Rodion Raskolnikov, Your Tweet Archive is Ready

by Katherine Bowers

Two years ago, on May 1, 2016, the Twitter account @RodionTweets sent its first tweet. Since then @RodionTweets has “live-tweeted” the events of Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, broken into 140-character-or-less snippets, from its hero Raskolnikov’s perspective. The bulk of the novel’s events take place over the course of three intense weeks in the summer, and the bulk of Rodion Raskolnikov’s tweets similarly appeared in July 2016, but the account has continued to tweet the book’s epilogues, which spread over the course of nearly two years. Finally, on April 24, 2018, Raskolnikov’s new life began and the twitter account went silent.

@RodionTweets was the brainchild of myself and Brian Armstrong, a kind of extension of our first experiment with Twitterature, @YakovGolyadkin. Both accounts were created through a process of tweet mining. For @RodionTweets we received permission from Penguin Classics to use Oliver Ready’s translation of Crime and Punishment. Then one Dostoevsky scholar mined one of the novel’s six parts and Kristina McGuirk, my wonderful RA, did a round of edits and loaded the tweets into TweetDeck, scheduling them in to tweet out according to the timeline for the novel that Brian and I had mapped.

Rodiontweets-end-2As each part of the novel was tweeted out, we reflected on our experience in creating the tweets in a series of blog posts. Sarah Hudspith mined Part 1 and reflected on the divide between public and private online and the use of hashtags as a narrative device. In her discussion of mining Part 2, Sarah Young considered the way digital approaches to the novel (tweeting, digital mapping) expand our avenues for understanding and interpretation. Kate Holland’s experience mining Part 3 led to a new perspective on the novel’s narrative structure. Brian Armstrong discussed the insight he gained into empathy in both Crime and Punishment, Part 4 and The Double through the intensely close scrutiny tweet mining requires. Jennifer Wilson’s mining of the scandal scene in Part 5 led to her reflection on social status and projection, and how pain, humiliation and suffering impact them. And my experience mining Part 6 and the epilogues led to a new realization on my part about timing in the novel. The blog post you’re reading serves as the project’s final, final note: one last reflection on what we’ve learned from @RodionTweets.

Of course, the first thing we, as literary scholars, noticed was that twitterifying Dostoevsky raised a number of questions that made us see the novel’s narration and themes in a new light. You’ll notice this from the blog post topics above. We began, however, with a basic question: how do you break a novel that’s narrated in the 3rd person down into tweets in the first person? Where does the narrator’s voice go? The switch from 3rd person narration to 1st reverses Dostoevsky’s own narrative switch from the 1st person he originally planned on to the 3rd person the novel ended up with.

Rodiontweets-end-3One of the conceits of the project is that Raskolnikov tweets as if he keeps a constant feed of everything that goes through his head. This, of course, means that the account presupposes that no one else from the novel world is reading it. For example, Raskolnikov live tweets the murder on @RodionTweets, and if Porfiry Petrovich were to read this in his Twitter feed, the novel would likely have been much, much shorter! – although this point is well taken. This style also renders @RodionTweets more like those Dostoevsky protagonists who monologue or write zapiski and less like most (active) twitter users, who may do this kind of live-tweeting some of the time, but not all of the time. Furthermore, as we mined the novel’s text for tweets, thinking critically about what would be omitted from the twitter narrative and what would be emphasized, as well as what Raskolnikov would be tweeting about, we created a feed that both captures the novel’s tone and renders the work more real-feeling, or, at least, more contemporary.

This contemporaneity was a really unexpected yet rewarding result of @RodionTweets. Beyond the experience of Raskolnikov’s tweets periodically appearing in his followers’ twitter feeds, the serendipity of their timing or placement allowed for connections to be drawn between followers’ lived experiences and Dostoevsky’s novel. Followers remarked on the eeriness of @RodionTweets juxtaposed with twitter updates about the Turkish coup attempt or the odd resonance between @RodionTweets and the mood of many in post-Brexit Britain. One of the strangest coincidences was that Raskolnikov’s monologue leading to his confession took place at the same time as Trump’s speech at the RNC in Cleveland on July 21, prompting a flood of comments from followers experiencing the two feeds – RNC live tweeters and @RodionTweets – together; here are a few examples. While unintended when we conceived the project, these juxtapositions highlight the power of Dostoevsky’s novel and speak to the relevance of his hero’s psychology for the present.

The project, though, was not all serious. Beyond the geopolitical resonances and the literary analysis, it is a project based in Twitter, a medium that’s equally political squabbling and entertaining puns, jokes, and sarcasm. The spirit of the project is one part Dostoevsky, one part Twitterature, and it also encompasses @RodionTweets’s love of strange hashtags and sublime Twitter moments such as a Dostoevsky account interacting with his creation or a Shostakovich account liking some of @RodionTweets’s tweets. Or this, my favorite follower interaction with the account, which continues to crack me up nearly two years later.

So what now? We have archived the project here: @RodionTweets, parts 1-3; @RodionTweets, parts 4-6 + epilogues. The archives are complete and tweets within them appear in chronological order (so you can read them alongside the book). They have already been used in the classroom by some. Professors assign students to read part of the novel alongside the corresponding tweets and then discuss, or to generate their own tweets from a different character’s perspective (this last idea is an assignment Kate Holland has implemented in her Dostoevsky class). If you are using the project in your class, please let me know!


At the end of my blog post about tweeting Part 6, I concluded by saying that the epilogues on Twitter would be spread across 18 months and then Raskolnikov would fade away. Now, though, I think that statement needs some revising. The spring of 2018 feels far removed in many ways from the summer of 2016. Much has happened since then. But I think the drawn-out nature of the epilogue, and Raskolnikov sporadically appearing in our feeds, has perhaps made it seem more like he is one of us – a Twitter user who is sometimes active (the conceit being he somehow manages to get online from his Siberian prison camp…), but more often not. And perhaps this silence is simply because his life is full and he hasn’t got time for social media. In this sense, although @RodionTweets has gone quiet, I hope he is not forgotten, but lingers on as part of our network, somewhere on the edge of our consciousness.

Katherine Bowers is Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is working on a book about the influence of gothic fiction on Russian realism and tweets about Russian lit and other things on @kab3d. She also edits Bloggers Karamazov and curates the North American Dostoevsky Society’s social media.

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias, the blog of the NYU Jordan Center.

On Golyadkin, Raskolnikov, and the Search for Empathy

by Brian Armstrong

Brian Armstrong is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Augusta University. He works on the intersection of philosophy and literature, and his current project focuses on the philosophical implications of Dostoevsky’s fiction. He masterminded @YakovGolyadkin last fall during #TheDoubleEvent. You can find him on Twitter under the handle @wittstrong.

As I begin to write this post about @RodionTweets, I realize that the details of the origin of the project are a bit murky. It emerged from one of many brainstorming sessions that Katia Bowers and I had at the start of the Fall 2015 semester for social and digital media projects for The North American Dostoevsky Society. We were interested in creating an event related to Richard Ayoade’s The Double, an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s 1846 novel of the same name. We were planning a simultaneous viewing on multiple campuses, and Twitter would play a key role in promoting the event and enabling viewers to communicate during it. Our brainstorming also kept looking ahead to #CP150 and the idea of tweeting Crime and Punishment arose. I’d always been interested in what the novel would’ve looked like if Dostoevsky had stuck to his original idea of writing it from the first-person and tweeting the novel might give us some sense of that. We decided that tweeting The Double would be a good test run: it’s much shorter and almost entirely centered on its central character, Yakov Golyadkin. Katia, her RA Kristina McGuirk, and I set it up so that the tweeting ran for four days in November – as in the novel – and then, on the fifth day, the film viewing took place, with Yakov tweeting from his own account.

