Doppelgängers, masks, mirrors — the myth of the doppelgänger in The Devil’s Elixirs by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann and Sędziwoj by Józef Bogdan Dziekoński
The myth of the doppelgänger — in Maria Janion’s and Edgar Morin’s opinion — a great and fundamental myth, perhaps even humanity’s only universal myth, according to many culture experts, has its beginnings in the story of two conflicted brothers or in the story of Narcissus gazing at his own reflection in water. For centuries doppelgängers have appeared in folklore and literature of many nations; they are apparitions, figures of unspecific appearance, shadows, spectres, products of sick minds, reflections or bad twin brothers. The Romantics were really obsessed by them. We can find them especially frequently in works by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann; the oeuvre of this German writer was extremely important to Józef Bogdan Dziekoński, a Gypsy interested in everything that was extraordinary. It is easy to find a link between novels by the two authors: The Devil’s Elixirs by the former and Sędziwoj by the latter. Hoffmann combines the doppelgänger myth in his work with a story of twin brothers, while Dziekoński — with the story of Narcissus, but for both the doppelgänger denotes the protagonists’ repressed inhibitions, desires, criminal inclinations, pride, longing for power and knowledge, as well as their dark instincts, their shadow, a testimony to their problems with identity and effect of its break-up. In Sędziwoj, however, this ancient myth becomes something more. Instead of one doppelgänger, the Polish alchemist is accompanied by no fewer than three, with each of them signifying three different possibilities, three ways of life he can choose, paths on which he eventually must embark and which he must experience. For the Polish Gypsy, a doppelgänger is not only a tempter, an enemy and dark alter ego, with which his protagonist struggles, and a tool of fate embodying a punishment for sins he must suffer, but also an embodiment of the protagonist’s dreams, his “better version,” someone he wants to become, a “Holy Grail” he seeks, i.e. a kind of prize. The doppelgänger myth borrowed by Dziekoński from Hoffmann’s works acquires a new, interesting meaning in Sędziwoj; it is to show that man can achieve his fullness and enlightenment not only by overcoming his shadow but also by achieving his goals and fulfilling his dreams.