Doubling Down on Twoness in Fiction

Two is often a significant number in literature. There can be duality (such as good vs. evil) in a pair of characters, there can be protagonists who are twins, and so on. All this can be fascinating, helping to give a novel a theme and a certain framework.

I read Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale last week, and her absorbing gothic novel has a strong focus on twins. In that bookish book (which mentions various classic novels), Margaret Lea is summoned by famed author Vida Winter to write the dying Winter’s biography, and a mystery unspools that includes intrigue about Vida’s twin sister. As we learn early, Lea also had a twin sister — who died young and continually haunts Margaret’s psyche.

Among the other novels with twins, whether they’re major or secondary characters, are Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (Estha and Rahel), Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (the Segundo brothers), Ian McEwan’s Atonement (Jackson and Pierrot), William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Sam and Eric), J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (Fred and George Weasley — a delightful pair, but one is ill-fated), George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (Cersei and Jaime Lannister, who are also — eek — lovers), and even Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (Tweedledum and Tweedledee). Fred and George are shown with Rowling in the photo above this blog post.

Then there are the also-memorable pairings that don’t involve twins. Mentioning Rowling characters again, there is of course the good-vs.-evil duo of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, who are as different as can be yet have a strong underlying connection.

Mark Twain did the pairings thing twice with the dramatic life switches/role reversals in his novels The Prince and the Pauper and Pudd’nhead Wilson.

In Wilkie Collins’ Armadale, there are actually two sets of linked Allan Armadales — four people total!

And although its protagonist is actually one man with a split personality, among the most famous duality depictions in literature is in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Your favorite novels that fit this topic?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about developer subterfuge and more — is here.