The Gambler Dostoevsky Analysis Essay

  1. 08-Feb-2009, 20:33#1
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    Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    Last edited by titania7; 08-Feb-2009 at 21:50.
    "All men have the same defect: they wait to live, for they have not the courage of each instant.
    Why not invest enough passion in each moment to make it an eternity?" ~E. M. Cioran
    The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett

    "...people not only at roulette, but everywhere, do nothing but try to gain or squeeze something out of one another."

    Alexey Ivanovich, the lead character in Dostoevsky's novel, The Gambler, makes this shrewd if cynical observation. In many ways, it sums up many aspects of this book, which was written in a mere four weeks and is highly autobiographical. To say it deals merely with the compulsion of gambling would be to do it a great disservice. Although it can hardly be ranked with Dostoevky's most famous works, it does deal with some of the same concepts that make books like Crime and Punishment and The Possessed such impressive accomplishments: namely, the dark side of human nature and the tendency towards corruption and wickedness that is in all of us. It's a psychological novel that is deeply Russian, and the narrator's observations about life and those around him are much more penetrating and insightful than those of an English or American narrator might be. The plot is haphazard, and at times the structure of the book is discursive. Minor characters are given nearly as much attention as those who play a pivotal role in the book, and everyone seems to be a mass of contradictions. Early on in the book, the narrator says:

    "It is most charming when people do not stand on ceremony with one another, but act openly and aboveboard."

    The irony in this remark is remarkable as we go on to witness all sorts of duplicitous, cruel, and manipulative behavior take place between all the figures that people this 152-page story. It has been rumored that the character of Polina, the woman whom Alexey both loves and hates, was based on Dostoevsky's mistress, the twenty-two-year-old student, Apollonaria Suslova. Apollonaria (also called "Polina") was dissatisfied by Dostoesky's sexual prowess, and she was openly unfaithful to him. The Polina that inhabits the novel is coldhearted and insensitive, yet Alexey is drawn to her, much as one might be drawn to a museum piece that is behind a glass case. He is well aware of her lack of affection towards him:

    "...the idea that I knew, positively and distinctly, how utterly beyond my reach she was, how utterly impossible my mad dreams were of fulfillment, that thought, I am convinced, afforded her with extraordinary satisfaction; if not, cautious and intelligent as she was, have been on such intimate and open terms with one?...Yes, often she did not regard me as a human being!"

    Nearly all the characters in this novel have self-destructive tendencies, but Alexey is masochistic. He is addicted both to the roulette table and to Polina, and in moments of fury he makes all sorts of insane threats:

    "If ever I do kill you I shall have to kill myself, too. Oh, well, I shall put off killing myself as long as possible, so as to go on feeling this insufferable pain of being without you."

    Then:

    "Do you know something incredible? I love you more every day and yet that is almost impossible."

    Indeed, it seems only a lunatic would love Polina at all. But Dostoevsky's characters are not guided by reason, logic, or common sense. Their instincts and passions are their ruling force, and, in some ways, this makes them very realistic. A writer like Henry James, whose figures oft-times seem to almost magically be capable of repressing their emotions makes Dostoevsky's characters seem downright theatrical. Which writer portrays people in a way that is more true-to-life? That is a matter of opinion, but what I have always found so engaging about Dostoevsky's work is his ability to peel off the masks his characters wear, in order to give us glimpses of the true, often diabolical faces that lurk beneath. In this respect, he is not unlike other Russian writers. They are not inclined towards subtlety or discretion. They rarely make the reader guess at what is transpiring, and so we cannot help but feel a certain kinship with the characters--and yes, with the authors themselves.

    It is impossible not to empathize with Alexey, even though his passion for Polina is inconceivable:

    "Polina was always an enigma to me, such an enigma that now, for instance...I was suddenly struck while I was speaking by the fact that there was scarcely anything positive and definite I could say about our relationship. Everything was, on the contrary, strange, unstable, and, in fact, quite unique."

    Everyone's relationship in this book could be described this way. There is Mlle Blanche, who is described as having hair "as black as Indian ink" and "lips (that) are always painted." At twenty-five, she is engaged to a general who is thirty years her senior. The narrator observes:

    "Possibly she is not even intelligent; but, on the other hand, she is striking and she is artful. I fancy her life has not passed without adventures."

