In this final article, we will look at the deeper complexity in the book that can be found in Pushkin's extra-textual parodying of the reader. As Emerson stipulates, there are several varieties of parody that can be found in Pushkin's work, for example simple blasphemy in 'Gavriiliada' , or distortion of cliched literary themes, as found in 'The Stationmaster' (Emerson, 32). However, it has been observed that in several works, including the 'The Queen of Spades', that a parodying of the reader's "overreadiness to accept the invitation authors extend" (Morson, 114), a tendency to automatically delve deep into a work in a search for added complexities, that might not neccessarily even be present.
In 'The Queen of Spades', there is a vast amount of study committed to the deencrpyption of the novella: for example, the articles written by Leighton devoted to the cryptological and numerological significance of various elements in the piece, Whitehead's discussion of narrative voice and many other academic investigations. Although Davydov has hypothesisedthat the actual audience being parodyed in the novel is in fact Germann himself, as Pushkin 'surrounds him with uncanny events, teases him with tantalizing anagrams, chronograms and cryptograms that the calculating engineer repeatedly fails to crack' (Davydov, 327), others have argued the contrary. Emerson argues that the actual object of Pushkin's parody is the audience external to the text - not for the failure that Davydov detected in Germann, but for the readers' high aptitude in cracking the numerous codes within the text (Emerson, 35) and thus our inclination to become irrevocably immersed in this pursuit.
The further irony in this search for reason is illustrated by Leighton's comment on what the final function gematria serves in the novella - he concludes that it 'enlarges the tale's lexical means, expanding the work's semantic fields, and adding to its morphological and syntactic texture' (Leighton, 464). Emerson surmises from this remark that Pushkin's entire design in crafting these endlessly intricate codes was precisely not to allow them to direct us to a final solution, but to always have a piece missing, rendering them incomplete and thus unsolvable (Emerson, 36). As a result of this, Germann's tantalizing experience of forever being close to (but not actually at) the final goal of deciphering the puzzle is projected onto the reader - we are incarcerated in the same psychological maze that the hero himself was, poked and prodded down dead ends of investigation by glimpses of a key to the codes. In this interpretation of the story, the reader pursues the same goal as Germann - to uncover a method of reading future events, predicting them before they unfold. However, it is apparent from the novella's narrative that only true gamblers like Chaplitsky, St. Germain and the Countess (people who are ready to gamble everything on genuine chance) can possess this knowledge (Emerson, 36), and thus every reader, be they academic or casual, becomes the victim of this parody. The extent to which any investigator penetrates the novella, whether it be via a potentially far fetched and contrived theory like Leighton's, or a more traditonal literary discourse suchas Whitehead's or Weber's, is immaterial - the puzzle that Pushkin created is inherently unsolvable, and thus any commentary on the work is rendered futile.
Given also that Germann is a man obsessed with the concept of systematization, the idea of the eradiction of risk and the fundamental neccesity of worldly stability ("я не в состоянии жертвовать необходимым в надежде приобрести излишнее") (Pushkin, 2), another concealed theme within the story could be that Pushkin lauds the nature of the 'true' gambler. Germann ultimately slipped into an abyss of madness because the whole paradigm of unimpeachable security that he had sought to construct was shattered at the very eve of his final victory, a shock he was psychologically unable to absorb - people in Chaplitsky, or St. Germain's position would not have reacted in such a way (even if defeat did entail complete destitution) because they never dismissed the possibility of a loss, and therefore would have been mentally capable of digesting it, had it occurred. Thus, Pushkin praises the embracing of real risk for its romantic purpose, the concept of winning all or losing all on a single card resonating strongly with him.
In conclusion, there is a multitude of complexities to be found within the novella, many of which cannot be explored in such a short space! By analysing fine inter-textual detail, we find a vein of meaning relating to Pushkin's the psychological upheaval follwing the aftermath of the Decembrist movement; via the use of more convential literary analytical methods, the way in which narrative inconsistencies shape the reader's reaction to the occurence of the supernatural in the work can also be isolated. Overarching all branches of investigation in the work however, is the parodying of the reader's tendency to search for deeper meaning in not only this novella, but any other, in order to construct a more appeasing narrative - Pushkin achieves this by implying the existence of solutions to various puzzles within the work, but never providing them.
Hope you have enjoyed this closer analysis of one of Pushkin's most well known stories!
Article by the outstanding Will Roscoe!
Davydov, S. (1999). The Ace in Pushkin's 'The Queen of Spades'. The Slavic Review , 309-328.
Emerson, C. (1993). 'The Queen of Spades' and the Open End. In D. M. Bethea, Pushkin Today (pp. 31-38). Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Morson, G. S. (1981). The Boundaries of Genre: Dostoevsky's "Diary of a Writer" and the Traditions of Literary Utopia. Austin: University of Texas Press.