Names and The Double’s Existence

At the moment of publication of this post, Russia continues its unprovoked war against Ukraine. The horrific crimes against the Ukrainian people has happened every day for over two months. It is not and cannot be forgotten or ignored as we research texts in Russian.

One of the basic yet pointed questions about The Double is this: Is the double real in the story or does he exist only in Goliadkin’s imagination? While the question is intriguing, what is almost equally intriguing is the very fact that such a question can be asked. On the one hand, why can’t a work of fiction be about a double, that takes over a character’s life? On the other hand, we, of course, realize that it is most likely a tale about the psychological phenomenon of a divided personality. Both answers seem plausible and technically work, but why is it so difficult to confidently pick one? What this post tries to do is to discuss how Dostoevskii uses names to create the ambiguity around the double’s existence while simultaneously subverting Goliadkin’s, the narrator’s, and his own claims for authorial control over the story.

The process of TEI tagging forced our attention towards naming in The Double – one of the devices that works to build the figure of the double as a distinctive character of this enigmatic Petersburg tale while simultaneously subverting it. The main function of names is to acknowledge someone’s or something’s existence. The sheer number of different types of names given to the double, and their frequency of usage, is one feature of Dostoevskii’s text that works to persuade the reader that the double is might be more than a mere figment of Goliadkin’s imagination.

Part 1: Who refers to the double by his name?

So far, we have talked only about the process of tagging and the new interpretative possibilities it brings. Now, we also want to manipulate our tagged text and see what we can digitally extract from it. For this, we have been using some XPath expressions. A simple expression (//persName[@ref =’#dbl’]) can tell us how many times the double is referred to by some sort of a name in the text: 199 times. If you change the value of “ref” to see how many times other characters are referred to by their names, you will see that the double is outdone only by Goliadkin.

We intuitively know that most names, nicknames, and epithets are given to both Goliadkins by the narrator or by Goliadkin. Since there are so many different forms of naming of the double in the text, we wanted to see who else refers to Goliadkin Jr. by any sort of name. To do this, we wrote another XPath expression: //said[not(contains(@who,’#gol’))]/persName[@ref=’#dbl’]. This expression requests all the instances when the double was mentioned by any type of name in the characters’ speech, excluding that of Goliadkin. The expression returned four results, two of which belonged to the double himself; but, another two did come from other characters:

  • By Anton Antonovich Setochkin, Goliadkin’s supervisor:
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– Я хочу сказать, Антон Антонович, что здесь есть новопоступивший чиновник.

        

– Да-с, есть-с; однофамилец ваш.

                                                                                        

– Как? – вскрикнул господин Голядкин.

                                                                             

– Я говорю: ваш однофамилец; тоже Голядкин. Не братец ли ваш?

                             

– Нет-с, Антон Антонович, я…

                                                                                          

– Гм! скажите, пожалуйста, а мне показалось, что, должно быть, близкий ваш родственник. Знаете ли, есть такое, фамильное в некотором роде, сходство.

  • By Pisarenko, one of Goliadkin’s colleagues:
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– Сейчас, сейчас, друг мой! сейчас, милый друг! Вот что теперь: вот письмо, мой друг; а я тебя поблагодарю, милый мой.

– Слушаюсь-с.

– Постарайся отдать, милый мой, господину Голядкину.

Голядкину?

– Да, мой друг, господину Голядкину.

– Хорошо-с; вот как уберусь, так снесу-с. А вы здесь стойте покамест. Здесь никто не увидит…

– Нет, я, мой друг, ты не думай… я ведь здесь стою не для того, чтоб кто-нибудь не видел меня. А я, мой друг, теперь буду не здесь… буду вот здесь в переулочке. Кофейная есть здесь одна; так я там буду ждать, а ты, если случится что, и уведомляй меня обо всем, понимаешь?

– Хорошо-с. Пустите только; я понимаю…

As we can see, in both instances the double is referred to by his last name, not by a subjective evaluative epithet or even a semi-objective “the other Goliadkin.” Dialogue that is not touched by the narrator’s ambiguity could indeed suggest that this new employee is just Goliadkin’s namesake. Moreover, Pisarenko’s reaction to Goliadkin’s request to pass on his letter could be read not as a clarification and reference to the double but as a startled response to a strange errand that concerns a person who does not exist. Pisarenko’s further attempts to calm Goliadkin and to get away from him as quickly as possible (“pustite tol’ko,” just let me go) supports this interpretation and might point to people forming doubts about Goliadkin’s sanity. So, we can be sure of only one reference to the double by a character who is not Mr. Goliadkin – that of Anton Antonovich.

