Places: The Gambler

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Igrok, 1866 (English translation, 1949)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedRoulettenburg

Roulettenburg. Gambler, TheDostoevski modeled his invented town of Roulettenburg on the German spa town of Baden-Baden, where he himself used to gamble in the famous casino. By calling the town Roulettenburg, Dostoevski underscores the central importance of gambling (and specifically, the game of roulette) to those who visit the town. Dostoevski does not show many different aspects of the location but focuses on those places where visitors and tourists congregate: the elegant hotels, the casino, the park. One of the distinctive features of the Roulettenburg setting is its international or cosmopolitan character. People of various nationalities–Russian, French, German, Italian, and Polish–congregate there, and this international flavor evokes an atmosphere of rootlessness. Winnings and losses are calculated in a variety of different currencies, from French to Russian. Even the hotel names point to the international aura; one hotel is called “Hôtel d’Angleterre” (“Hotel England”). What is more, townspeople place tremendous emphasis on appearance and external form. It is of paramount importance to appear to have great wealth and rank in society. Yet it often turns out that people are not what they seem. Identities are deceptive and fluid, and personal fortunes may fluctuate dramatically depending on a simple turn of the roulette wheel. Dostoevski’s treatment of the town and its visitors exposes the danger and the folly of placing one’s dreams of joy and fulfillment on mere games of chance. Indeed, the novel’s central character, the narrator Aleksei Ivanovich, loses the opportunity to find true love because he becomes obsessed with playing the game of roulette.

Casino

Casino. Much of the novel’s most intense action occurs in the casino, which Dostoevski depicts as a kind of hell on earth. Among the crowds thronging the gambling tables, one finds lost souls, desperate to change their luck, as well as vicious swindlers, demons of a sort, who prey on the unwary. In one important episode, an elderly Russian woman, whose death is eagerly anticipated by family members who stand to inherit her fortune, unexpectedly arrives in Roulettenburg, and soon proceeds to lose a colossal amount of money at the roulette table. This is money she had originally planned to use for the construction of a church. Chastened by her losses, she returns to Moscow with a new sense of humility. The example she sets is lost on Aleksei Ivanovich, who goes to the casino and wins a large sum of money, thereby setting him on the path to a ruinous gambling addiction.

*Paris

*Paris. Capital of France to which Aleksei Ivanovich travels with the French adventuress Mademoiselle Blanche after winning his fortune at the Roulettenburg casino. The Paris that Aleksei Ivanovich experiences is one of frivolity and light entertainment. Mademoiselle Blanche cheerfully spends his winnings on clothes, horses, and furniture, yet he remains indifferent to this, for his underlying ambition is to return to the gambling tables.

*Moscow

*Moscow. In contrast to the tainted foreign cities of Roulettenburg and Paris, the old Russian city of Moscow symbolically represents traditional values and spiritual firmness.

Schlangenberg

Schlangenberg. Mountain peak near the town of Roulettenburg. The name of the peak in German means “Snake Mountain.” In a desperate attempt to convince the woman he loves that he is devoted to her, Aleksei Ivanovich tells the woman that he would jump off the Schlangenberg if she so commanded. This episode recalls the story of the temptation of Jesus by the devil in the New Testament.

BibliographyFrank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995. The fourth book of a five-book series on Dostoevski. Contains extensive biographical information and readings of the novels and most of the work.Hlybinny, Uladzimer. Dostoevski’s Image in Russia Today. Belmont, Mass.: Nordland, 1975. Traces Dostoevski’s life from childhood onward. Covers what is mostly unknown in Dostoevski’s writing as well as what is popular. A large and complete book.Jackson, Robert Louis. The Art of Dostoevsky: Deliriums and Nocturnes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981. An authority on Dostoevski examines the novels written in Dostoevski’s last twenty years. Links the themes of these most important novels and gives an extended character description of Polina from The Gambler.Jackson, Robert Louis. Dostoevsky’s Quest for Form: A Study of His Philosophy of Art. 2d ed. Bloomington, Indiana: Physsardt, 1978. Considers the contradiction between Dostoevski’s working aesthetic and his higher aesthetic of true beauty. A mature and helpful study for the serious Dostoevski reader.Mackiewicz, Stanislaw. Dostoyevsky. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1947. Discusses the characters and circumstances of The Gambler and several other novels. Examines the women characters and their relevance to the loves of Dostoevski’s life. Biographical information and critiques of the novels.
Categories: Places