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William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe

William Wilson (original 1839; edition 2012)

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Title:William Wilson
Authors:Edgar Allan Poe
Collections:Your library
Tags:american literature, short story

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William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe (1839)



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The use of the doppelganger in this tale portrays better than any other the divided personality of Edgar Allan Poe. The sharp inward division between the strength of Poe's rational mind, he possessed enormous erudition, and the force of his irrational apprehension was reflected not only in his poems and stories but also in his conflict with authority, his anxious welcome of personal disaster and his compulsion to destroy his own life. In this autobiographical tale the narrator, like Poe himself in certain moods, has an "imaginative and easily excitable temperament" and is "self-willed, addicted to the wildest caprices, and a prey to the most ungovernable passions." He is tormented and pursued by his double--an inseparable companion in Dr. Bransby's school, at Eton and Oxford, and on the Continent--who mimics all his actions. Finally, unable to escape his tiresome other self, he stabs him to death. Only then does he realize that he has destroyed his conscience, or the finer part of himself. He has become dead to the moral world and no longer has a meaningful existence. The story demonstrates Poe's dual impulses: to act destructively and to censure his own irrational behavior.

Beyond that it contains signature aspects of Poe's writing, the building of atmosphere, suspense, and delineation of character through subtle and always important details.
This is one of Poe's finest tales, and has been recognized as such as can be seen through its influence on subsequent writers from Dostoevsky in The Double to Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and in Chesterton's The Man Who was Thursday. In the cinema Alfred Hitchcock's use of the doppelganger was magnificent. Poe's tale, like so many of his other works, may be the epitome of this type of tale. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 17, 2013 |
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