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“If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning” – Mae West


Can you stop breathing down my neck?

Doppelgangers are a pain in the ass.  They have no respect for your personal space.  Preternatural apparitions do badly in job interviews, so they are universally unemployed, leaving them ample free time to screw up your work and scare the neighbors.  While most of us have at one time another wished we could double ourselves under the unreasonable pressure of continuously being asked to do more with less, it turns out at least one of us will likely be a lazy bastard with no work ethic. A 32 year old French governess named Emilie Sagée of Dijon learned this the hard way in 1845, when her shiftless doppelganger decided to put in a series of appearances at the 42 student Newelcke boarding school a few miles outside Riga where she taught, ultimately resulting in her dismissal, just as it had from the previous nineteen schools at which she had been employed.  Freaking doppelgangers have no respect.  Just because you’re ethereal doesn’t mean you should affect my performance review.

The Newelcke boarding school, under the directorship of one Madame Buck was a tony institution dedicated to the betterment of the daughters of Russian nobility (which presumably involved a lot of embroidering and etiquette lessons), and although Mademoiselle Emilie Sagée had been dismissed from numerous prior positions, she was nonetheless in possession of glowing recommendations from her former employers, who no doubt scrupulously avoided the use of the term doppelganger or phantom double in their reference letters.  By all reports, she was “a blonde of pleasing appearance and engaging manners; of a slightly nervous temperament, but, to all appearances, enjoying perfect health” (Dubor, 1922, p209).  Not long after assuming her duties shepherding the next generation of Russian princesses, rumors started to spread about rather odd encounters with Mlle. Sagée. “She was continually met with at various places at once, and as she could not give a satisfactory excuse for being at one place when her duties required her to be at another, she was suspected of sad misconduct” (Schele de Vere, 1873, p203).  While this could have been written off to simple misunderstandings and confusion about the timeline, Mlle. Sagée’s doppelganger craved attention, clearly deciding a less inconclusive demonstration of its existence was in order.

One day, for instance, when she had been giving a blackboard lesson, the pupils in her class had seen two Mademoiselles, standing side by side at the blackboard, and making the same gestures. On another occasion, whilst Mademoiselle Sagée was engaged in fastening the dress of one of the pupils, Mademoiselle de Wrangel, the terrified girl had beheld, in the mirror before which they stood, the reflections of three figures—that of herself, and of Mademoiselle Sagée; and a third—the double of the young Frenchwoman. In fact, these bilocations continued for such a length of time, and were of such frequent recurrence, that the household began to get, more or less, accustomed to them, and to treat them more unconcernedly (Dubor, 1922, p209-212).

The Doppelganger, obviously miffed at being treated like the furniture, opted for ever more spectacular and inexplicable displays before increasing numbers of witnesses.

At dinner, from time to time, the teacher’s double was seen standing behind her chair imitating her movements while the real Mlle. Sagée was eating, but the double used neither knife nor fork nor did she take any food into her hands. Pupils present at the meals and servants in attendance have attested the truth of this phenomenon. Nevertheless it did not always happen that the double imitated the movements of the real person.  Sometimes when the latter would arise from her chair, the double would remain seated. One day all the pupils, to the number of forty-two, were assembled in the same room busy with embroidery. It was a large room on the ground floor of the principal building. It had four glass doors, which opened on to a large garden belonging to the school. In the middle of this room was a long table around which the different classes gathered for their needlework. That day the young pupils were all seated about the table and could see very well what was going on in the garden. As they worked they saw Mlle. Sagée busy picking flowers not far from the house; it was one of her favorite pastimes.  At the upper end of the table another teacher was seated in a chair of green morocco. She was in charge of the class. At a given moment this lady left the room and the chair remained empty. But only for a short time, for the young girls saw in it, quite suddenly, the form of Mlle. Sagée. Immediately they looked into the garden and saw her still there picking flowers, but her movements were slower now, like those of a person overcome by sleep or exhausted by fatigue. They looked again at the chair where the double was seated, silent and impassive, but with such an appearance of reality that if they had not seen Mlle. Sagée and if that they had not known that it was impossible for her to have entered the room unperceived, they would have believed it was she herself. But certain that they were not dealing with a real person, and more or less accustomed to these strange manifestations, two of the most venturesome pupils approached the chair and touching the apparition thought they felt a slight resistance, such as that occasioned by contact with any light material such as gauze or crepe. One even dared to pass in front of the chair and to go through part of the form, despite which, the apparition remained visible for a little while longer, then gradually faded away. The children observed at that instant that Mlle. Sagée was again gathering flowers with her customary vivacity. The forty-two pupils described this phenomenon in exactly the same way (Chevreuil, 1920, p210-214).

A particularly odd aspect of the doppelganger’s manifestation was that pretty much everybody could see it, except for the real Emile Sagée herself.

Emilie, finally, had no consciousness of this doubling, but learned it only by hearsay. She never saw the Double, nor ever suspected the state into which she was plunged (Assier, 1887, p64-65).

Curiously, whenever the doppelganger appeared, Mlle. Sagée, although unaware of its presence, seemed to suffer notable physical deterioration for the duration of the apparition, only recovering after it had shuffled off into whatever realm doppelgangers occupy when not harassing us.

In the case of Emilie Sagée, the girl was noticed to look pale and exhausted when the double was visible: “the more distinct the double and more material in appearance, the really material person was proportionately wearied, suffering and languid; when, on the contrary, the appearance of the double weakened, the patient was seen to recover strength (Besant, 1915, p14-15).

Nobody likes unruly spirits or paranormal phenomena lurking about, but the doppelganger couldn’t take the hint, and persisted for eighteen more months – that is, until the departure of many students out of fear that something was awry in Newelke finally led to Mlle. Sagée’s dismissal.  Various contemporary paranormal investigators from Robert Owen Dale to Alexandr Nikolayevich Aksakov looked into the case, interviewing the many witnesses, including the directors of the school and its aristocratic pupils.  “Aksakov also mentions that photographs have been taken of the double, or astral body” (Herrmann, 1907, p240).  And man, did I look for those pictures.  No dice, sorry.  Couldn’t find anything conclusively identified as Mlle. Sagée and her doppelganger.  As a footnote to the sad tale of Emilie Sagée, it was noted that upon her twentieth dismissal from a teaching position due to an insufferable doppelganger, it seems she decided against pursuing her career, or rather her doppelganger decided it for her.

After she had left Newelcke, she stayed in the neighborhood at her sister-in-law’s who had several children, and whenever Fraeulein von Wrangel or others of her former scholars came to see her, these children felt real proud, telling the visitors that they had two aunts Emilie (Marschner, 1901, p271-272).

One point of view to consider is that of the doppelganger.  Perhaps we are equally insubstantial and annoying in their plane of existence, or as noted by poet Cason Cistulli, we are focused on the wrong question –“Many people say, who’s my doppelganger? When maybe they should ask, whose doppelganger am I?”

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Chevreuil, Léon. Proofs of the Spirit World: (On Ne Meurt Pas). New York: E. P. Dutton & company, 1920.
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