The project was valuable for many reasons. Firstly, it promoted awareness of Dostoevsky and of the Society (which exists to further study of Dostoevsky). From a scholarly perspective, the extremely careful reading that the process required gave rise to new insights on the work. Sarah Young noted this in her earlier post: “The result of that process, for me, has been closer readings than I have ever done before, and these have revealed all sorts of details that I have never previously noticed.” I certainly found this to be the case with The Double, too. I would imagine that some of my insights are not new – they’ve been noted somewhere in the vast secondary literature – but that doesn’t make them less important for the individual reader, whether a student or scholar. I’m also still sorting out to what extent any of the insights are connected to the use of Twitter as a hermeneutic tool: the act of converting a fictional voice into Twitter clearly seems to shed a unique light on the original text, but how does it do that?

One of the things that especially struck me with respect to tweeting The Double was a certain lightness and vivacity in Yakov that I’d always missed before. He seemed wittier, more earnest – more like he saw himself and like he maybe was (granting that he really isn’t at all but is, rather, a literary construct). I have my own theory of why this is, and it’s twofold. First, it seems to me that Yakov was struggling with the reality of trying to move up in a meritocratic world that wasn’t really, it turned out, so meritocratic (a struggle that makes him a bit more relatable for the modern reader than his slide into dementia). Second, the narrator, who is not Yakov but like another double, is always there watching over his shoulder, observing and commenting and making inferences about what Yakov is feeing, but is not entirely empathetic. Thus, in stripping away the narrator, a greater possibility for empathy opens up. If this is so, I’m not entirely sure yet why it is so, although I suspect that it’s because of how the narrator navigates his presentation of Yakov with his presentation of others, who seem to judge Yakov. The narrative voice also leaves us in a state of intense epistemological uncertainty, so that we end up suspicious of Yakov. Once that suspicion is gone, we can more authentically draw nigh.

In order to see how things would compare in the case of Rodion and Crime and Punishment, I wanted to keep things the same. This meant that I, um, broke one of the @RodionTweets rules: as Sarah noted in her post, “the general consensus […] was that he probably wouldn’t tweet during conversations, but would give his thoughts on them after the event.” But is not the first rule of @RodionTweets Club that one must #stepover the rules? In any case, I did assume that Rodion tweeted during conversations, as this was what we did with Yakov. It seemed to make sense for Yakov; who knows what’s really happening with him, right? And one can imagine the seemingly socially awkward Yakov tweeting as he talks (or tweeting talks that are not actually happening). But with CP, things are different. The narrative voice is not fully centered on Rodion – and this was very much by design for Dostoevsky. We might well ask what purpose those strategic shifts from Rodion have. And, ideally, Twitter should help us to answer that question. I believe that it was Gary Rosenshield who first began tackling this question back in the 1970s; perhaps we can meaningfully extend his insights with this new tool.

In order to justify my approach a bit more fully, I gave it a name: “higher twitter realism,” intended to echo Dostoevsky’s claim that his own writing is a form of “higher realism.” Whether or not it’s at all an appropriate label, I nonetheless operated with the assumption that Rodion’s tweeting was like an extension of his thoughts, including his perceptions of what others are saying. Could he possibly tweet things discretely as he’s talking to another person? I would assume not. But “live tweeting” these conversations did serve the purpose of providing a faithful version of the narrative that’s stripped of a narrative voice, including a third-person account of what others are doing and saying.


Naftali Rakuzin’s illustration of Crime and Punishment (used with permission)

Part IV seems like an appropriate Part for this. Sarah Young’s note on Part IV in her Mapping St. Petersburg shows why: “An even greater contraction is evident here. The entire part consists of conversations and interviews, and there is notably no reference, beyond stating that movement between one building and another took place, to anything happening en route. Even though one of the interviews is located in a public office, the police station, Petersburg as a public city and a landscape seems to have all but disappeared here.” Thus, we find that, although Raskolnikov is moving about the city, one would hardly realize it: we’re almost always in the midst of conversations. And, interestingly, Rodion’s failure to register the city around him was not because, as we see at other times, he’s lost in thought; rather, it’s because he’s almost always talking to someone in Part IV: Svidrigailov, Razumikhin, his family, Sonya, and then Luzhin. It’s an intensely discursive section of the novel, and the key players in his transformation are all there.

So what results? A few things stand out for me at present. First, Rodion seems more unmoored, more locked in his own head. This seems especially the case in the final two chapters of Part IV. Granted, this is likely the effect of having Rodion tweet not just his own thoughts but also what others are saying. At times, and especially at first, I tried to have him demarcate his thoughts from his speech and his speech from the speech of others by having him tweet “I said x” or “S/he said x.” But this grew tiresome, and it seemed to me, as I moved along, that there’d be no real need from him to make these distinctions: whether he said it or thought it, or whether he or another said it, would be less important that the thoughts – the propositions expressed or those that he can infer (and often does) from what’s expressed. (He’s highly inferential.) The result is that, at times, one might not be able to tell in the Twitter feed what is said versus thought, or what is uttered by him versus uttered by another like Svidrigailov or Porfiry.


Naftali Rakuzin’s illustration to Crime and Punishment (used with permission)

This leads to the second point, one that I didn’t really think about until, a few days after finishing my portion of the project, I heard Dr. Carol Apollonio’s keynote at the June 2016 International Dostoevsky Symposium. She raised the question of the ontological status of the other characters, asking: granted that the text is words and not real, why do we attribute the ontolgocial status to aspects of the text as we do? Carol noted that Raskolnikov slips invisibly about while inside his head but surrounded by others, and we, as readers, enter this suspended state. Transposing Raskolnikov’s voice into Twitter, I think, heightens our awareness of this state. Carol also asked us how, for instance, we really know that Rodion really overheard a student and an officer in a tavern. In The Double, it would have been much more clear that the ontological status of the event should be questioned by the reader; Twitter brings out this ontological tension that Carol notes. Carol noted that deciding what is actually happening in “interpretation in the indicative mode,” and she urged us to remain in the uncertainty as we engage in our interpretive activity.

Extending Carol’s insight raises new questions. How do we know that the conversation in Porfiry’s office happens just as the narrator reports? Why do we not question whether it’s all in R’s head? Stripped of any certainty that Porfiry’s there, it seems like it really could be an internal debate of the sort that plagues Rodion. He arrives at the station and no one notices him; we watch as his thoughts and feeling shift, until suddenly he decides that he’s ready to face Porfiry. The next two sentences might make an uncertain reader suspicious: “At that very moment he was called in to see Porfiry Petrovich. Porfiry Petrovich, it turned out, was alone [был у себя в кабинете один]” (310). This emphasis on the ‘lone’ drives the next two chapters (and I’d never noticed how frequently words with the root одн- [one, lone] occur in Part IV, Chapter 5 alone).

While I’m inclined to think that, within the fictive reality of the novel, the conversation really did take place, it’s certainly interesting to wonder if the reason people look at him differently after he leaves the office is that he just entered an empty office, freaked out, and is now leaving.

