The doppelganger is a recurring character across literary history. Within nineteenth-century British literature, it is most commonly associated with gothic fiction in which it functions as an externalization of the protagonist’s transgressive desires. This paper argues that this character type is common not only in gothic fiction but in realist fiction as well, reflecting overarching Victorian ideologies surrounding women and the domestic sphere.
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic argues the dark double is as much a projection of the Victorian female author’s rage and anxiety towards her position, as an antagonist or foil to the heroine. My paper differs slightly in that I focus particularly on the female doppelganger’s lack of selfhood and interiority. She is an extension of the heroine and must ultimately be sacrificed, either by death or other misfortune, to symbolically fulfill her bildungsroman. This occurs in both gothic and non-gothic works. For instance, in Charlotte Brontë’s gothic novel, Jane Eyre, Rochester’s first wife, Bertha Mason leaps to her death at Thornfield Hall. In Jane Austen’s realist novel, Emma, Mrs. Augusta Elton is sidelined in Highbury by the end. The doppelganger is valued for her utility to the plot over anything else. I contend that this structural denial of personhood echoes the ideological contradiction regarding women’s place in Victorian society. Just as they were required to be domestic, self-sacrificing moral guardians, the doppelganger’s selfhood is suppressed in favor of the heroine, despite possessing the potential to be a protagonist and rounded character.