dostoyevsky gets to stay in poverty and debt in Siberia.