The Queen of Spades presents the story of Hermann who is a young officer of the Russian Army engineers. When the comrades of Hermann ask him why he only tends to watch them gamble but he never plays cards himself, he responds that he rarely cares to “sacrifice the necessaries of life for uncertain superfluities.” Then his friend Tomsky, one night, tells the tale of his grandmother who unfortunately lost a fortune while in Paris when she was but a young woman and later found herself lacking the capability to repay her gambling debts. She thus turned to the Count of Saint Germain for assistance who rather than lending her the money told her about the secret of three winning cards so that she could get back her lost fortune and more. Hermann is so much engrossed in the story that he cannot think of anything else except getting the old Countess to tell him the secret. To accomplish his goal, he flirts with Lisaveta, the ward of the Countess by sending her love letters. He eventually manages to get Lisaveta to tell him how to get inside the house and into her room. He waits for the Countess in the bedroom and bids her reveal the secret to him; however, she reveals that it was only a joke. He refuses to believe her and pulls a pistol at her. The old woman is so terrified that she dies from fear. Hermann tells Lisaveta what happened and asks her to help him get out. A ghost of the Countess appears to Hermann during the night after her funeral and reveals the secret o him. Finally, Hermann plays cards and stakes all his fortune thrice. He wins twice, but the third final time…
I found the story to be quite a longish short story. I believe it is, however, an excellent story which has been written in an airy, light manner, despite the elements of supernatural presences which later creep into the tale’s second half. I could not help but notice that the writer has an observant eye of a poet which is easily evident in how he describes his characters, along with several lines regarding the old countess: “She was a full participant in all high-society frivolities, taking herself off to every ball, where she sat things out in a corner, roughed up and dressed in the fashions of yesteryear, like a hideous but indispensable ballroom ornament.” I found this humorous casual style contrasting quite nicely with the dark turn which the tale takes eventually.
I found the story also very outlandish and this became more so as the story continued to go on. The story contains certain romance properties presented in the classical sense. It presented a continuous narrative whereby emphasis is put on what happens in the plot, and not what is reflected from experience or ordinary life. I happened to notice the gothic elements such as a ghost and secret passages included by the author, which exist in a story which in its telling course greatly disavows naturalist underpinnings as it becomes uncanny. Among the first things, I noticed in this story is its sophisticated construction. The plot involving the Countess and Hermann takes up during the second half of the story, though in the first section of the story, Herman appears as a peripheral figure.
As I was interpreting the story, I came up with two major interpretations. In the first interpretation, I perceived it as a supernatural story due to the presence of magic cards and the ghost of the Countess. In my second interpretation, however, I perceived the events happening in the story as a realistic evolution of the mental illness of Hermann. These included his irrational actions and distorted perceptions which I suspect were as a result of hallucinations, alcohol, dreams, or guilt.
All in all, I could not tell whether the story is some kind of morality tale that is veiled, warning people about the evils of gambling. This is because the fate of Hermann is definitely not a happy one, and it is evident that he lost a lot as he played the title card. The story demonstrated a secret ill-will. If this is the case, where does this ill will emerge from? Is it the Countess, who his hell-bent on getting her revenge for her murder by accident? Or could it be Herman is already mad, and he is a victim to suggestibility which makes him believe in delusional visions? The story provides hints that the murder of the Countess may not only be the crime committed by Herman. After reading the story, I believe that Hermann may at least have three crimes on his conscience, therefore the idea of may be symbolic.
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