Novels

The Gambler (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1867)

By on May 30, 2012
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Sometimes, the best plot of a novel are those that comes from real experience. Just like that of The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The novel tells the story of Alexey Ivanovitch, a young tutor working in the household of an imperious Russian general, intelligent and dangerously in love.

Alexey is somewhat Dostoevsky himself having been addicted to gambling for eight years. The story is told in Alexey’s viewpoint so it is safe to say that Dostoevsky himself was the one speaking albeit only a bit.

The book deals on such topics as being lured to gambling and falling in love with a seductive woman (in the book her name is Polina) and intertwining the two, a deadly combination. The author went as far as showcasing the character to being obsessed with both that if the book has been set to today, he might have been addicted to online games that bingo sites offer both for fun and for money. If not, he’s a regular Las Vegas player and it would be like a James Bond Casino Royale film with one of the Bond girls as his leading lady.

At that and gambling certainly playing a central role to the plot, it is more interesting to know how the book portray the peculiar ways people see and resolve gambling, the kind of “gambling” that they themselves play everyday.

If you’ve watched Japanese films,  the thought of going all-out and even risking one’s life to reach that intense moment when you feel most alive, descriptively depicted here, will certainly captivate you to read until the end.

Though the book was met with criticisms of how it portrays gambling as a life-wrecker, it cannot be discounted that most of its contents may happen in a gambler’s everyday life. The book tries to convey the message that the key to everything is moderation but when one loses that focus then he or she is most likely to fall down the pits of going back to gambling even at the cost of being bankrupt.

Interestingly, the book’s publishing history is equally a gamble too:  Dostoyevsky was under the pressure of a deadline from a publisher,  F. T. Stellovsky. With the latter also acquiring the right to publish Dostoyevsky’s works for nine years without any compensation to the writer if he did not deliver, Dostoevsky dictated the book in less than a month to the star pupil of Russia’s first shorthand school, Anna Grigorevna. In a twist of a fairytale, they got married later on.

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