“The Queen of Spades” by Alexander Pushkin (brought to you by the queen of clubs via Deal Me In 2014)

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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/

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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.

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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…

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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
“Never”
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!) 🙂

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7 Comments

  1. Randall said,

    October 11, 2014 at 10:11 am

    The only thing I know about this story is that Tchaikovsky wrote an opera, “The Queen of Spades,” loosely based on this story. I’ve never heard it, and I don’t think it is performed very much, at least not in this country.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 12, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Hadn’t heard that about Tchaikovsky. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  2. Dale said,

    October 11, 2014 at 11:44 am

    This is one of the Russian stories I’ve heard of the most – but have never read. Sounds worth reading even if it wasn’t a favorite. And great Al Stewart lyrics!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 11, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Dale,
      In my “research” for tjis post, i learned that Al Stewart is coming to the Fairfield Community Arts Center in your neck of the woods on 2/14/15. I might have to make a road trip…. 🙂

      Like

  3. October 11, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    Not, I’m sorry, not truly Russian? Could have been written by a generic American magazine hack? Ha ha ha ha ha!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 12, 2014 at 8:34 am

      Ha! I was a little shocked about that pronouncement too, since this is such a famous story. I do agree that it had a different feel from the others I’ve read in this volume, though. Thomas Seltzer is the editor of this collection and some of his additional comments follow:

      “(The Queen of Spades) was the finishing off of the old, outgoing style of Romanticism, “The Cloak” (the 2nd story in the book) was the beginning of the new, the characteristically Russian style.” He also says that “The Cloak, for the first time strikes that truly Russian note of sympathy for the disinherited.” Also, about Pushkin, “though (he) heads the list of those writers who made the literature of their country world-famous, he was still a romanticist, in the universal literary fashion of his day. However, he already gave strong indication of the peculiarly Russian genius for naturalness or realism, and was a true Russian in the simplicity of his style.”

      Maybe that last quote “reinstates” Pushkin somewhat. I’m not a literary scholar, so I don’t know if his comments on Romanticism are accurate or not. 🙂

      Like


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