But now we have another question: What in particular gives Porfiry ontological weight beyond just being another voice woven dialogically into Rodion’s thought? I think that that’s an actual question that Dostoevsky sought to raise, and – to offer another suspicion – I suspect that it’s part of what he’s after in his move toward wider-ranging POVs in his novel. It’s as if, having worked to build the tools by which to more fully articulate the consciousness of another person, he now needs to give weight back to the realities outside the consciousness of those individuals.

It also seems to me that Rodion in Twitter form would draw less empathy than Yakov in Twitter form. So where did the empathy go? It’s almost as if it left with those others who are cut out of Twitter – with those “real” people who seem to truly value Rodion, to see something good in him, to fight for him. If we are left only inside Rodion’s head, we can lose sight of that – of a potential and value in Rodion that Rodion himself can’t quite see. As Kate Holland put it in her post on Part III, “We are trapped instead in Raskolnikov’s monomania. While we trace the vacillations of his self-deception and self-revelation, those psychological developments are never embedded into a broader moral or social context.” If I combine my question with Kate’s observation, a possible inference is that the reality that is left out of an exclusive focus on Rodion’s consciousness is the one to which others seek to open him and is this source of their empathy for him: the moral, which, for Dostoevsky, is also real.

This is part 4 of a series of posts on the experience of creating @RodionTweets. You can follow the Twitter account here. The introduction to the series is here. Click here to read Part 3, and here to go on to Part 5. More information about the #CP150 project can be found here.

The illustrations are by Naftali Rakuzin, and appear with his kind permission. He has also given permission to use an image of one of his illustrations for @RodionTweets. More of his illustrations of Crime and Punishment can be found on his website.

This post has been cross-posted on All the Russias blog.

Gothic Doubling and The Double, Gothically

by Katherine Bowers

Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. “Gothic Doubling and The Double, Gothically” is part of #TheDoubleEvent, and cross-posted from All the Russias, the blog of the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, with their permission.


As the bells begin to toll the midnight hour, Mr. Golyadkin is crossing the Fontanka in a terrible storm. St. Petersburg comes alive: black waters rise up against the embankments and howling winds gust through the streets. This soundscape also includes piercing squeaks from rattling lanterns and a gurgling backdrop from the heavy rain. Even this rain is ominous, “cutting and stinging Mr. Golyadkin in the face like a thousand pins” (138).[1] He is alone; a feeling of “inexplicable uneasiness” (139) comes over him. Trudging through the darkness, Golyadkin experiences a strange new sensation: “melancholy, yet not melancholy, fear, and yet not fear… a feverish trembling [runs] through his veins. The moment [is] unbearably unpleasant!” (140). All of a sudden, in this damp, dark, misty night, Golyadkin comes face to face with his double! A cold shiver runs down his spine, as he stands, senselessly staring after the other. “Have I gone mad or something?” (141) he asks himself, incredulously.

This episode from Chapter 5 of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Double features all the conventions of a derivative gothic scene: the stroke of midnight, a persecuted hero, stormy weather, isolation, and a sense of “inexplicable uneasiness.” Yet, even before Golyadkin, Jr. (that is, the double) appears, Golyadkin, Sr. is filled with anxiety, fear, and dread, almost as though the appearance of his double is expected. Throughout the work, Golyadkin Sr. repeatedly asks himself if he is hallucinating or going mad. By the end, though, he seems resigned to the existence of his double. In addition to this episode and the uncanny double, gothic psychologies such as anxiety, uneasiness, and dread permeate the work. While these could simply provide atmosphere, Dostoevsky exploits them to build up a palpable sense of anxiety for his reader, a reflection of his hero’s anxiety. While the narrator’s voice at times provides humor, the text’s gothic quality contributes to a sense of disquiet that lingers even after the book has been shut.

Dostoevsky was well aware of the power of the gothic. Indeed, gothic themes appear so frequently in his works that Vladimir Nabokov dismissed him as merely “a much overrated, sentimental, and Gothic novelist of the time.”[2] Intriguingly, Nabokov also considered The Double, despite its obvious gothic theme, to be “the very best thing [Dostoevsky] ever wrote.”[3] Dostoevsky’s interest in gothic fiction began when his parents read it to him as a child; he recalls that his hair “[standing] on end” and “raving deliriously in his sleep afterwards.”[4] He was familiar with works by British gothic writers including Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, and Charles Maturin, among others.[5] While these novelists are known for their formulaic writing, they produced enduringly popular fiction providing suspense and psychological thrills. The appeal of gothic fiction is its preoccupation with dark alter egos and passions, transgressive thoughts that lurk behind the seemingly rational mind and emerge in ways that expose hidden fears and truths. If the work’s links to the gothic are so readily apparent, the question remains: what do we gain from reading The Doublegothically?


Gothic Doubling

The figure of the double or doppelgänger is a gothic stock character, one that David Punter classifies alongside Frankenstein’s creature, the Wandering Jew, and the Byronic vampire.[6] Each of these types can be read as the manifestation of anxiety over a transgression. Frankenstein’s creature exists because of his creator’s hubris, a man playing God. The Wandering Jew has been cursed with deathless wandering because of his sin against Christ. Vampires are undead, have forfeited their souls, and carry an illicit sexual connotation, particularly the Byronic variety. Punter uses the examples of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) to showcase the double type. In both cases, the double figures—the violent, monstrous Hyde and Dorian’s decaying, aging portrait-self—reveal the horrors apparent when the self is physically divided. Jekyll’s goodness is offset by Hyde’s murderous tendencies just as Dorian’s external beauty contrasts with the internal decay and degeneration represented in his portrait.

The double’s appearance is usually terrifying because it is the manifestation of the social encounter feared most: one in which the authentic self is revealed. Suddenly, faced with your own mirror image, dark secrets are no longer buried, but potentially on display; if you can observe them, so can others. The terror lies in your double revealing your own hidden, true self, perhaps, even worse, a self hidden even to you. Analyzing E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “Der Sandmann” in “Das Unheimliche” (1919), Freud describes the sensation of uncanny, or unheimlich (literally, un-home-ly; a sense of feeling displaced from what’s familiar) as something not foreign, but strangely familiar, creating cognitive dissonance. He specifically uses the example of the doppelgänger in his discussion of the uncanny. Encountering your own double isn’t just a disturbing experience, but generates a peculiar kind of disquiet, one that comes from recognizing yourself but, at the same time, seeing yourself as others see you.


While the double’s appearance in Dostoevsky is horrifying, it isn’t violent, and the only murders that take place are metaphorical. In Wilde and Stevenson, the doubles represent a physical split, creating contradictory, opposing characters linked together. In Dostoevsky, the double plays a different role. At first, Golyadkin Sr. finds his double to be a friendly listener, but perceives that Golyadkin Jr. quickly begins to undermine him. Golyadkin Sr. believes he has righteousness on his side, but is ostracized in society. He observes that his double, on the other hand, is often hypocritical or deceitful, but his ability to perform within society’s expectations endears him to Golyadkin Sr.’s acquaintances. Golyadkin Sr. knows Jr.’s antics are rooted in falsehood, but, at the same time, the petty nastiness of Golyadkin Jr. is a mirror of Golyadkin Sr.’s rude treatment of his servant, Petrushka. Although Golyadkin Sr. considers his relationship with his double to be a dichotomy between authenticity and falseness, the reader realizes that all is falseness, that Golyadkins Jr. and Sr. are the same. Gary Saul Morson asserts that the novel’s humor lies in the fact that Golyadkin concurrently recognizes and refuses to recognize that he is his own double, while the horror of the piece lies in the possibility that “the real me is not mine but his, and I am the one who does not have a me!”[7] Or, rather, that an authentic self may not exist at all, just copies.

