For I’ll turn, and am disappointed- realising that what I am looking at is only a cracked window-pane, and that the face gazing distortedly from it, baffled and longing, is my own.’
-Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger, p.499.
The figure of the dark double is a common trope in gothic fiction, and Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger is no exception. In her haunting novel, the dark double comes in the form of main character, Dr Faraday. The Little Stranger tells the story of Dr Faraday and the Ayres family in their seemingly haunted house. The unexplained ghostly energy haunts Dr Faraday and acts as the dark double of his unconsciousness.
The text suggests Faraday is involved in the hauntings in some way. Firstly, there are constant references to his desire for the Ayres’s home: Hundreds Hall. As a lower-class citizen, Hundreds Hall and the Ayres family represent the upper class that he both desires to belong to but also detests. Whilst reflecting on his visit to the hall as a child he comments that he ‘wasn’t a spiteful or destructive boy. It was simply that, in admiring the house, I wanted to possess a piece of it’ (The Little Stranger, p.3). Here, his admiration and desire for the hall and wealth is evident from a young age. There is a possessive tone as if he wants to claim parts of the house for himself. The desire for the hall could be associated with the dark double as it is possible Faraday himself, or an energy he created, causes the disruption at the hall to gain it for himself.
Although Faraday desires Hundreds Hall and to belong to the upper class, his conflict between the two classes creates anger. Fellow doctor, Seely, creates his own analysis of the occurrences at Hundreds which could be applied to Faraday:
‘The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a – a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to develop – to grow, like a child in the womb. What would this little stranger grow into? A sort of shadow-self, perhaps a Caliban, a Mr Hyde. A creature motivated by all the nasty impulses and hungers the conscious mind had hoped to keep hidden away: things like envy, and malice, and frustration . . .’
–The Little Stranger, p. 380
The ‘dark’ corners of Faraday’s mind can represent his hidden class resentment and unhappiness that his parents sacrificed everything for him to become a doctor. The ‘germ’ Seely refers to could be the dark double of Faraday as the strange events at Hundreds only begin when Faraday starts to become close to the family and the ‘stirring of a dark dislike’ (The Little Stranger, p. 27) begins. The literary reference to Mr Hyde further suggests the presence of a second and darker personality, perhaps in Faraday. Unlike the other two texts, there is no physical dark double, but a manifestation of his desire and hatred for higher classes that create an alternative identity of Faraday.
There are several possible explanations for Faraday’s behaviour, with one being the double brain theory which suggests half of the brain can act without the other half knowing. This theory can be applied to Faraday as one part of his brain could be acting differently to the conscious part that readers are aware of in his narrative. (1) After Roderick, Caroline and Mrs Ayres die and the house is abandoned, Faraday still visits, as if haunting it. In the last chapter, Faraday comments that:
‘Hundreds was consumed by some dark germ, some ravenous shadow-creature, some ‘little stranger’, spawned from the troubled unconscious of someone connected with the house itself. […] If Hundreds Hall is haunted, however, its ghost doesn’t show itself to me. For I’ll turn, and am disappointed – realising that what I am looking at is only a cracked window-pane, and that the face gazing distortedly from it, baffled and longing, is my own.’
(The Little Stranger pp. 498-499)
The unattached tone and observant nature demonstrates that he does not recognise how his description matches his own actions as he could be considered as someone with a ‘troubled unconscious’ due to his class issues, and is connected to the house in some way. The ending also hints that it has been Faraday all along as he looks in the mirror thinking he will see the ‘little stranger’ and instead sees himself. The ‘cracked’ window pane further suggest that his personality is split into two parts, linking to the double brain theory. Faraday is left alone with his dark self (and Hundreds Hall which is perhaps what he wanted from the beginning) whether he is aware of his dark self or not.
The dark double acts as a representation of both Faraday’s fears and desires. His dark double is a manifestation of his desire and resentment towards the upper class. Faraday does not recognise the dark part of himself and after the deaths of the entire Ayres family, he is left with the Hall he desired but with his dark self still part of his identity.
Featured image: Front cover of Riverhead Books 2010 edition of the novel. See Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger (New York City, NY: Riverhead Books, 2010).
(1) Henry Maudsley’s journal article discusses this theory, suggesting that ‘that consciousness exists at one moment in the one, and at the next moment in the other, hemisphere.’ Henry Maudsley, ‘The Double Brain’, Mind, 14, No. 54 (1889), 162-187 (p. 167)
Written by Sophie Shepherd.
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