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  • Willow Whitaker

I and you / you and me: Understanding Queer Doubling


Book illustration from The Picture of Dorian Grey


Doubling is understood as “...the multiplication of a character…where the resulting ‘other’ usually represents an aspect of the self that is concealed or repressed by the character who has been ‘doubled’.” This idea of doubling presents itself very clearly in the classics The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890), both which analyze the multifacetedness of man. It can be argued that this breakdown and ‘doubling’ of the face of man reads as an allegory for the repressed queer experience of the time.


Jekyll and Hyde is a well known piece of literature which has continued to be refashioned and reexamined well into the modern era. Judith Halberstam in Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters states that Jekyll and Hyde and other similar texts exist as “meaning machines available for any kind of reading.” Suggesting that the ‘monster half’ of Hyde could be understood as one which represents any social fear — of the past Victorian or our current modern era.


While Victorian fears of homosexuality hadn’t quite reached its zenith — which is regarded as the arrest of Oscar Wilde in 1895 — it was still very prevalent as one of the many threats of degeneracy that plagued the streets of England. Hyde’s monstrousness can very easily be read in a queer context, as embodying all that which Victorian peoples found unnatural and strange. “All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.”


However, Dr. Jekyll, upon discovering his ability to transform into Hyde and back, did not feel the disgust which he would eventually experience, but instead declared “There was something strange in my sensations, indescribably new and incredibly sweet. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be tenfold more wicked and the thought delighted me like wine.”


This ability to transform into Hyde and indulge in those “pleasures” which Jekyll himself described as “undignified,” and return back to the upstanding Dr. Jekyll was a power he at first was grateful to have. It was only when he could no longer control this transformation, when Hyde threatened to exist forever and for Jekyll to disappear, did he finally feel fear.


It is this understanding of hiding, repressing, and to indulge in secret that which would ruin the ‘better half’ of oneself, which represents the queer experience.


1880s Poster for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


This same understanding of a hidden half appears in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey. A story of a young impressionable gentleman influenced both towards good and bad by his friends, and his downward spiral into corruption portrayed through a cursed painting. Dorian hides away the portrait of himself once he realizes it absorbs and reflects all of his evil doing. The painting would age instead of him, as well as reflect the “cruelty” and “sin” which he indulged in.


However, unlike Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, all of the characters in Wilde’s novel seem to mirror the painting, or more importantly mirror each other. Basil tells Lord Henry he will not ever send the painting to be showcased because “I have put too much of myself in it.” Lord Henry, a much older and more hedonistic person, tells Dorian “I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit.”


And in the uncensored edition of this novel, Basil confesses his love to Dorian and declares “When I was away from you, you were still present in my art.” In the censored version which was published, where the confession doesn’t take place with the same gravity, this sentence was changed, for reasons unknown, to “When you were away from me…


These characters ‘double’ each other, in that each of them must represent a good half or bad half. Lord Henry is Dorian’s bad influence, Basil is his good influence. Furthermore Dorian and the painting exist as a separate dichotomy. As well as Basil and the painting. But this splitting of the characters could go on forever, and in the end it only ends up hurting our understanding of queerness today, as it embraces the idea of staying hidden.


While repression is still a very common experience in the queer community, as well as having perhaps what feels like a ‘double life,’ it doesn’t exist with the weight as it once did in the past. With a very visible queer community, the concept of a hidden life is slowly breaking down and allowing queer people to venture into the complexities and gray eras that we couldn’t exist in before.


Representation in media still has a long way to go, and many tropes yet to break out of. But leaving behind this ‘double’ understanding of the queer experience, for something brighter and no longer hidden in the shadows and dusty attics of our lives, shows some hope for future interpretations of queerness.


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