It was back to “Holy Russia”***in week 41 of Deal Me In 2014, as I drew the queen of clubs. If you’ve been following my Deal Me In posts, you already know that in this year’s version I assigned the clubs suit to “stories by Russian authors.” This is also the second story of Pushkin’s that I’ve read, as last year his “The Snowstorm” was assigned to the Queen of …Diamonds https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/alexander-pushkins-the-snowstorm/
I own “The Queen of Spades” as the “cover story” in an e-book titled “Best Russian Short Stories” where a queen of spades card is the picture featured on the “cover” page. I’ve read ten of the nineteen stories the volume contains and have enjoyed them immensely.
This story begins with a card party “at the house of Narumov.” The reader is immediately drawn to a character, Hermann, who seems content to only observe the games the others play. His explanation?
“Play interests me very much, but I am not in the position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous.”
(This reminded me a little of what my Dad used to say about gambling: “Never bet what you cannot afford to lose.” I’m sure that’s not an “original” of his, but certainly sound advice, and I have always followed it.)
Soon, we learn of a story about one of the players’ grandmothers, Countess Anna Fedotovna, who when young apparently had a supernatural ability to pick the winning cards in the game of Faro (I think this is the game being played in the story, though it is not specifically named). Tomsky, the grandson, marvels about how he doesn’t understand why she doesn’t play, what with such an ability at her disposal.
Hermann, now aware of a “surefire” way to win that, I guess, doesn’t “risk the necessary,” begins a quest to gain this knowledge from the aged countess. We all know that nothing is ever certain in gambling though, and Hermann’s plans to cash in on Countess Anna’s ability do not develop the way he envisioned them…
This story (published in 1834) was not among my favorite stories in this collection, and as I was re-reading the introduction, I learned that its editor says this is not a “true” Russian story, and that it more properly belongs to the “romantic” period and could have just as well been written by “John Brown in an American magazine.”
I only have two Russian stories left to be dealt from my DMI 2014 “shoe” and will admittedly be sorry when they are exhausted. Sorry enough to have another suit dedicated to them in next year’s Deal Me In? We’ll see…
For info about the card game Faro, check out this Wikipedia article. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faro_(card_game)
***Okay, any other fans of musician Al Stewart (of “Time Passages” and “Year of the Cat” fame) out there? One of my favorite songs of his has always been “Roads to Moscow” – especially the haunting final lines, which I’ll share below:
“And now they ask me of the time
That I was caught behind their lines and taken prisoner
“They only held me for a day, a lucky break”, I say;
They turn and listen closer
I’ll never know, I’ll never know
Why I was taken from the line and all the others
To board a special train and journey deep into the heart of holy Russia
And it’s cold and damp in the transit camp, and the air is still and sullen
And the pale sun of October whispers the snow will soon be coming
And I wonder when I’ll be home again and the morning answers
And the evening sighs and the steely Russian skies go on forever”
(Below: Al Stewart’s greatest hits album – still on regular rotation on my iTunes apps!) 🙂