Golyadkin’s frequently expressed death wish—for example, “Mr. Golyadkin now not only wished to flee from himself, but also to be completely annihilated” (139)—comes to pass upon encountering the double and, with this, uncertainty about his own genuine existence. Strangely, throughout the text, Golyadkin dies multiple times, always metaphorically and often ironically. He’s described as half-dead, nearly dead, dead, annihilated, murdered, and, in one humorous line, Andrey Filippovich, Golyadkin’s head of office, shoots him a look “that would have destroyed our hero completely, had he not been completely destroyed already” (134). Similarly, the narrator describes Golyadkin after his humiliation at Klara Olsufyevna’s birthday party as though he has died: “Mr. Golyadkin had been murdered – murdered in the full sense of the word” (138). As Malcolm Jones points out, in this moment, Golyadkin “feels the physical abyss of the staircase looming up together with the spiritual abyss of total annihilation.”[8] In this state, he rushes out into the night and encounters his double for the first time.

In Dostoevsky’s text, the double appears after a metaphorical death. This progression is a mirror image of a common nineteenth-century spiritualist belief about doppelgängers, that the double’s appearance is an ill omen that often prefigures death. The reasoning behind this, taken from folklore, is that the spirit world and the living world co-exist, always hidden from each other, but before death, the barrier between them opens. For example, in Prometheus Unbound (1820), Percy Bysshe Shelley describes the priest Zoroaster encountering his own double, an apparition from the shadow world visible only to him. The double is a mirrored reflection of the living individual in the land of the dead; it appears to its other half in life just before death comes. This idea is not limited to literature; intriguingly, after Shelley’s death, his wife, the gothic novelist Mary Shelley, wrote in a letter that her husband had described seeing his own double less than a month before he died.[9] In inverting this formula, Dostoevsky creates more confusion around his text’s narrative structure. The double appears, but Golyadkin’s own state—living, dead, dreaming, mad—can only be guessed, leaving the reader in an uneasy state.


In 1848, Catherine Crowe published a two-volume parapsychological study called The Night-Side of Nature: Ghosts and Ghost-Seers, which includes chapters dedicated to diverse spectral phenomena including waking dreams, wraiths, apparitions, and “Doppelgängers, or Doubles,” among others. Crowe’s research documents a number of cases in which individuals encountered doubles, either their own or those of a friend or relative. In some of the cases, the double’s appearance did portend death. In others, apparently taken from doctors’ records, the double’s appearance is the result of illness, either mental or physical. The uncanny appearance of a double is usually upsetting, but some of the stories Crowe recounts strike me as humorous. For example, in one case, a Danish physician became very anxious about being held up on a call and missing a scheduled visit to another patient. However, afterwards, the unvisited patient reported that the physician had paid him a call. According to Crowe, hearing of his own spectral visits “occasioned him such an unpleasant sensation that he requested his patients never to tell him when it happened.”[10] In another instance, more in keeping with the focus of this blog, Crowe alludes to Catherine the Great, who allegedly had a more volatile reaction to her Doppelgänger: upon meeting her double sitting on her throne, she casually ordered her guards to fire upon it![11]

Crowe’s “Doppelgängers, or Doubles” chapter provides a strangely complementary read alongside Dostoevsky’s The Double. Beyond the fact that nearly all the doctors whose records Crowe cites are German (reminding me of Dr. Rutenshpitz), the two works appeared around the same time, although Crowe, living in England, wouldn’t have had any opportunity to read Dostoevsky’s novella before penning her study. Curiously, Golyadkin and Crowe share an experience: both were carted off to the madhouse at the end of their texts; Crowe was admitted to an asylum in 1854 after she was discovered wandering around Edinburgh naked because, she reported, spirits had told her to do so.[12] Crowe, afterwards, said that her madness was a research-based aberration as she had fallen into a state in which she believed “spirits were directing” her writing.[13]

Crowe was an enthusiast of German ghost stories, and many of the case studies described sound as if they are lifted from gothic novels, or echo Golyadkin’s encounter with his double. This resonance underscores Dostoevsky’s debt in his original formulation of The Double to E. T. A. Hoffmann, the German master of the uncanny Romantic tale. The Double’s direct influence from Hoffmann and his indirect influence filtered through Gogol is difficult to untangle. However, from Dostoevsky’s 1861 piece in Timecomparing Edgar Allan Poe and Hoffmann, we learn that Dostoevsky admired Hoffmann’s ability to delve into the secrets of the psyche using a Romantic blend of fantasy and reality.[14] Crowe’s ghost stories seem reminiscent of this type of writing in that they, too, sit at the intersection between the imagined and the real. In another of Crowe’s cases, a man, “in perfect health, one evening, on turning the corner of a street, met his own form, face to face; the figure seemed as real and life-like as himself; and he was so close as to look into its very eyes. He was seized with terror, and it vanished.”[15] The man tells friends about it, tries to laugh it off, but remains shaken. Similarly, confronted with his own double, Golyadkin seeks reassurances from his colleagues that the similarity is uncanny, but no one else notices that anything is wrong. Crowe, writing a scholarly book, asserts throughout her study that she is seeking only the truth in her explorations. Golyadkin, too, champions authenticity, but Dostoevsky, writing his fantastic realist novella, knows he is crafting a fictional world, and problematizes Golyadkin’s quest for truth.


The Double, Gothically

The Double haunted Dostoevsky. It was critically panned upon publication in Notes of the Fatherland in 1846. He came back to it, again and again, eventually publishing a revised version in 1866 (the one commonly read today). But even after this, the novella continued to obsess him. In 1877, he wrote in the Writer’s Diary, “I failed with this novella, but the idea was fairly luminous, and I have never done anything in literature more serious than this idea. But the form I gave to this novella was a complete failure… and if now I were to come back to this idea to develop it again, I should choose a completely different form: but in 1846 I was not able to find that form.”[16]

Dostoevsky’s conclusion that the novella’s form didn’t work leads us back to the gothic. The Double is a novel that starts naturalistically, detailing Golyadkin’s various thoughts as he goes through his day. At midnight, he encounters his double in a gothic scene, and is terrified. Afterwards, the double torments him, but we don’t know if the double is a hallucination, an apparition, or a physical person. Finally, the novella ends with Golyadkin on the way to some kind of asylum. The gothic scene in Chapter 5 is the key threshold scene between the naturalistic opening and the fantastic potential of the conclusion. This gothic scene could be a continuation of the naturalism, a nod to Golyadkin’s increasing paranoia and anxiety. It could be the beginning of the fantastic portion, a midnight transition into a Petersburg in which reality blurs and cannot be trusted. But the gothic scene is entirely subjective: no one thinks the double’s appearance is fantastic except Golyadkin and potentially the reader.

