Doubling refers to a multiplication by two, such as when two or more characters parallel each other in action or personality. It can also mean internal doubling, or division within the self to exhibit a duality of character.
Often, seemingly disparate characters are shown through doubling to be fundamentally similar, hence collapsing the self-other dichotomy and imparting a worrying sense of indistinguishableness between the supposed opposites. This implies that boundaries between deliberately demarcated groups of people (or individuals) are actually slippery and unstable. External identity markers such as dress and mannerism are hence undependable, allowing social categories to become permeable and vulnerable to transgression by virtue of their easy imitation.
Doubling hence illustrates deep anxieties explored in the Gothic regarding the weakening of the distinctions drawn along lines of class, gender, race and nationality, posing threats to the interests of the self. It also raises a cautionary point that a thin line separates good and evil, and while it is easy for evil to infiltrate one’s protected sanctum, it is equally easy for one to fall into the latter’s trappings. As such, everything that seems good must also be held in suspicion of harboring a negative underside.
Doubling also foregrounds the motif of mirroring, in particular the projection of one’s fears, desires and anxieties onto the other, which becomes an uncomfortable reflection of ugly traits that the self refuses to acknowledge. The other thus reveals the social ills and moral decay that society tends to ignore. It also broaches the notion that there are always two sides to success; when someone wins, it is implied that someone else loses. The doubling of capitalist London, for example, shows that the accumulation of wealth by the elites was accompanied by a rise in crime and poverty in the city's less-explored underbelly. Progress for some comes at the cost of hardship for many others.
At the individual level, doubling plays out an internal splitting of the self between the public face of high Victorian respectability and professionalism, versus the carefully hidden face of despicability and immorality. It makes an oblique reference to Victorian hypocrisy, duplicity of standards and multiplicity of facades, as well as the fear of being discovered as such. It also dramatizes the inner struggle and vacillation between choices of good and evil in the individual. It is also interesting to note that for particular groups, doubling shows the essential sameness of perception by society of their status. Gothic representations of female characters for example, almost always seem to double each other in their stereotypical portrayal of feminine passivity when confronted with masculine power.
Lastly, at the narrative level, the form and structure of Gothic writings sometimes act as a double to the content of the novel, underscoring the importance of themes that are doubled (reiterated through form and content), and the narrative strategy of doubling itself.
Courtesy of Diana Chan Tsui Li, National University of Singapore
See also: doppelgänger
Hughes, William, David Punter, and Andrew Smith. The Encyclopedia of the Gothic. Chichester, West Sussex, UK : Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.
Eliza, or the Unhappy Nun: Exemplifying the Unlimited Tyranny Exercised by the Abbots and Abbesses Over the Ill-Fated Victims of Their Malice in the Gloomy Recesses of a Convent. Including the Adventures of Clementina, or The Constant Lovers, a True and Affecting Tale., Unknown
Horatio and Camilla; OR, THE NUNS OF ST. MARY. A TALE OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson