Classic of the Week: The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky
‘The whole casino was crowding around… I experienced some sort of irresistible pleasure in snatching and raking in the banknotes… The experienced player knows what this ‘capricious luck’ means.’
Capriciousness is one of the main themes in this tale of intriguing obsession; a tale Dean Moriarty would be proud of no doubt. Aleksy Ivanovich, Dostoevsky’s hero, is a man of compulsion and vice who shares many of the author’s own infatuations – infatuation for the roulette table and for beautiful, proud, young Russian women.
Aleksy is a young tutor in the employment of a formerly wealthy Russian general when he falls in love with Polina, the general’s compelling young ward. But Aleksy is a social inferior in a world of superiors and becomes deeply self-conscious when his love for Polina is resentfully unaccepted. His disturbed social relations and desire for wealth fuel a fixation with gambling which threatens his ruin. The gaming table becomes a powerful metaphor for social-reversal in this interesting short novel from Dostoevsky where wealth and position are immediately transferable and easily lost.
The Gambler is available now from Oxford World’s Classics
Words: Lottie Brown