After finding its way from folklore themes into the Gothic novels of the late 18th century, the motif of the Doppelgänger developed into German Romanticism’s favorite subject of the double personality. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Trinzessin Brambilla”(1821) and E.A. Poe’s “William Wilson”(1839) both presented a story of an ego-centric main character experiencing a metamorphosis through meeting with and confronting his Doppelgänger. Romanticism, in its burst of subjective imagination, tried to rebuild communication between the symbolic realm of the human subconscious and the conscious.
The two novels represented this rebuilding in the interactions between the main character’s ego and its Doppelgänger. The whole story of Hoffmann’s work and the climax of Poe’s were both situated in the Roman Carnival. This external, illusionary world of festivity reflects the internal confusion of the ego. Festivity transforms reality into a different realm where the a-logos makes a fool of the logos. This is the right topos for a story of the alter ego as treated by Romanticism. And Italian festivity, with all its theatricality, enables the most direct expression of the very motif of the alter ego by providing a paradigm of a transforming identity. In addition, both novels give a crucial role to the mirror, which is a device inseparable from the alter ego. Thus, the two texts are similar in their basic scheme.
They are, however, completely different in the ways they look at two characteristics of Doppelgänger and festivity, namely repetity and subversity. The narrator of “William Wilson” never goes beyond his closed ego and ultimately falls into an eternal sequence of repeated self-references. In this endless repetition of self-talks, subversity makes the counter-ego loom larger as something that threatens the ego. Conversely, “Prinzessin Brambilla” presents subversity as something that provides opportunities for the ego to break up and renew itself. And repetity functions as the driving force that carries the ego upward toward a higher self in the psychic movement between its two forms.