Dostoyevsky - Doppelgangers and the story of Goliadkine
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL LONDON SATURDAY MARCH 3 1951 - VISUAL HALLUCINATION OF THE SELF BY JEAN LHERMITTE, M.D. Honorary Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Paris
The "Double" in Literature
Of all the writers who have mentioned the double in the adventures of their imaginary characters, that genius of a novelist Dostoievsky is undoubtedly the one who has offered the most complete description of it. The image of the double is already outlined in works such as The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov; but probably Dostoievsky had been particularly haunted by this phenomenon, as he devotes to it a very illuminating tale, the title of which is none other than The Double.
He tells the following story.
A man called Goliadkine, a meticulous clerk, one morning made some extravagant purchases, and talked to people in involved sentences, with a feeling that everybody was spying on him.
One evening this man goes into a ballroom uninvited.
The party is celebrating the engagement of the daughter of a Councillor of State. He acts in a most eccentric manner, and a group of people question his behaviour. At about midnight he departs hurriedly. We find him again wandering in deserted streets. The weather is foul. When nearing the Israilowsky bridge, Goliadkine has the feeling of someone following him, watching him, and whispering to him in a staccato voice. Fighting through wind and snow-storm, Goliadkine meets a man be believes he knows.
He looks at him, then suddenly sets off after him. This man is going towards Goliadkine's house, enters it, sits on the bed, and welcomes Goliadkine. Then begins the drama.
Staring wide-eyed and with his hair standing on end, Goliadkine is scared and shakes with terror, for there is no possible doubt that the stranger is himself. Another Goliadkine is sitting there facing him.
Next morning our hero goes to his office, and there, working at his desk, is his double, the other Goliadkine. "It was really myself," said Goliadkine: " same size, same build, same baldness. In everything he corresponded completely to myself."
Goliadkine's mind is greatly disturbed. How can one understand these happenings, this splitting of one's outward appearance? All this is incomprehensible to him, and he wonders if it is not a dream.
This state of uneasiness is obvious to his colleagues, who press him with questions, and remark that he has changed, that he looks ill. One of them reminds him that this phenomenon of the double is well known: " The same thing happened to one of my aunts," he said, " but when she saw herself in front of her double she died "-a strange manner of comforting the unhappy Goliadkine.
In spite of all his efforts to shake off this vision, Goliadkine cannot rid himself of his double. This other self will not leave him alone. It copies exactly all his movements; it bends down when he bends down, walks when he walks. Yet sometimes the double contradicts him or laughs at the real Goliadkine.
Then comes the phase of persecution. Revolt and hatred come to Goliadkine, at the same time anxiety at the thought that the double might harm him and even use poison to kill him.
After numerous extraordinary adventures our hero's mental agitation increases to the point that one day, going to a reception to which he had not been invited, he believes he can see a thousand Goliadkines appear in front of him, move oddly about, and surround him. The police are called, while the double whispers, " It is the doctor." He then faints. In the conveyance taking him to an asylum the attendant tells him: "Don't worry any more; from now on you will be kept by the State."
I have given you some details of this tale of Dostoievsky's because in the story we are shown what happens in real life. Goliadkine's adventure is a true story. What do we find in it? That a neat methodical man is suddenly taken with megalomania and makes absurd purchases, partly realizing that he is not quite himself and that he does it under the impulse of a power foreign to his personality. While undergoing a medical examination he gets confused and wonders why he is at the doctor's. Then come the extraordinary adventures with the double, then degradation in dementia.
The whole series of these events allow us to conclude that Goliadkine was showing signs of an organic psychopathy.