    Mlle Blanche and her fiance are waiting for the death of the General's grandmother, so that they'll have enough money to get married. At seventy-five, Granny is a wealthy old landowner, who has been without the use of her legs for over five years. However, she arrives at the hotel that Alexey is at and displays a level of vitality that is extraordinary:

    "...she had arrived and was, as always, alert, captious, self-satisfied, sitting upright in her chair, shouting in a loud, peremptory voice and scolding everyone.

    Granny's commanding and authoritative appearance as she was carried up in the chair was chiefly responsible for the sensation she caused. Whenever she met anyone fresh she scrutinized him inquisitively and questioned me about him in a loud voice."

    Dostoevsky took pains to create a fully realized character in Granny, which makes you wonder whether or not one of the distinguising marks of a master writer is his or her ability to build layers on minor characters that lesser authors might depict as mere paper-dolls.

    Another trademark of Dostoevsky's writing is refusal to be half-hearted about anything. When he explores gambling, it is not a mere addiction--it is an overwhelming compulsion that possesses its victims' minds, bodies, and spirits. Even Granny is hooked on the game. For, as Alexey assures us:

    "When once anyone is started upon that road, it is like a man in a sledge flying down a snow mountain more and more swiftly."

    Alexey's passion Polina is like gambling, though rather than money he is putting his heart on the roulette table. He continues to imagine that the two of them will have a future together, even though she never promises him anything--not even her love, which is what he craves beyond all else.

    "...I wanted her to come to me and say: 'I love you,' and if not that, if that was senseless insanity, then...well, what was there to care about? Did I know what I wanted? I was like one demented: all I wanted was to be near her, in the halo of her glory, in her radiance, always, forever, all my life. I knew nothing more."

    It's easy to empathize with Alexey on every level because Dostoevsky paints him in such a way that, in spite of seeming dramatic, he is nevertheless utterly genuine. He doesn't pretend to be anything he isn't--and he doesn't necessarily seem to be asking for the reader's understanding as he relates all the events that have taken place in his life. He continually makes it obvious that he is incapable of understanding the motives behind the behavior of other people, and the fact that he knows every bit as little as we do about what is really transpiring lends an aura of both mystery and authenticity to this novel.

    I'll be honest. I did not expect The Gambler to be a masterpiece. Dostoevsky is a writer whose oeuvre of work is formidable, and his "big" novels are in a class all to themselves. To have high expectations of a small novel that is not generally associated with Dostoevsky's body of work would be naive. However, The Gambler is a diamond in the rough--a gem that ought to be appreciated in all its unpolished glory. It's smart, witty, and in many ways a work of genius. And it surely gives you a clear-cut idea of why Dostoevsky went on to become one of the most renowned and respected writers in the history of world literature.

    If you haven't read Dostoevsky before, The Gambler wouldn't be a bad place to start. It can be finished in a day, and it will leave you aching for more of this Russian master's work.

    The Gambler was written in-between Dostoevsky's work on Crime and Punishment. With the help of a stenographer, Dostoevsky completed it in twenty-six days, finishing it on October 30, 1866. It is set in the imaginary German town of Roulettenberg.

    At age seventeen, Dostoevsky wrote, in a letter to his brother, Mikhail, words that turn out to be prophetic of the themes he explored in his writing:

    "Man is a mystery. It must be brought to light, and, if one puzzles over it all one's life, let it not be said that one is wasting one's time. I am studying this mystery, for I wish to be a man."

    Gender constructs aside, the passage from this missive is very telling. Dostoevsky indeed seem to use his work as a vehicle through which to explore the contradictions within men and women, and the enigmatic facets of human nature.

    Rating:


    ~Titania
  2. 09-Feb-2009, 12:20#2
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    i do love your inept revisions of novels. but you know that.

    this book is one of my favourites by him.
  3. 09-Feb-2009, 23:18#3
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    "All men have the same defect: they wait to live, for they have not the courage of each instant.
    Why not invest enough passion in each moment to make it an eternity?" ~E. M. Cioran
    Boki,
    As you will see, I have already sent you a pm about your remarks on this thread. However, I am perplexed at your calling my review of The Gambler "inept," when you've had such positive things to say about my reviews before.

    Such as:

    http://www.worldliteratureforum.com/...ns-memoir.html

    I am waiting for enlightenment as I am really quite confused. Moreover, I
    would love it if you wrote a review of The Gambler, since it's one of your favorites, dear.

