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Brown, D. (1989). Doubles: Studies in Literary History, by Karl Miller, Oxford University Press, 1985, xii + 468 pages, hb £19.50. Free Associations, 1R(17):135-140.

(1989). Free Associations, 1R(17):135-140

Doubles: Studies in Literary History, by Karl Miller, Oxford University Press, 1985, xii + 468 pages, hb £19.50

Review by:
Dennis Brown

This is a work of wide-ranging scholarship and deep insight, written in an elegant and witty style. It is focused on the phenomenon and legacy of Romantic duality which it traces from early-nineteenth-century fictions, such as James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner, to contemporary fictions by such authors as Norman Mailer, Clive James and Martin Amis. Although it is predominantly a book of literary scholarship, it pitches its interest at the dangerous edge of things where criticism and psychoanalysis meet in frictional coalescence — and perhaps part again. It considers the case of ‘Sybil’ and the life of Sylvia Plath as well as the ‘Strange Case’ of Dr Jekyll and the confessional verse of Robert Lowell. It addresses itself to dual-nationality, gender-ambiguity and manic-depressive ambivalence, to fictional Doppelgängers and poetic splitting. Although urbanely poised and of balanced judgement, the book admits, at times, to personal interests and experiences, and declares a peculiarly Scottish preoccupation even when treating of Keats's cockney ‘blushes’ or Frost's Missouri ‘crossing’. It is a book to savour for its playful one-liners as well as its neo-Gothic architectonics and is written by a Professor of English clearly at the height of his intellectual powers.

Doubles continuously teases out and explores basic issues concerning the representation of self-experience. As the title indicates, Professor Miller is particularly fascinated by dualistic modes of representation, yet the very specificity of his focus serves to concentrate the mind on the larger issues of how, and in what terms, we can represent or discuss selfhood at all. In a recent book, Julia Kristeva has suggested that ‘the “other scene” of the Freudian unconscious … discloses the essentially heterogeneous nature of the human being’,1 but such heterogeneity is much easier to invoke generally than to break down into meaningful parts. It is notable that the duality which Doubles addresses has a tendency to invade aspects of psychoanalytic description.

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