My romantic suspense novella, Palace of Deception, features a trope that’s run through many stories in one form or another for centuries: the doppelgänger, or double. I love this theme. I’ve always found the whole idea of having a double fascinating, ever since I was a child. How amazing it would be to bump into your own doppelgänger! Obviously it would be totally unbelievable (unless you’re an identical twin, of course :)) but who cares? Let’s cast disbelief firmly into the wind!
Here are eight stories about doppelgängers that I’ve loved. Hope you enjoy them, too!
- Vertigo is Alfred Hitchcock’s romantic and disturbing story of obsession, manipulation and fear. A detective (played by James Stewart) is forced to retire after his fear of heights causes the death of a fellow officer and the girl he was hired to follow. He sees a double of the girl (Judy, played by Kim Novak). The two tentatively begin to date, yet unable to relinquish his deepening obsession and despite her protestations, he alters her hair, makeup and clothes and forcibly transforms Judy into the girl who died. I’ve watched this film many times, and the whole thing gets creepier and creepier.
- A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens This book, set during the French Revolution, is all about good and bad doubles, right from the very start, with the famous opening: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” A young Frenchman, Charles Darnay, and a hard-drinking, wastrel lawyer called Sidney Carton both fall in love with the same woman: Lucie Manette. Both men are astonishingly alike in looks, which leads to a dramatic twist in the plot. I defy anyone not to be moved by the ending. Charles Dickens apparently said it was “the best story I’ve written,” which is saying something!
- A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula le Guin This is the first in a classic fantasy series for young adults, and I devoured these stories as a teenager. The hero, Sparrowhawk – a young wizard – is tempted by pride to perform magic beyond his years. He summons up an evil shadow that begins to stalk him in the most terrifying fashion. This is a book about a school for wizards, and I remember when I first read it being scared out of my wits. I went on to read all Ursula le Guin’s books, and she’s one of my favourite authors.
- The Double, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky This novella by Dostoyevsky proved to me that having a doppelgänger in real life might not be fun at all. It’s about a senior civil servant who has a double. The trouble is, his double is confident, assertive, charming and well-liked – the polar opposite of the hero. As you can imagine in a Dostoyevsky story, things don’t pan out well.
- Brat Farrar,by Josephine Tey This is another author I love. Here’s the blurb: A stranger enters the inner sanctum of the Ashby family posing as Patrick Ashby, the heir to the family’s sizeable fortune. The stranger, Brat Farrar, has been carefully coached on Patrick’s mannerisms, appearance and every significant detail of Patrick’s early life, up to his thirteenth year when he disappeared and was thought to have drowned himself. It seems as if Brat is going to pull off this most incredible deception until old secrets emerge that threaten to jeopardise the imposter’s plan and his very life…
Josephine Tey’s novel is based on the real life Tichborne claimant – an imposter in Victorian times who claimed to be the heir to the Tichborne estate.
6. The Scapegoat, by Daphne du Maurier John, an English lecturer in French history, is on holiday in France. In Le Mans, he encounters a French Comte, Jean de Gué, who looks and sounds exactly like him. The two lookalikes have a drink, and John confesses that he is depressed, feeling as though his outward life is a meaningless façade. They retire to a hotel where they continue to drink and eventually swap clothes. John passes out; when he awakes, Jean has disappeared, and a chauffeur mistakes him for Jean. Deciding to take on Jean’s identity, John gets in the Comte’s car, and proceeds to find himself caught up in all the intrigues and passions of his double’s complex life. Gripping and complex, this story is a masterful exploration of identity, and of the dark side of the self.
7. The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas The Man in the Iron Mask was the name given to a real-life prisoner of the Bastille in the seventeenth century. The possible identity of this man has been the subject of many books, because no one ever saw his face, which was hidden by a mask of black velvet cloth. Alexandre Dumas made the prisoner the subject of this novel, and in his story, his prisoner is forced to wear a mask because he is the identical twin brother of the king, Louis XIV. Aramis, one of the former musketeers, goes to the Bastille to visit the prisoner, telling him he can put him on the throne, switching him with his brother. It’s a typical Dumas story, full of adventure and leaving you gripped to every page. I was riveted by the ending. Another author I love!
8. The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope This is one of my favourite doppelgänger stories. It’s an uncomplicated adventure story, featuring romance, gripping scenes, and a magnificent baddie called Rupert of Hentzau. The book was made into a film staring Stewart Granger and James Mason. Who could possibly rival James Mason as a dashing bad guy? I love both the book and the film :)
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I love the trope of the doppelgänger, as you can see from my list of novels. Reading stories like these gave me the idea for my own novella, Palace of Deception, which is about a Mediterranean princess who disappears in mysterious circumstances, and an ordinary Scottish girl who takes her part. Palace of Deception is a romantic suspense, featuring a handsome hero, a sinister housekeeper – and breathtaking scenery!
How about you? Have you read any of the novels on my list? And are there any other doppelgänger books or films that you would recommend? If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!