May 18, 2011


“Doppelganger” is a name for an alter ego, usually presumed to be someone who is dead or in another dimension, though not necessarily. One of the most fascinating doppelganger stories is a work of fiction by Henry James called “The Jolly Corner,” a narrative that is anything but jolly.

The central character, Spencer Brydon, returns to New York for a visit after a number of years abroad and decides to visit his family’s former home which is soon to be demolished. As he explores the darkened rooms and passageway of the old house, he becomes obsessed with the idea he is not alone and he begins to pursue a phantom figure he thought he’d glimpsed out of the corner of his eye.  Having failed to find anyone the first night, he returns a second time and manages to trap the shadow haunting the place. Enraged, the entity hurls himself at Brydon, whereupon the man collapses only to awake in the lap of his fiancé who knows nothing of his experience.

James’ story is about the road not taken and the shadowy figure is the doppelganger of Brydon as he might have been in some other life. Biographers have used the story to explain the writer’s disenchantment with his childhood and the reason why he chose to live as an expatriate. But the story has more than biographical overtones. Many of us have experienced moments of “what if” in our lives. Or should I not play the coward and admit I have been guilty of backward glances and moments of regret? I have chosen to live a single life, but it could have been otherwise. On occasion, I think back on times when I might have taken a different path. Would I have been as happy as I am now, I wonder.

(photo by April Moore)

I do not know the answer to my question. I only know that I make few demands of life and perhaps that’s why I am happy. I ask for good health and a clean well lighted place where I can lay my head and above all good friends who accept me, warts and all. Happily, I have met more than one doppelganger in my life — persons who express my thoughts almost before I think them. Such friends are rare, like snowflakes gleaming in the dessert sunlight. In them I find renewal and feel blessed. In them I take pleasure in the path I have chosen.