Saturday 27 January 2018

Review: The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin

The Queen of Spades The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story of obession and risk is available via Project Gutenburg.

In 1830 St Petersburg, Prince Tomsky tells his gambling friends the story of the still secret card strategy of his 87 year old grandmother, the Countess Anna Fedotovna, which had been used in her youth to recoup her massive gambling losses. The down side of this is that the "trick" can be used only once. Sitting with them is Hermann, son of a German immigrant, who never plays not wishing "to sacrifice the necessaries of life for uncertain superfluities." However he throws caution to the wind when he hears about this guaranteed "sure thing" and becomes obessed with breaking the odds at the card table and winning big. What lengths wil he go to in order to feed his obession?

***SPOILER ALERT***The Countess in her aged forgetfullness has a ward whom she treats more like a servant companion, Lizaveta Ivanovna and Hermann devices a way to wangle himself into the Countess' house via a supposed show of affectionate letter writing to Lizaveta. Unfortunately once in front of the Countess, she promptly dies.

Following the funeral her ghost appears to Hermann and names to cards he should play - three, seven, Ace - on condition he marry Lizaveta, never gamble again, and play on one card a night on three consecutive nights. Using his inheritance, he does this. On the first two nights he bets high and wins big. On the third, he again places his bet on the turn of one card, but when he turns his card to match the card dealt he finds it is not the expected Ace but is instead the Queen of Spades. Hermann is in shock, and hallucinating that the Queen looks like the Countess Hermann thinks she "smiles ironically and winks here eye at him". This sends him mad and he is eventually confined to the asylum where he is heard obessively repeating "Three, seven Ace. Three, seven, Queen"

This is a story about life's unpredictability. Hermann is intially content to watch others living, having fun. He does not participate fuly in life until he thinks he has a way to crack the odds, to eliminate the risk, which of course one never can.

ashramblings verdict *4 A classic short story by one of the genre's masters

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