The section in which the double appears links two transitional gothic moments: Golyadkin’s midnight bridge crossing and the final moment, as Golyadkin finds himself enroute to the asylum. Some critics read The Double as a nightmare, and these linked scenes are key to that reading, especially the specific Petersburg environment that contextualizes the initial appearance of the double.[17] Donald Fanger equates the atmosphere of Petersburg as that of a bad dream,[18] tying this particular scene specifically to the city’s layered mythology, a point that becomes particularly relevant in the context of both Dostoevsky’s subtitle of the novella, “A Petersburg Poem,” and its relationship to Pushkin’s earlier work “The Bronze Horseman” (1833). In that poema, the city literally comes to life in another sequence that’s not clearly identified as waking or dreaming, when the Falconet monument to Peter the Great chases hapless clerk Evgeny through the dark, flooding streets of Petersburg, eventually sending him to madness and death. Konstantin Mochulsky even says that Golyadkin himself is “an outgrowth of the putrid Petersburg fog, a phantom living in a phantom city.”[19] Going a step further, Dina Khapaeva argues that the entire text, not just selected episodes, is an expression of nightmare.[20]

But, for a nightmarish text with a gothic core, The Double is remarkably humorous. Golyadkin’s anxious thoughts seem awkward to us, but are endearing as well. The narrator’s often mocking voice amuses, and even though Golyadkin is filled with horror, annihilated, crushed, it seems excessively melodramatic, to the point of laughter. When the narrator states things like, “The man now sitting across from Mr. Golyadkin was Mr. Golyadkin’s horror, he was Mr. Golyadkin’s shame, he was Mr. Golyadkin’s nightmare from the day before; in short, he was Mr. Golyadkin, himself” (146), horror combines with laughter to create a layered text that leaves the reader with still more questions. Malcolm Jones identifies a chorus of voices in the novella, but states that the voice of “reality” is lacking. There are threshold positions, like the gothic scene in Chapter 5, in which “reality and fantasy are delicately poised,” but “it is impossible … to discern where the threshold lies. The text passes over into a permanently confused state and takes the reader with it.”[21]

Jones’s Bakhtinian reading of The Double resonates with the narration found in one of Dostoevsky’s favorite gothic novels, Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). There, the reader can rely on the narrator, but the manuscript itself is not reliable. The narrated story frames a fractured tale taken from a book that is literally disintegrating: “dissolved, obliterated, and mutilated beyond any that had ever before exercised the patience of a reader.”[22] At times, the text from this manuscript breaks off, allowing the voice of a second narrator to enter. The second narrator, coming in abruptly, does not contextualize, but instead plunges the reader into an often disconnected and mysterious tale. The end result of this is a book filled with twists and turns that are not logically mappable, with voices that don’t respond to each other, and with great confusion as to what’s actually happening on the part of the reader, who becomes a refraction of the reader squinting through the damaged manuscript within the novel.

The reader of The Double feels a similar sense of confusion, as s/he struggles with the novella’s great puzzle: whether or not the double is real. Does Golyadkin’s mental distress cause him to hallucinate the double, or is the double perhaps one manifestation of a split personality, a variation of heautoscopy? Or, is the double’s appearance a fantastic element that, in the gothic tradition of Horace Walpole, Matthew Lewis, and Charles Maturin, has no explanation? Or, is the novella simply Golyadkin’s nightmare? The text offers no definitive answers. It is this intermingling of possible explanations—and the lack of resolution—that gives The Double one facet of its permeating gothic feel. For, in The Double, the reader is as disconnected from the truth of the matter as the hero.

The final scene of The Double sees the hero in a carriage, seated across from Dr. Rutenshpitz… or the doctor’s double… described simply as: “two burning eyes staring at [Golyadkin] in the dark, shining with a sinister, infernal glee” (229). Up to this point, Golyadkin’s monster has been his duplicate, but in this scene, we can’t help but think of Stephen King’s observation that “monsters… may pop up in our own mirrors—at any time.”[23] And this is the value of reading The Double gothically: the irresoluble nature of Dostoevsky’s novella allows the reader to make up his/her own mind about the text’s solution. It may be that this lack of resolution is intended to prompt readers to look at themselves in the mirror and imagine how they would react if they, struggling at midnight through a terrible storm, came across a stranger who looked exactly like them…


[1]                All quotes from The Double are from Fedor Dostoevskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh, Vol. 1 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1972). Hereafter PSS. All translations are my own unless stated otherwise.

[2]                Vladimir Nabokov, Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse, Vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 191.

[3]                Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature (New York: Mariner Books, 2002), 90.

[4]                Dostoevsky refers specifically to the novels of Ann Radcliffe in this passage. Dostoevskii, PSS, Vol. 5, 46.

[5]                See Robin Feuer Miller, “Dostoevsky and the Tale of Terror,” in W. J. Leatherbarrow, ed., Dostoevskii and Britain (Oxford: Berg, 1995), 139-158.

[6]                David Punter, The Literature of Terror. A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day. Vol. 2.The Modern Gothic (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 1996), 21.

[7]                Gary Saul Morson, “Me and My Double: Selfhood, Consciousness, and Empathy in The Double,” in Elizabeth Cheresh Allen, ed., Before they were Titans: Essays on the Early Works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2015), 50.

[8]                Malcolm Jones, Dostoyevsky after Bakhtin: Readings in Dostoyevsky’s Fantastic Realism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 44.

[9]                Betty T. Bennett, ed., The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Vol. 1 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 245.

[10]              Catherine Crowe, The Night-Side of Nature, or, Ghosts and Ghost-seers, Vol. 1 (London: T. C. Newby, 1848), 287.

[11]              Ibid., 280. This story is widespread in popular accounts, but seems largely absent from scholarly ones. In Andrew Lang’s The Book of Dreams and Ghosts (1897), an eyewitness account is actually reproduced, albeit one acquired second hand long after the alleged episode.

[12]              Dickens recounts the story of her madness in a letter to a friend. The Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 7 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974-93), 285-286. Dickens called her case “hopeless,” but Crowe made a full recovery!

[13]              Cited in Dickens, Vol. 7, 286.

[14]              For a more thorough discussion, see Jacques Catteau, Dostoyevsky and the Process of Literary Creation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 53-62.

[15]              Crowe, 281.

[16]              Quoted in Catteau, 61.

[17]              I have written elsewhere on gothic elements in early realist texts set in St. Petersburg, including several by Dostoevsky. See Katherine Bowers, “The City through a Glass, Darkly: Use of the Gothic in Early Russian Realism,” The Modern Language Review 108.4 (2013): 1199-1215.

[18]              Donald Fanger, Dostoevsky and Romantic Realism: A Study of Dostoevsky in Relation to Balzac, Dickens, and Gogol (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), 160-161.

[19]              Quoted in Fanger, 161. From Konstantin Mochulsky, Dostoevsky: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo (Paris, 1947), 42.

[20]              See Dina Khapaeva, Nightmare: From Literary Experiments to Cultural Project (Amsterdam: Brill, 2013), 107-131.

[21]              Jones, 58.

[22]              Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 28.

[23]              Stephen King, Danse Macabre (New York: Berkley Books, 1983), 252.


Golyadkin’s Human “Shriek”

by Amy Ronner

Amy D. Ronner is Professor of Law at the St. Thomas University School of Law. The following was redacted and revised by Dr. Ronner from her book, Dostoevsky and the Law (Carolina Academic Press, 2015).

The_Scream (1)Golyadkin and Andrei Petrovich Versilov, although conceivably split or doubling, are not the crazed or mad others who are so radically different from the rest of the human species and from their author. Dostoevsky understood that, while the double can be a step that could lead to disaster, it does not always do so. In a letter that Dostoevsky penned to his friend Yekaterina Yunge, an artist and memoirist who had confided that she suffered from chronic “duality,” he emphatically expressed his views: “[Duality is] the most ordinary trait of people, who are not entirely ordinary, however.” Dostoevsky felt that, in his own case, the “ordinary trait” – that of duality – is “a great torment, but at the same time a great delight too.” He told Yunge it was a “powerful consciousness, need for self-evaluation, and the presence in your nature of the need for moral obligation toward yourself and toward humanity.” In essence, doubling can be normative, part and parcel of the creative process, a nexus between internal and external realms, and that sacrosanct conduit between the self and the human race.