    ~Titania
  4. 09-Feb-2009, 23:22#4
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    titania! so sorry, i meant "in depth" rather then inept. my simple english has failed me once again. i meant that your write your reviews in a acuteness thats rare to find, though i tried to simplify that, and used a word i had the wrong meaning of.

    sorry darling.
  5. 09-Feb-2009, 23:26#5
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    "All men have the same defect: they wait to live, for they have not the courage of each instant.
    Why not invest enough passion in each moment to make it an eternity?" ~E. M. Cioran
    Boki,
    I'm so glad you've clarified what you meant! Many thanks for doing so with such expedience, darling. I'm delighted that you consider that I write my reviews with both depth and acuity. The gracious words are most appreciated...indeed, more so than words can express.

    ~Titania
    Originally Posted by Boki
    titania! so sorry, i meant "in depth" rather then inept. my simple english has failed me once again. i meant that your write your reviews in a acuteness thats rare to find, though i tried to simplify that, and used a word i had the wrong meaning of.

    sorry darling.
  6. 11-Feb-2009, 16:39#6
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    Last edited by lionel; 12-Feb-2009 at 11:24.
    Yes, Titania, this is a very generously sized review, as readers have come to expect from you. Much to your credit, you put the name of the translator right at the top there where it belongs.

    As I've only read Crime and Punishment (and that many years ago) and Notes from Underground much more recently, I obviously can't comment on the book as such, so I'm mainly keeping to universals here. You say

    Ummm. This suggests something animalistic. Isn't this tempered by any human characteristics?

    Ah! So characters are more believable if they let their superego, their inner cop, rule, maybe? Or maybe not:

    OK

    Yes, I think it's about the same length as Notes from Underground, which I've never heard you mention. That's quite a devastating representation of alienation which I'd fully recommend if you've not read it, although I won't go into the circumstances that took me – albeit briefly – back to Dostoevsky as it would bore you to death.

    Good un!

    This is great stuff, Titania. Now what about The Withered Root? It needs to be tended to.
    Originally Posted by titania7
    The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett
    Originally Posted by titania7
    Their instincts and passions are their ruling force, and, in some ways, this makes them very realistic.
    Originally Posted by titania7
    A writer like Henry James, whose figures oft-times seem to almost magically be capable of repressing their emotions makes Dostoevsky's characters seem downright theatrical. Which writer portrays people in a way that is more true-to-life?
    Originally Posted by titania7
    That is a matter of opinion, but what I have always found so engaging about Dostoevsky's work is his ability to peel off the masks his characters wear, in order to give us glimpses of the true, often diabolical faces that lurk beneath. In this respect, he is not unlike other Russian writers. They are not inclined towards subtlety or discretion. They rarely make the reader guess at what is transpiring, and so we cannot help but feel a certain kinship with the characters--and yes, with the authors themselves.
    Originally Posted by titania7
    If you haven't read Dostoevsky before, The Gambler wouldn't be a bad place to start. It can be finished in a day, and it will leave you aching for more of this Russian master's work.
    Originally Posted by titania7
    "Man is a mystery. It must be brought to light, and, if one puzzles over it all one's life, let it not be said that one is wasting one's time. I am studying this mystery, for I wish to be a man."

    Gender constructs aside, the passage from this missive is very telling.
  7. 26-Feb-2009, 21:46#7
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    Interesting, I completely bounced off Crime and Punishment, a sub-200 page work is actually very tempting as I'd like to give Dostoevsky a try but I'd rather not restart with the one work of his I struggled with before. This sounds perfect.

    Great review by the way.
  8. 01-Mar-2009, 09:44#8
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    "All men have the same defect: they wait to live, for they have not the courage of each instant.
    Why not invest enough passion in each moment to make it an eternity?" ~E. M. Cioran
    Max,
    I'm so delighted you happened upon this thread! The Gambler truly is every bit as stupendous as I said. I was quite pleasantly surprised, and I feel altogether certain that you will be, as well. I can't wait to hear what you think of it. I don't blame you for not wanting to re-start Crime and Punishment. Sometimes merely the idea of trying to get back into a book we've struggled with before creates a psychological barrier, doesn't it?
    I think The Gambler will more than answer your needs.

    Thank you so much, Max. Your complimentary words mean a great deal to me. If my review has prompted you to get a copy of The Gambler, then I know I must have said or done something right!