Moving along, it would also be interesting to see how many characters speak to the double or have a conversation with him. For this, we used another similar XPath expression://said[@toWhom=’#dbl’][not(contains(@who,’#gol’))]. This expression is meant to show the instances when any other character besides Goliadkin spoke to the double. Only two conversations were returned:

  • Andrei Filippovich, the head of the department, welcomes a new employee:
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Дверь из другой комнаты вдруг скрипнула тихо и робко, как бы рекомендуя тем, что входящее лицо весьма незначительно, и чья-то фигура, впрочем весьма знакомая господину Голядкину, застенчиво явилась перед самым тем столом, за которым помещался герой наш. Герой наш не подымал головы, – нет, он наглядел эту фигуру лишь вскользь, самым маленьким взглядом, но уже всё узнал, понял всё, до малейших подробностей. Он сгорел от стыда и уткнул в бумагу свою победную голову, совершенно с тою же самою целью, с которою страус, преследуемый охотником, прячет свою в горячий песок. Новоприбывший поклонился Андрею Филипповичу, и вслед затем послышался голос форменно-ласковый, такой, каким говорят начальники во всех служебных местах с новопоступившими подчиненными. “Сядьте вот здесь, – проговорил Андрей Филиппович, указывая новичку на стол Антона Антоновича, — вот здесь, напротив господина Голядкина, а делом мы вас тотчас займем.”

  • The same Andrei Filippovich is grateful to the employee for excellent work:
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В последней комнате перед директорским кабинетом сбежался он, прямо нос с носом, с Андреем Филипповичем и с однофамильцем своим. Оба они уже возвращались: господин Голядкин посторонился. Андрей Филиппович говорил улыбаясь и весело. Однофамилец господина Голядкина-старшего тоже улыбался, юлил, семенил в почтительном расстоянии от Андрея Филипповича и что-то с восхищенным видом нашептывал ему на ушко, на что Андрей Филиппович самым благосклонным образом кивал головою. Разом понял герой наш всё положение дел. Дело в том, что работа его (как он после узнал) почти превзошла ожидания его превосходительства и поспела действительно к сроку и вовремя. Его превосходительство были крайне довольны. Говорили даже, что его превосходительство сказали спасибо господину Голядкину-младшему, крепкое спасибо; сказали, что вспомнят при случае и никак не забудут…

The first example is the most persuasive as it is the only instance where the double is spoken to directly and aloud in the novel by anyone other than Goliadkin. Andrei Filippovich suggests the new employee – Goliadkin Jr – sit down at another employee’s table, presumably until he is given his permanent workstation. What is odd about this scene, however, is that Anton Antonovich, whose desk the double is told to use, later appears in the scene – sitting at his desk. The narrator explains that the new Goliadkin has stepped away, but the appearance of Anton Antonovich at a desk that was just given to another employee is not discussed; the double does not seem to return to his temporary desk later the same day, nor is the entire situation questioned by the narrator or Goliadkin. “Our hero” then discusses the new Goliadkin with Anton Antonovich (see above), who also sees the new addition to the department. From this exchange, we trust that this new employee does indeed exist. However, it should also be noted that the desk given to the new Goliadkin stands opposite the old Goliadkin’s desk, which suggests the situation of a reflection of the two characters. But the question remains: Where did the double work after Anton Antonovich arrived?

The second example is a trickier one since here the speech is indirect, as we indicated in our coding. It is not only indirect, but Goliadkin also is not a witness to this conversation. He knows it because he allegedly hears how others are discussing it: “They later said…” In this paragraph, Goliadkin’s own interpretation of events (“Our hero understood what had happened right away”) and what is presented as information he later learns from others (“as he learnt later,” “they said”) emerge as synonymous and as if they are happening at the same time. While the facts about interactions between Andrei Filippovich and the double are given to support Goliadkin’s interpretation of the scene he is observing in the moment (!), the discrepancy between different time frames subverts the reliability of these facts and even their existence altogether. Indeed, Goliadkin’s interpretation, were it to stand on its own, would be more trustworthy as now we cannot be sure if “they” have actually said anything about what transpired between the double and Andrei Filippovich.

To sum up, we have only one reliable instance of someone talking to the double and one where someone refers to the double by a name – both made on the same day. I would suggest that they do prove that a new employee, who was called Goliadkin arrived at the department, but… was he really the double?

Part 2. The epithets; or, whom to charge for all the insults

As you already know from Braxton’s post, we identified three groups of references with a naming intention: so-called passport names, nicknames given by other characters in direct speech, and epithets. Out of 199 cases when the double was referred to by any sort of name, 131 are what we designated as epithets (//persName[@ref =’#dbl’]/addName[@type=’epithet’]). These epithets come across as a peculiar pattern used to distinguish between the real Goliadkin and his double.

We have identified three main types of these epithets. Systematizing them was a pretty easy task since we collected all the epithets and names at the bottom of our file; they seemed just too precious to be left scattered around the text.

The three types are as follows:

  1. Hierarchical designation: Goliadkin Sr. (Goliadkin starshii) vs. Goliadkin Jr. (Goliadkin mladshii)
  2. Literary terminology. This is where “our hero” (nash geroi) and all its variations belong.
  3. Evaluative epithets: This type is the most diverse and includes the rest of the epithets, such as (a) for the double – “useless mister Goliadkin” (bespoleznyi gospodin Goliadkin) or “a slanderer, intriguer, and a person overall known for the uselessness of his tendencies,” and (b) for the original Goliadkin – “truth-loving mister Goliadkin” (pravdoliubivyi gospodin Goliadkin).

