I stumbled upon this story while studying for the literature exam last semester. One of the books we had to read was Lolita, and since this is Nabokov, I couldn’t help but delve deep into analysis. Boy, was I surprised to find the many a curious allusions to Poe in Nabokov’s novel, ranging from the shout-out to the poem Annabel Lee to the anagram Vivian Darkbloom. One of these allusions happened to be the vague similarity between the Humbert-Quilty plot and the story of William Wilson and his mysterious twin in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. Upon reading it, I was amazed, as I always am with Poe, and here are some reasons why.
Is pleasant, flowing nicely and gradually building suspense. William Wilson (pseudonym) actually reminded me somewhat of Humbert Humbert. The way he talks about himself and his past, concealing no flaws, admitting that he is “self-willed, addicted to the wildest caprices, and a prey to the most ungovernable passions.” He poses this question in the beginning of the story though:
…although temptation may have erewhile existed as great, man was never thus, at least, tempted before—certainly, never thus fell. <…> And am I not now dying a victim to the horror and the mystery of the wildest of all sublunary visions?
This opens many possibilities as to what happens next. What horror has this person suffered through? Physical, mental torment? Which brings me to…
Is simple yet intricately told about, cautionary but not preachy, thought-provoking but not too philosophical. William encounters a student at school (later: Wilson) who seemingly looks like him, acts like him, apparently mimics William to irritate him. After they part, the narrator still fails to find peace; his twin pursues him like a shadow, his goal seeming to be “to frustrate those schemes, or to disturb those actions, which, if fully carried out, might have resulted in bitter mischief.”
Cornering Wilson one day and murdering him, William is faced with a mirror in which he sees his ‘antagonist’ who says:
You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead—dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exist—and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.
You cannot evade conscience. By destroying it, you damage yourself. That much is clear. But another meaning I derived from this story is the danger of false assumptions, pride and anger, all of which hasten William’s downfall.
First, he assumes that Wilson means him harm, mimics him, trying to evoke his wrath. Second, William feels more and more irritated as he finds more and more similarities between himself and his ‘twin.” His uniqueness and superiority undermined, he is angered. Such a destructive emotion brings nothing but harm, so what ultimately happened to the character is no surprise.
I won’t post any ratings for these stories because for ‘Saturday Stories’ I’ll be sort-of-reviewing the classics and they all deserve 10/10 stars as far as I’m concerned.
What interests me is your opinion. Have you read the story? If so, what do you think of it? If you haven’t, would you like to? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Till next time!