It is not surprising that psychiatrist Richard Rosenthal, coming to a similar realization, aligns Golyadkin with postlapsarian humanity: “[…] like Golyadkin, we try to clothe ourselves in an omnipotent other self, a self we could have been or secretly believe we someday still will be, a self who is free of the painful awareness of just those limitations which define our boundaries and make us who we are.”[1]

The “all” and “everybody” in Golyadkin becomes apparent in the novel right before Rutenspitz carts our “hero” off to the asylum: Golyadkin scans the attendees at the party and sees “[a] whole procession of identical Golyadkins . . . bursting loudly in at every door.” The implication here is that everyone is or might be a Golyadkin: Dostoevsky thus compels his readers to see not some peculiar anomaly, but rather, just a parade of everyday selves. The novel urges readers to examine doubly both Golyadkin’s struggles and their own, and to endure that all-too familiar “painful awareness” of their human limitations. Like or not, readers tend to meld with Golyadkin as his fate becomes their own. When Golyadkin met his double, he “wanted to scream, but could not.” At his finale, Golyadkin succeeds at emitting that blood-curdling shriek while being whisked away. His shriek is our shriek as well.

[1] Richard Rosenthal, “Dostoevsky’s Experiment with Projective Mechanisms and the Theft of Identity in The Double,” in Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, ed. Daniel Rancour-Laferriere (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1989), 83.

Dr. Julian Connolly’s Article on The Double

Those reading Dostoevsky’s The Double this week might be interested in the piece that Dr. Julian Connolly published in Dostoevsky Studies 17 (2013). The issue is now available online at (In fact, the first 17 issues of the new series of Dostoevsky Studies are now at!) Dr. Connolly is Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Virginia. His piece is “The Ethical Implications of Narrative Point of View in Dostoevsky’s The Double.” Enjoy!

Gender Trouble in The Double: Masculinity in Dostoevsky’s Novella and Ayoade’s Film

by Connor Doak

Connor Doak is a lecturer in Russian at the University of Bristol, UK. This post first appeared on the All the Russia’s Blog.  It is the first in a series of posts organized by our society in connection with a screening of Richard Ayoade’s film adaptation of The Double on November 6.

Often, it takes an adaptation or spin-off of a classic literary work to reveal the hidden dynamics of gender and sexuality that bubble just beneath the surface of the canonical text. Thus Wide Sargasso Sea famously picks up the untold story of Bertha Mason, the madwoman that Charlotte Brontë kept locked in the attic. Frank O’Hara’s poem “Mayakovsky” locates a camp aesthetic behind the great Soviet poet’s overblown, declamatory style. And, I would argue, Richard Ayoade’s 2013 transposition of The Double to a retro-futuristic dystopian world uncovers a polemic against masculinity in Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella.[i]

By masculinity, I do not simply mean a set of traits such as suave self-confidence, a manly swagger, or the ability to seduce women. To be sure, in today’s society such characteristics carry important social and cultural currency for the men who possess them, a fact that Ayoade’s film highlights. However, gender theorists have moved away from defining masculinity based on a normative checklist of features. Rather, following the lead of Raewyn Connell, they concentrate on masculinity as a system of power relations both between men and women and among men themselves.[ii] On the one hand, a hegemonic masculinity serves to keep women subordinate socially, politically, and culturally. On the other hand, the system of masculinity also creates division among men, generating hierarchies with privileged and subordinate groups. Yet the recent poststructuralist turn in masculinity studies emphasizes the inherent instability of these seemingly fixed masculine hierarchies. Building on Judith Butler’s work, scholars believe certain types of gender performance are capable of exposing the constructed nature of masculinity and subverting the existing system.[iii] I believe that The Double—both book and film—reveals both the existence of these masculine hierarchies and their constructed, unstable nature.


Right from the outset, Ayoade’s film establishes the presence of a masculine hierarchy. Simon, an awkward, mousey junior office worker—Ayoade’s version of Golyadkin—is first seen sitting on the train making his morning commute. An intimidating, suited man intones “You’re in my place,” demanding that Simon get up. Simon quickly accedes. Yet the carriage is empty and the stranger’s order appears to be a mere exercise in the demonstration of power. This encounter sets the tone for the first part of the film, in which Simon faces a number of humiliating encounters at the expense of his superiors. However, he remains in awe of his boss, the powerful and mysterious figure known only as the Colonel. After arriving for work in the morning, Simon’s gaze lingers longingly on a statuesque portrait of the Colonel. The mise-en-scène encourages the viewer to contrast the masculinity of the two men. The Colonel stands smiling, upright in full military attire, whereas we see part of Simon only through his reflection: pale, uncertain, almost ghostly in appearance.

The film’s treatment of masculinity builds on elements already present in Dostoevsky’s novella. Hyperconscious of his status in the masculine hierarchy, Golyadkin often feels humiliated by other men who are above him in terms of wealth, social status, or simply good looks. Thus when Golyadkin finds himself standing beside “some officer, a tall and handsome fellow” at a party, he feels “like a real little insect” (36) next to this exemplar of virility. Indeed, in every simple social interaction that Golyadkin performs, he reveals his inability to conform to the script of masculinity despite his best efforts to do so. Thus his attempt at a friendly slap on the shoulder turns into “something completely different,” (22) as he exceeds the boundaries of behavior permitted between men. However, Golyadkin is more complex than Ayoade’s timid Simon. He generally responds to his humiliation with a characteristically Dostoevskyan masochism, but, as Joseph Frank points out, he also likes to imagine himself as an “all-conquering hero.”[iv] This inner conflict has often been interpreted as Oedipal in nature, but Russell Scott Valentino gets closer to the truth when he writes that Golyadkin’s illness is not a psychological disorder but a social one connected with the emergence of masculine ambition in the increasingly commercialised environment of Dostoevsky’s Petersburg.[v]

Gender is a relational concept, and masculinity is defined in relation to its other, femininity. In Ayoade’s film, the character of Hannah embodies a rather conventional, caring femininity that acts as a foil for—and refreshing alternative to—the systems of hierarchy and domination that characterize masculinity in the dystopian world. In the film’s opening sequence, Simon catches sight of Hannah’s ethereal presence: her smooth skin, her eyes closed and smooth, pale skin evoke a dreamlike quality. Throughout the film, she alone has a smile and a kind word for Simon.


Hannah represents Ayoade’s expansion of Dostoevsky’s hint at the promise of a caring, feminine ethic that might oppose the hierarchy and domination associated with masculinity in the text. Golyadkin believes that Klara Olsufyevna embodies a spirit of beauty and truth that the men around her have rejected, and even imagines that he receives a letter from her offering to elope together from a society that is inherently false. Dostoevsky’s later writings show that the author came to believe that women could redeem the nation: in 1873 he praised Russian women for possessing “sincerity, perseverance, earnestness, and honour, the quest for truth and sacrifice,” adding that “these qualities have always been stronger in Russian women than in men.”[vi] Yet whatever the author’s own position on women might have been, the text of The Double makes Golyadkin’s romantic assumptions about Klara Olsufyevna appear like the delirious fantasies of a madman, and the reader is inclined to see his idea of a redemptive femininity as a false construct.

