Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0007221, Wed, 4 Dec 2002 09:36:14 -0800

Re: PF & literary doubles & multiple personalities
Re: PF & literary doubles & multiple personalities
----- Original Message -----
From: Carolyn Kunin
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Sent: Tuesday, December 03, 2002 10:20 PM
Subject: Re: PF & literary doubles & multiple personalities

Stevenson was himself anticipated by several decades by James Hogg's
"Confessions of a Justified Sinner". First published in 1824. Quote: "This
terrifying account of a man haunted by the Devil in the form of his own
evil double anticipates Dostoevsky's great dramas of sin, self-accusation and
damnation by half a century." **
Charles HW

Dear Charles HW,

I think Mr Geduld's point was the importance the RLS story has had for introducing the concept of the double into the general culture. Stevenson himself seems to have been inspired to some degree by the curious history of Deacon William Brodie (respected cabinet maker by day, thief and ne'er do well by night ), himself inspired by Captain MacHeath in Gay's Beggar's Opera.

Dear Sandy Drescher,

Whether the double was or was not an interest of Freud's is really besides the point. In France Pierre Janet, Freud's great rival, was very interested in the phenomenon. Also interesting in view of the many references to hypnosis in Pale Fire is the fact that hypnosis was used from the beginning in the medical treatment of people suffering from what is now called multiple personality disorder.

Robert Alter [Cycnos, 1993] gives a clear exposition of how authors [Nabokov in his essay] make use of aspects of their own personalities in creating fictive characters [in this case, in Pale Fire]. It's a long jump to finding multiple personalities in this and other texts, but only a short, easy deviation to superimpose this as yet poorly understood phenomenon upon unsuspecting readers.

I am unaware of the article you cite, but the fact that Nabokov, and probably most authors, uses autobiographical material played no part in the conclusion I reached.

If I have "superimposed [foisted?] this as yet poorly understood phenomenon* upon [any] unsuspecting readers," I'm sure it hasn't been on this list.

*There is, by the way, a very wonderful book on the subject of multiple personalities and its vogue especially among the French in the late 19th century by Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory. Interestingly, Marina Warner in her new book on Metamorphosis "from Ovid to Nabokov" as it was described here recently, cites this book as helping her to understand two of the metamorphic processes she discusses, doubling and splitting. The psychological phenomena and some its literary reflections are discussed clearly and in enjoyable English.

**Marina Warner's Fantastic Metamorphoses is also a wonderful book. She discusses James Hogg and the work mentioned here by Charles HW.

Carolyn Kunin