SparkNotes Blog

Lolita and Dorian for the Twin

This Sparkler sounds like an English major in the making:

I’m writing a paper for Grade 12 English. I want to write about twin relationships or the twin archetype. I wonder if you’ve read “Her Fearful Symmetry” by Audrey Niffenegger? That is my primary source. I was also considering writing about death or the grey area between life and death (limbo would be a good way to describe this). Could you please suggest some books? I’m having trouble formulating a proper thesis because there does not seem to be very concrete evidence on the twin archetype. Help? Please and thank-you 🙂

Great question! Lots of writers are interested in the twin archetype, meaning characters and their doubles, mirror images, older/younger versions, or most evil or good or sexy or saintly selves, real or imagined. Here are five of my favorite twin-y works:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock wouldn’t be Sherlock without Moriarty, his most important and most sinister nemesis. The two go together like peanut butter and bananas (if it’s good enough for Elvis, it’s good enough for me).

As You Like It. There are more twins in Shakespeare than there are rats on the New York City subway tracks. There are literal twins like Sebastian and Viola, but there are also spiritual twins, like Rosalind and her own male persona.

Jekyll and Hyde. Hyde is Jekyll—the bloodthirsty, egomaniacal, daredevil part of Jekyll, made real.

Lolita. Clare Quilty is Humbert’s mirror image. Humbert, our first-person narrator, portrays Quilty as a more creepy, debauched version of himself.

The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian’s double is his portrait, which ages while he stays youthful.

The Turn of the Screw. This creepy, undecideable novella is FULL of twins and doubles. Pair almost any two characters, and voila, you’ve got a double. There’s the governess and the dead governess; there’s Miles and Flora; and there’s the narrator and you, the reader—just to name six.

What am I missing? Tell me about your favorite twins in literature.