    Best wishes always,

    Titania

    PS In answer to an inquiry you made on the "Recently Finished" books thread, Max, I don't have a thread at the WLF for Hamsun's Mysteries.
    But you can find my full review at SpinozaBlue.
    Originally Posted by Max Cairnduff
    Interesting, I completely bounced off Crime and Punishment, a sub-200 page work is actually very tempting as I'd like to give Dostoevsky a try but I'd rather not restart with the one work of his I struggled with before. This sounds perfect.
    Originally Posted by Max
  9. 01-Mar-2009, 20:21#9
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    I loved this book. This one sat unread on my bookshelf for roughly 8 years. It quietly watched many of the author's other novels read. Finally, in a desperate attempt to get away from another book (I can't even remember what it was) I picked up The Gambler due to a lack of anything else short and unread on the shelf with little expectation to actually finish it. Well finish it I did. I loved it! The story flew off the page and very much reflected the speed at which it was written. Not to call Crime and Punishment laborious to read, but I wasn't expecting a real page turner. Anyway, this was one of my more pleasant literary surprises in the last year. A very underrated book by a revered writer. Did I mention I liked this novel?
  10. 04-Mar-2009, 09:42#10
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    Dear Titania:

    Thanks for the wonderful review!

    As to the differences between impact of "C&P" and "The Gambler", maybe that's because the former was dealing more with an idea, and the second with something more privately felt and experienced...

  11. Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    I finished it and it is indeed a fantastic book. The characters are exquisite, enjoyed them immensely. Probable my favorite was the Russian Old Lady and her frankness to all of her relatives who wanted her death. Polina is also a very intriguing character. I guess my predilection was the female characters for this book. It was a great re-entry into Dostoyevskly. I'll try read more of him in 2012. Probably White Nights will sneak in this year.
  12. 15-Dec-2011, 12:37#12
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    It's one of my favourites from Dostoevsky. I don't remember all the details because I read it many years ago, but I recall it had a wicked sense of humor about the follies of men. I loved the old lady who arrived to rescue her relative only to become addicted to gambling, going on to squander all her fortune.
  13. 03-Apr-2012, 15:37#13
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    Re: Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Gambler

    Last edited by Hamlet; 03-Apr-2012 at 15:45. Reason: typos
    I read The Gambler a very long time ago.

    If I think of this book now it's mainly in relation to Dostoevsky's involvement with a shyster publisher who signed him up to an oppressive publishing contract -complete on time, or I've got you for nine years!

    Having scribbled away like a maniac he made the deadline and gained a wife, Anna Grigorevna, his stenographer. I wonder if the story behind the story of The Gambler has ever been adapted into a short story or play?

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These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.

Alexei, 25-year-old home teacher, with the family of an elderly General Zagoryansky - stepdaughter Pauline and two small children - live in a luxury hotel on the German resort Roulette burg. Yet in Russia, General laid his estate to a certain Marquis de Grieux, and for six months looks forward to news from Moscow about the death of his sick aunt Antonida Tarasevicheva. Then Marquis de Grieux will take over the general’s property, and the latter will receive a large inheritance, and marries a beautiful young Frenchwoman mademoiselle Blanche, who he is passionately in love with. The French, in anticipation of big money, are always near the general, who is a simple-minded man, also subjected to strong passions. Alexei they all treat almost as a servant, which greatly hurts his pride. Russian teacher is in friendship only with the Englishman Astley, aristocrat and rich, extremely honest, noble and chaste man. Both of them are in love with Pauline.

About two months ago, this beautiful and proud girl wished to make Alexei her friend. Between them established a unique relationship of a "slave" and a "torturer." An educated gentleman, but without funds, Alexey is hurt by his dependent position - so love for an arrogant and brusque Pauline often mixes with hatred. Young teacher is convinced that only money can bring him the respect of others, including his girlfriend, "Money - is everything!" The only way of finding it is winning at roulette. Pauline also needs the money, but for unclear for Alexei purposes. She does not believe in the seriousness of his love, perhaps because his too developed ego, sometimes amounting to cruel desire to kill the scoffer. Yet, at the whim of his lady, the teacher makes antics: insults while walking Prussian baronial couple Vurmergelmov.

