As with much of D's work, it concerns a very ordinary man, an Everyman, full of the hesitancies and uncertainties that characterise most of us, in an extraordinary situation. D's dialogue really brings this home: the hero's first remark (talking to himself as he looks in the mirror) is: "what a thing it would be if I were not up to the mark today, if something were amiss, if some intrusive pimple had made its appearance, or anything else unpleasant had happened; so far, however, there's nothing wrong, so far everything's all right." Brilliantly ordinary. He is searching his face for spots like any teenager (although he is quite a lot older, we assume). But he is looking in the mirror.
This is just one of many breadcrumbs scattered around in the very first pages. He has already waken up and then laid in his bed "as though he were not yet certain whether he were awake or still asleep, whether all that was going on around him were real or actual."
He goes out, riding in a hired carriage, and is embarrassed to meet his boss. Then he does that thing we all do, he pretends not to notice him. Then he is not sure about this: should he "pretend that I am not myself, but somebody else strikingly like me," he says to himself.
He goes to his doctor although he pretends he is "quite himself, like everybody else" but he is behaving so strangely that the doctor is concerned. The problem, Mr Golyadkin reassures his doctor, is not himself but all the others who are ganging up on him. And he goes off to meet some aristocratic friends in their big house (although the servants have orders not to admit him). On the way he meets some clerks from his office who laugh at him. He is the sort of person, he tells them, who "only mask themselves at masquerades" and his rule is "if I fail I don't lose heart, if I succeed I persevere". But "who's the hunter and who's the bird in this case?"
Then, in the middle of a snowstorm, G meets a man he thinks he recognises but can't quite remember where from. "He would not for any treasure on earth have been willing to meet that man" and he runs away, followed by "a little lost dog, soaked and shivering". He does home to see the stranger sitting on his own bed; the stranger is his double.
And next day the double has started work in his own office.
Next night he welcomes G2 to his home and gives him a meal. But G2 writes a sinister little poem (it reminded me of Sting's stalking song, Every Breath You Take:
"If thou forget me
I shall not forget thee;
Though all things may be
Do not thou forget me"
Things get worse. G2 takes credit for the work G does. G2 eats pies at the restaurant and G has to pay for them. G tries to confront G2 but every time he makes a mess of it. But he knows (we don't) that everything will be all right in the end: "one day, the wolf will have to pay for the sheep's tears."
At last we come to the climactic scene at the end ...
"The door opened noisily, and in the doorway stood a man, the very sight of whom sent a chill to Mr Golyadkin's heart. He stood rooted to the spot. A cry of horror dies away in his choking throat. Yet Mr Golyadkin knew it all beforehand, and had had a presentiment of something of the sort for a long time ... With a crushed and desperate air our hero looked about him."
Classic. April 2016; 135 words.