The Gambler and Other Stories
A new selection of seven of Dostoyevsky's best stories.
"The Gambler," about a young tutor in the employ of a Russian general, was written under a strict deadline so Dostoyevsky could pay off his roulette debts. Also included here are "Bobok," the tale of a frustrated writer visiting a cemetery and enjoying the gossip of the dead; "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," the story of one man's plan to commit suicide and the troubling dream that follows; as well as "White Nights," "A Christmas Party and a Wedding," "A Nasty Story," and "The Meek One."
The Gambler and Other Stories
Student Review by Liam Hoare, Royal Holloway, University of London
“Dostoyevsky is immortal!”
At the height of European Romanticism, the novels of Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky held domain over the nineteenth century literary scene, in a manner similar to the emergence of Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald during the United States’ economic boom and bust. Their classics including Dead Souls and Anna Karenina very much evoked the essence of folkloric Mother Russia. In this era, she was evidently experiencing her cultural zenith.
Yet such an interpretation appears wholeheartedly retrospective, given the manner in which The Gambler – Dostoyevsky’s 1866 novella which straddles this handsome new collection of his short stories – portrays an educated Russian tutor suffocated by an abundance of detractors. Amongst the great powers of the industrial age, it seems that the vast and unmanageable Russian Empire was considered the runt of the litter. In Roulettenberg, French and German aristocrats command the dinner tables of the resorts and hotels. Over supper, French – the more sophisticated tongue – is the language of the day. The papers do not make for easy reading either: “I took out my Opinion nationale”, the narrator comments, “and began to read the most terrible diatribe about Russia”.
Russianness or the idea of a unique national character is explored often throughout via the gambling motif. “Roulette is simply made for Russians”, as is explained to a quizzical Francophone, since not only are they ‘incapable of acquiring capital’ but they squander money ‘scandalously and to no purpose’. For Dostoyevsky though, such notions are intended as a tribute to the Russian people, who are shown to be more spontaneous and daring than their sturdy German counterparts: “which is more vile: shocking Russian behaviour or the German method of accumulating through honest work?” The use of pan-European characters has been criticised in the new introduction by the collection’s translator Ronald Meyer, who argues that this presents Dostoyevsky the ‘opportunity to indulge in stereotypes’: the ‘dried-up Prussian’ or ‘wretched little Poles’.
The Gambler nestles in well amongst the collection’s other vignettes, which include Bobok and The Meek One, making this a colourful and welcome addition to the masterful Dostoyevsky bibliography, which already contains such eloquent and significant works as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
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