The key passage that reveals Dostoevsky’s critique of the constructed nature of gender is the description of the glitterati at Klara Olsufyevna’s party. The narrator admits his inability to capture the beauty of the high society ladies and the brilliance of the young men:

How can I depict this extraordinary and dignified mixture of beauty, brilliance, decorum, merriment, kind respectability and respectable kindness, playfulness, joyfulness, all these games and jests of all these civil servants’ ladies, more like fairies than ladies—speaking in a respect advantageous to them—with their lilac-pink shoulders and faces, with their ethereal figures, with their playfully, lively, homeopathic, to use the elevated style, feet? (31)

While the narrator purports to admire this scene, his language lapses into a set of clichés (“kind respectability” and “respectable kindness”), and it becomes obvious he is parodying the fashionable discourse of his day (“homeopathic” for “tiny”). The description of femininity is so exaggerated that it reveals its own absurdity (“more like fairies than ladies”). Similarly ironic is the description of idealized masculinity that follows: “brilliant civil service cavaliers… profoundly imbued with a sense of beauty and of their personal dignity” (31). Mikhail Bakhtin discussed the power of parodic language in The Double, but does not consider its relationship to gender.[vii] To borrow a phrase from Butler, the parodic language here allows us to read the behaviour of the ladies and gentlemen as a “gender performance that will enact and reveal the performativity of gender itself” (177). We might even say that Dostoevsky reveals this dazzling world of heterosexuality to be “both a compulsory system and an intrinsic comedy, a constant parody of itself” (Butler, 155).

Ayoade uses a similar technique of parody to reveal the constructed nature of masculinity. His parody proves more immediately accessible to a twenty-first century audience, as it draws on familiar markers of masculinity. Simon’s favourite television programme is The Replicator, an action serial that evokes the “hard-bodied” masculinities of the 1980s.[viii] The show’s gun-wielding hero bears more than a passing resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator with his shades and leather jacket, and its flamboyant costumes and highly theatricalized violence ensure the audience view it as parody. The hero disposes of his enemies with appropriately virile one-liners that recall the best—or the worst—of Hollywood action movies: “Get up! Or do you want to die on your knees, like a snake?” The effectiveness of this parody of masculinity stems from the fact that these images of the eighties still resonate with the cultural memory of his audience, but already seem overblown and passé as they are one or two generations removed from current trends. Ayoade thus ensures his audience takes a critical view not only of the construction of masculinity in his dystopian society, but also positions his own film as a critique of the hypermasculinity that Hollywood blockbusters have often championed.


While Simon’s fascination with the Colonel demonstrates his need for a father figure and his desire to remain subservient to the existing hierarchy, his identification with the Replicator reveals a longing to become the usurper who overthrows the establishment. To put it another way, as a subject he is required to negotiate between two different myths of masculinity: one that stresses the importance of respecting the existing hierarchy, and another that glamorizes the rebel. Simon, then, is caught between two incompatible poles of masculinity. I believe it is Simon’s inability to resolve this conundrum that leads to his splitting and the appearance of his double, called James in the film. It is no coincidence that James first appears after Simon has finished viewing an episode of The Replicator, or that James possesses the idealized masculinity that (part of) Simon has always longed for. James exudes self-confidence, easily scores success with women, and quickly gains promotion to senior executive at work.

The difference between Golyadkin Sr. and Golyadkin Jr. in Dostoevsky’s text also plays out in terms of masculinity. Golyadkin Jr. is able to quickly adopt just the right professional demeanor with his colleagues: at work he has an “official… businesslike air” that makes him look as though he has just been “dispatched on an special mission…” (71). His work proves exemplary and, His Excellency, “extremely pleased,” even thanks him in person (76). The fact that the two Golyadkins are identical in appearance, but yet come to sit on different ends of the masculine hierarchy reveals the arbitrary and even absurd nature of how masculinity operates. Ayoade, using the medium of film, can capitalize on this idea even more than Dostoevsky. In his movie, Jesse Eisenberg plays the roles of both the bashful Simon and the brash James, and much comedy derives from the sharply differing attitudes that the two identical men elicit.


James’s cockiness initially proves appealing for Simon, and he becomes a masculinity coach for Simon, teaching him how to pick up women and taking him out on the town. The audience may feel drawn to James during these scenes, adopting what Laura Mulvey called a narcissistic “male gaze” as we view James as a “screen surrogate” who realizes our fantasies (and Simon’s fantasies!) of masculine omnipotence.[ix] However, the parody becomes obvious again in a stylized montage sequence of the two men frolicking through the streets and even getting into a pillow fight. Here Ayoade targets the 1970s “buddy film” or the more recent “bromance” in which homosocial bonding and intimacy is central to the development of two central male characters, but where homosexuality is precluded as a possibility. As Michael DeAngelis notes, the two men in a Hollywood bromance must explicitly deny any romantic or sexual interest in one another.[x] As if on cue, James asks Simon “You a flamer?” to which he gives a resigned but definitive “No.” Yet there is another hint of gay romance soon afterwards, as Simon puts James to bed and lets his gaze rest on him, before caressing James’s face.


This bedtime scene builds on a passage in Dostoevsky’s novella with its own homosexual subtext. When Golyadkin Jr. returns to Golyadkin Sr.’s home, the two men drink together, exchange confidences, and express affection for one another. Golyadkin Jr. even composes a quatrain of verse for his host, leaving him “completely and deeply moved” (66) and teary-eyed. Yet just as Ayoade is parodying the cinema’s treatment of masculinity in the buddy and bromance films, so Dostoevsky is poking fun here at the contrived nature of the sentimental masculinities of his day. While Dostoevsky’s text says nothing explicitly about desire between the two men, critics such as Lawrence Kohlberg have identified elements of homosexual desire in the text.[xi] Significantly, this moment of nocturnal intimacy promises a temporary respite from the usual regulated forms of masculinity that govern relations between men. Yet all too soon, Golyadkin Sr.’s vague fear surfaces that his familiarity has somehow overstepped the mark (“haven’t I gone too far?”, 68). This comment, along with his order to his servant Petrushka (“don’t think anything…”, 68), may suggest he fears his homosocial desire for Golyadkin Jr. is becoming homosexual in nature. [xii]

Film scholar Catherine Wheatley has suggested that “the great love story of book and film” is between the hero and his double, and the tragedy derives from its failure.[xiii] The intimacy that unites the two Golyadkins on that November evening cannot last, and the next morning they return to jostling for position in the masculine hierarchy. Golyadkin Jr. eventually besmirches the honor of Golyadkin’s Sr.’s by spreading rumours about a liaison with Karolina Ivanovna. This final insult to his masculinity determines Golyadkin’s Sr.’s fall from grace, as he loses both his position at work and his sanity. Ayoade’s film reproduces the idea of sullying one’s reputation, but with a twist suitable for the twenty-first century. James blackmails Simon by taking pictures of himself having sexual intercourse with Melanie, his line manager’s teenage daughter and reveals them in the office as pictures of Simon inappropriately behaving with Melanie.

In the novella, Golyadkin Sr.’s attempts to protect his honor against the machinations of his double by writing a series of letters. First he writes to his double, a letter that falls into the hands of Provincial Secretary Vakhrameyev, who sends his own frosty reply. Golyadkin Sr. then pens a missive defending himself to Vakhrameyev. This epistolary section of the novella makes amusing reading, as the men insult each other’s masculinity while attempting to maintain their own dignity by sticking as closely as possible to the language of polite society. Thus Golyadkin Sr, protests to his double: “I cannot help but manifest all my indignation at the memory of your blatant infringement, dear sir, to the detriment of my honour” (89).