Epithets of the first group are used mostly to differentiate between the two Goliadkins when they communicate or when the double is somehow present in Goliadkin’s visual perimeter. At first, epithets such as “Goliadkin the former” and “Goliadkin Jr” support Goliadkin’s superiority over the double, in a relatively objective way. As readers who are aware of the existence of the epithets in The Double, we instinctively recognize this function, and yet, the number of the epithets in the chapters where the two Goliadkins interact is surprising when compared to the rest of the text. To test our reading impression, we ran an XPath expression to see how many epithets are used in each chapter.

We used this expression: //div2[@n=’1′]//persName/addName[@type=’epithet’] . We ran it for each chapter by changing the value of “n” to each chapter’s number, and we received these results:

Ch1 – 2

Ch 2 – 3

Ch 3 – 2

Ch 4 – 2

Ch 5 – 7

Ch 6 – 13

Ch 7 – 10

Ch 8 – 64

Ch 9 – 23

Ch 10 – 84

Ch 11 – 87

Ch 12 – 30

Ch 13 – 64

As you can see, the number of epithets increases with the appearance of the double in chapter 5, with some dramatic numbers in chapters 8, 10, 11, and 13. These four chapters are the hot spots for the main conflict of The Double, at least for its main character: the struggle for preeminence and singularity between the two Goliadkins. The objective nature of the hierarchical epithets is not called into question by this conflict since Goliadkin Jr, as Goliadkin’s double, automatically occupies a secondary position in existential terms (he doubles for Goliadkin, after all). As for their objective nature, we could also assume that the narrator deploys the epithets distinguishing between the two Goliadkins to have his text make sense.

“Our hero” and “the hero of our tale” are epithets that contain literary terminology (hero, tale). We can also safely assign these to the narrator. In using professional slang, our narrator attempts to establish the authorial control with which he points out a Goliadkin who stands in the centre of the narrative – the original Goliadkin. Or is it? The ambiguity is apparent when we look at the author’s (Dostoevskii’s) area of expertise, which includes the work’s title and the characters’ names and last names. For example, the title of the work is “The Double,” which contradicts the narrator’s persistent categorization of Goliadkin as the tale’s main character. Why name the tale after his double, whose existence is questioned? Who then is the actual “hero” of this story – the double? Does Dostoevskii subvert his narrator’s position and announce the double as the main character, or does he support his narrator, but add that Goliadkin and the double are one?

A possibly different choice of the main character is not the only inconsistency between the author’s and the narrator’s presentation of the text. The text’s genre is also questioned when the narrator categorizes his text as a tale (geroi povesti nashei), while the author names it a narrative poem (Peterburgskaia poema). Incidentally, the common English translation of the subtitle is “A Petersburg tale” which curiously coincides with the narrator’s choice of the genre as if bringing together the author’s and the narrator’s positions. While this already lengthy blog entry does not allow for the discussion of the text’s genre, it should be noted that The Double does emerge as a space of the fight for the authorial control between the narrator and the author. This fight reflects Goliadkin’s failed attempt to gain control over the perception of his persona that resulting in the invention of the all-bad Goliadkin Jr. Such constant subversion of the narrative, on multiple levels (literary terms and devices, speech, etc.) creates the situation where clarity becomes impossible. And naming is one of the devices that contribute to it.

Evaluative epithets constitute the most abundant group, terms that offer us a great deal of new ideas for original insults to give out to our occasional frenemies. In this story, these ones are given to the double. We will also find some – much, much fewer – complimentary epithets given out to Mr. Goliadkin. As expected, the double gets all the negative epithets, excluding, perhaps one: “absolutely fair (yet, absolutely fair exclusively in this one matter) mister Goliadkin Jr.” (sovershenno spravedlivyi (vprochem, edinstvenno tol’ko v etom otnoshenii sovershenno spravedlivyi) gospodin Goliadkin-mladshii). Notably, in this epithet, the negation of a single complimentary quality of the double is much more substantial than the description of this quality. In other words, the evaluation of these two characters is consistent. However, whose evaluation is it – the narrator’s or Goliadkin’s? We will hardly go too far if we suggest that this fully positive evaluation of Goliadkin and complete destruction of the double, epithet-wise, is something that Goliadkin himself wholeheartedly shares.

At the same time, from the example above and many others in the text, we do see that different types of epithets can merge. A subjective, evaluative statement of the double intersects with the hierarchical distinction between the two Goliadkin, as well as with the slang-inspired epithets, both of which we attribute to the narrator. So, the evaluative epithets intersect with the objective ones – together, these point to the narrator’s rather ironic integration of Goliadkin’s indirect speech into his narrative voice, to the point of merging.

Thus, The Double can be seen as quite a remarkable instance of indirect speech emerging in names. I would add that nothing screams “unreliable” more loudly than a narrator who merges his or her voice with that of a character who is declared mad. In making it impossible to decisively attribute these names and judge their objectivity, Dostoevskii subverts the function of names to signify existence.

That’s us. But what about you? Do you think that the double is real or that he exists only in Goliadkin’s mind? Participate in the poll below and leave a comment to explain your choice!

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