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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Hellmut H Ammerlahn
C LIT 548
Seattle Campus

Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Examination of various trends in nineteenth century literature including Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, and Symbolism.

Class description

Doppelganger: The Phenomenon and Function of the ‘Second Self’ in Western Literature

The Double or “Doppelgänger” as a literary motif and doubling as a structural device are as old as literature. Their varied manifestations pervade myths and fairytales as well as modern film and fiction. From seeing one’s reflection, outer or inner shadow as something other, or experiencing one’s personality as a multiplicity of conflicting identities, to the belief in the soul as the higher imperishable second self, the Double has been the object of exploration in anthropology, theology, and psychology as well as in literary studies.

In this seminar we shall analyze two longer and several shorter works of fiction ranging from the late 18th to the early 20th century and representing divergent treatments of the theme in works from England, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. The uncanny encounter with the Double often performs a revelatory function in giving a human, puppet or machine-like shape to repressed fantasies and fears, as in ETA Hoffmann’s The Sandman. But positive character traits, such as the gradual awareness of hitherto unconscious potentialities, are also embodied in enigmatic doubles such as in Conrad’s The Secret Sharer and Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener. And in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and R. L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, an object of art and the result of a scientific experiment, respectively, are chosen to function as the second self. In Maupassant’s short story The Horla, the horrid harbinger of death remains invisible. By drinking liquids and swallowing the hero’s mirror reflection, he represents another mysterious double: the hallucination of a disintegrating psyche -- or is he more than that?

Placing a hilarious-grotesque occurrence in a quasi-realistic environment, or amalgamating fairytale features with a highly ironic and yet serious treatment, Gogol in The Nose and Thomas Mann in The Transposed Heads add new dimensions to the challenges which the Double has in store for the artistic imagination. The depictions of traumatic social alienation or of the human search for wholeness are located by these authors in the appropriate cultural milieu, a fact also found in other works we study.

The most intricate and subtle use of the phenomenon is found in Goethe’s prototypical ‘Bildungsroman’ of the artist, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. Here the hero’s self-created, opposite, and complementary doppelgangers portray the dangerous and potentially tragic, as well as the healing and integrative, potentialities of the creative individual in his experience of love, suffering and the surrounding world. Goethe’s hero and his doubles illustrate all-to-human pitfalls, stages of cognition, and the necessary detours towards mastering the imagination and thereby encapsulate the ‘poetological meta-narrative’ contained in this novel.

Expected: active class participation and a term paper developed from one oral report.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Seminar lectures and discussions, one class report and seminar paper.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Yuko Mera
Date: 02/08/2010