The theme of sincerity, and its connection to masculinity, comes to the fore in the letters. Vakhrameyev’s vicious reply to Golyadkin Sr. does not merely focus on his alleged transgression with Karolina Ivanovna, but on the fact that he can longer be counted among “men honest and sincere in heart” (97). This insult stings Golyadkin, for throughout the novella he prides himself on his own sincerity. During his consultation with Dr. Rutenspitz, he insists that he operates “directly” and “openly”, and that he “put[s] on a mask only for a masquerade” (13), a line that he repeats later to Anton Antonovich (74). Indeed, it appears that Golyadkin’s notion of his own masculinity is underpinned by a belief in his own frankness, honesty and authenticity, which he sees as superior to the superficiality of high society men, who merely know how to “put together a sweetly scented compliment” (12) or “polish parquet with their boots” (23).

Dostoevsky’s text certainly endorses this critique of the false, constructed nature of high society masculinity with its pretentious rhetoric and rituals. However, the text also interrogates Golyadkin’s own brand of masculinity, supposedly based on authenticity, revealing it to be another sham. Golyadkin’s behavior is perhaps more heavily stage-managed than that of any other character, even (or especially) when he wants to appear authentic. As Gary Saul Morson points out, Golyadkin is wearing a mask even he claims he does not.[xiv] His decision to go to the party “sans façon” (24) is all too contrived, and he is sure to powder and perfume his face. Butler’s Gender Trouble again proves illuminating to understand Dostoevsky’s critique of “authentic” masculinity here. For Butler, there is no authenticity and it is impossible to doff one’s mask: the gendered body “has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality” (173). It is thus inevitable that Golyadkin’s attempt at crafting his own brand of masculine authenticity will end up simply creating another performance, and, eventually, in his eventual madness and his removal from society. However, Dostoevsky’s text, in exposing that quest for authenticity and its inevitable failure, reveals the inauthenticity at the heart of masculinity and the instability within the gender system.

Ayoade is less daring than Dostoevsky in this regard: the director refuses to dispense with the idea of authenticity. He rewrites the sinister ending of Dostoevsky’s novella, removing the section where Golyadkin wakes up in a dark carriage with Doctor Rutenspitz’s eyes gleaming with “sinister, diabolical joy” (160). The film does close with Simon being carried off in an ambulance, but he is accompanied by both Hannah and the Colonel, who offer words of comfort. Simon’s final line, “I like to think I’m pretty unique,” represents a recovery of agency that jibes well with our own culture of liberal individualism, a message that lacks the force of Dostoevsky’s more radical questioning of our own notions of identity and agency. As Morson (47) notes, the implication that an individual might not be unique is what makes Dostoevsky’s text so terrifying. By contrast, Ayoade relies on a simpler, binary notion of authenticity, pitting the meek, awkward, but authentic Simon against the villainous, inauthentic James. It is unsurprising that the film ultimately favors the “nice guy” masculinity of Simon, who is rewarded when Hannah returns to him at the end. Nevertheless, Ayoade’s film does manage to tackle the violence and misogyny associated with the system of masculinity, as we see in his depiction of the cult surrounding The Replicator and his portrayal of James’s sexual conquests.

Ayoade’s mock-autobiography imagines how a fictional American agent might respond after learning of his plans to direct a film adaptation of The Double. The imaginary agent, Danny Deville, has the following to say about Dostoevsky’s Hollywood potential:

[I]f I’ve learned anything in Hollywood it’s Avoid Dostoevsky Like Dairy (ADLD). No-one wants to wade through the ravings of some commie epileptic who, by the way, was only five-foot-two. […] Look it’s up to you, but I’m betting there isn’t even one scene in that book where the hero power-slides under a mechanically closing door. [xv]

Deville’s opposition to Dostoevsky stems from his perception that the Russian’s writings lack masculinity: there are no power-sliding heroes to be found in The Double. Of course, the fact that Ayoade invents this fictional interlocutor, and has him voice a commercialistic challenge to his own film, reveals Ayoade’s own self-fashioning. By depicting himself as a director willing to forego the glamor of the virile hero and instead tackle the difficult Russian classics, Ayoade stages himself as an authentic filmmaker, and, perhaps, a new man who is no longer in thrall to the bombastic tradition of Hollywood masculinity. Dostoevsky, however, a master of the pseudo-autobiography, would recognize this act of mythmaking for what it is.

[i] Quotations from Dostoevsky’s text come from Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Double, trans. Hugh Aplin (London: Hesperus Classics, 2004). This edition is based on Dostoevsky’s revised text from 1866. Film stills and quotations are from The Double, directed by Richard Ayoade (2013; Studiocanal, 2014), DVD.

[ii] R.W. Connell, Masculinities, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2005) treats masculinity with a focus on power that is indebted to Gramsci’s analysis of hegemony.

[iii] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 1999). See especially ch. 3 and the conclusion on the possibility of parodic performances that can “lead to the denaturalization of gender as such” (190). Butler’s work proved instrumental in the “third wave” of masculinity studies with its emphasis on performativity as well as the recognition of the instability of the gender system. See Tim Edwards, Cultures of Masculinity (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), 1–6.

[iv] Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt. 1821-1849 (Princeton: Princeton U P, 1976), 301

[v] For an Oedipal reading, see Richard Rosenthal, “Dostoevsky’s experiment with projective mechanisms and the theft of identity in The Double,” in Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, ed. Daniel Rancour-Laferrière (Amsterdam: John Benjamins B.V., 1989), 59–88. Russell Scott Valentino’s reading appears in The Woman in the Window: Commerce, Consensual Fantasy and the Quest for Masculine Virtue in the Russian Novel (Columbus, OH: Ohio State U P, 2014), 25–27.

[vi] The quotation is from a piece titled “On Lying” in Diary of a Writer; it can be found in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 21 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1980), 125. Translation mine. Elsewhere, I have discussed how Dostoevsky’s view of women in the 1870s shapes his representation of masculinity in his novel Demons. See my “Masculine degeneration in Dostoevsky’s Demons,” in Russian Writers and the Fin de Siècle, ed. Katherine Bowers and Ani Kokobobo (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U P, 2015), 107–125.

[vii] Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984), 226-227.

[viii] On Hollywood the masculinity in the 1980s, see Susan Jeffords, Hollywood Masculinities in the Reagan Era (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U P, 1994).

[ix] Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Movies and Methods: An Anthology, vol. 2., ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1989), 310.

[x] Michael DeAngelis, Introduction to Reading the Bromance: Homosocial Relationships in Film and Television, (Detroit: Wayne State U P, 2014), 12.

[xi] Lawrence Kohlberg, “Psychological Analysis and Literary Form: A Study of the Doubles in Dostoevsky,” Daedalus 92:2 (Spring 1963), 345–362.

[xii] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men literature identifies an anxiety in nineteenth-century literature around men transgressing the boundary between homosocial and homosexual desire. See her Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia U P, 1985).

[xiii] Catherine Wheatley, speaking at “Double Vision: Dostoevsky on Film,” a panel discussion held at King’s College London on October 20, 2014. Available online at Last accessed October 28, 2015.

[xiv] Gary Saul Morson, “Me and My Double: Selfhood, Consciousness, and Empathy in The Double,” in Before they were Titans: Essays on the Early Works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2015), 49.

[xv] Richard Ayoade, Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey (London: Faber and Faber, 2014), 248–249.