In the evening the scandal bursts. Baron asked the general to deprive of the place the daring "servant." He rudely scolds Alexei. On his part, the latter is resented by the fact that the General took responsibility for his actions: he is "a person legally competent." Fighting for his dignity, even in the "disadvantaged position" of a teacher, he is behaving provocatively, and it really ends with his dismissal. However, the general somehow is scared by the intention of the former teacher to talk with Baron himself. He sends to Alexei de Grieux with a request to leave his venture. Seeing Alexei persistence, the Frenchman goes to the threats, and then passes a note from Pauline, which says him to stop. The "slave" obeys, but is puzzled by the influence of de Grieux on Pauline.

Astley, who the hero reveals about what has happened, explains the matter. It turns out that two years ago Mlle Blanche has spent the season in Roulette burg. Abandoned by her lovers, without money, she tried her fate unsuccessfully on the roulette wheel. Then she decided to charm Baron, for which, on the complaint of the baroness to the police, was expelled from the city. Now, trying to become the general's wife, Blanche has to avoid attention of Vurmergelmov. Continuation of the scandal is undesirable.

Returning to the hotel, Alexei in amazement sees on the porch grandmother just arrived from Russia, whose death in waited in vain by the general and French. This is a 75-year-old formidable and rich landowner and a Moscow lady, in a chair with paralyzed legs, with coarse manners. Her arrival is a disaster for everyone, a direct and sincere, the old woman immediately denies the general with money for his attitude. The story of Alexei and Prussian baron she judges from the standpoint of Russian national dignity: "do not know how to support their homeland." She is disturbed by unenviable fate of Pauline and general’s children; servant for the patriarchal lady also is a "living person". Disliked the French, she praised Astley.

Wanting to explore the local attractions, the grandmother tells Alexei to carry her to the roulette, where in frenzy is starting to make bets and wins a substantial amount.

General and the French are afraid that the grandmother will lose their future inheritance: they beg Alexei to distract the old woman from the game. However, the same evening she is again in the casino. At this time the eccentric Muscovite loses all available money and part of the securities. Repenting her levity she intends to build a church in Moscow and commands to go immediately to Russia. But twenty minutes before the train she changes plans, she wants to win back. Alexei refuses to accompany her to the roulette table. During the evening and the next day the grandmother loses almost all her fortune.

De Grieux leaves the town; Blanche knocks the general away, no longer even recognizing him when they meet. Out of desperation he almost loses his mind.

Finally the old woman goes to Russia on the borrowed at Astley money. She still has immovable properties, and she calls to Moscow Pauline.

In the evening Alexei finds in his room Pauline. She shows him a farewell letter to De Grieux. Between her and the Frenchman there was a connection, but without grandmother's inheritance prudent "Marquis" refuses to marry. However, he returned General embedded fifty thousand francs - own money of Pauline. Proud, she wants to throw it in a face of de Grieux these fifty thousand. Alexei should get this money.

The hero rushes to the gambling hall. Happiness smiles at him, and he soon brings in a huge amount - two hundred thousand francs. Back in the casino the former teacher felt horrible delight of luck, victory, power. Game of the means of self-affirmation and service for the beloved turns him into an independent, all-consuming passion. Even in the presence of Pauline player cannot take his eyes off the brought in a pile of tickets and gold. Girl is hurt by the fact that for Alexei, as well as for de Grieux, other interests are more important than the love for her. Arrogant woman refuses to accept the gift of fifty thousand and spends the night with him. On the morning throws banknotes into the lover's face and runs away.

Unselfish Astley shelters sick Pauline, and blames Alexei for failing to understand her internal drama and the inability to true love.

The same day, Blanche easily seduces grown rich Russian and goes with him to Paris. Having seized his money, and to acquire a name and a title marries just arrived here general. He agrees on the most miserable role in prudent and profligate Frenchwoman’s life. Three weeks later, Alexei, without regret about wasted money, leaves the lover and goes to Hamburg.

More than one and a half year he wanders gambling through German cities, sometimes sinking to the service in the varnish and in prison for outstanding debt.

And now an unexpected meeting in Hamburg with Astley happens, who sought out Alexei on behalf of Pauline, who lives in Switzerland with relatives. The hero learns about the death of grandmother in Moscow and of general in Paris, and most importantly - about Pauline’s love. It turns out that he was wrong thinking that she loved de Grieux. Astley considers his friend, a "dead man", not able, because of his Russian nature, resist destructive passions.

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