«The Queen of Spades»: A Seriously Intended Joke

J. Douglas Clayton

 

     It is a commonplace to begin any discussion of The Queen of Spades by remarking on the richness of the secondary literature. Analyses of the tale can for the most part be placed in two categories. For many scholars, the problem is to unravel the mystery of the three cards and the strange denouement when Germann by mistake pulls out the queen instead of the ace; such studies include the many discussions of numbers, the symbolism of various details in the work and psychoanalysis of Germann’s madness.[1] A second type of approach might be called the search for “sources” as a form of empirical study that eschews deeper analysis. Scholars have long recognized the importance of intertextuality in The Queen of Spades, something that Pushkin actually draws attention to by the extensive use of epigraphs. Paul Debreczeny, for example, pointed out a large number of intertextual references—from Stendhal to La Motte Fouqué—without, unfortunately, explaining how they might function in the aesthetic system of the tale.[2] Daria Solodkaia gets nearer to the heart of the matter in her discussion of a key sentence in the work, namely the countess’s remark “That was a joke.”[3] It is precisely this sentence that points to a third line of interpretation, namely the metapoetic or, as Wolf Schmid has called it in what is probably the most enlightening study of the tale, the meta­textual.[4] Schmid is careful to avoid the trap into which many have fallen of focusing on just one of the plethora of motifs and literary references that Pushkin has strewn throughout the work, preferring instead to ana­lyze the totality of the work as an aesthetic system. It is this approach that I intend to adopt in what follows, without pretending to emulate Schmid’s exhaustiveness.

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The Poet and His Readers: Three Lyrics and an Unfinished Story of Alexander Pushkin

Kathleen Manukyan

 

Now and then, in the course of events,
when the flow of time turns into a muddy
torrent and his­tory floods our cellars,
earnest people are apt to examine the
interrelation between a writer and the
national or universal community; and
writers themselves begin to worry about
their obligations. I am speaking of an
abstract type of writer. Those whom we
can imagine concretely, especially those
on the elderly side, are too vain of
their gifts or too reconciled with
mediocrity to bother about obligations.
They see very clearly, in the middle
distance, what fate promises them—the
marble nook or the plaster niche.[1]


 

     One of the features of Pushkin’s longer works, made famous in Eugene Onegin, are his many asides addressed to his “dear reader.” Often deliv­ered as apologies for straying from the plot or clarifications of the narra­tor’s opinion about the matter at hand, they add to our curiosity about the author’s relationship with his readers. How does Pushkin envision, accom­modate, or avoid his reader? For that matter, how much does this vary from genre to genre or evolve as the poet matures? These questions could occupy volumes and warrant analysis from an array of academic ap­proaches—textual, archival, and sociological to name a few. This paper, first, will attempt to scratch the surface and illustrate some complexities of the question through an analysis of three short lyrics from different pe­riods in the poet’s life. Then, it will frame, elaborate upon, and connect its observations in light of “Egyptian Nights,” a short, unfinished prose work from the last years of Pushkin’s life.

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Between Thought and Feeling: Odoevsky, Pushkin, and Dialectical Doubt in 1833

Jonathan Brooks Platt

 

     In the commentary to the Literary Monuments edition of Vladimir Odoevsky's Motley Tales, Marietta Tur´ian remarks upon a peculiar moment of intertextual resonance in the final tale of the 1833 collection. In "The Same Tale, Only Inside Out"—the companion piece of the preceding "Tale about How Dangerous It Is for Girls to Walk in a Crowd down Nevsky Prospect"—a Russian beauty, who has endured kidnapping, vivisection, transformation into a doll, partial reanimation, and a failed romance that ends in her being thrown out a window, is now gathered up off the ground by a 1000-year-old, proto-Slavic sage. In an effort to restore the girl's humanity, the sage plays Beethoven for her, shows her the works of Raphael and Michelangelo, gives her a new heart, and finally blesses her with "the poetry of Byron, Derzhavin, and Pushkin, inspire[s] her with the art of suffering and thinking [iskusstvo stradat´ i myslit´], and continue[s] on his way."[1] This final gift of the sage recalls the famous lines from Pushkin's 1830 "Elegy" ("The faded joy of mad years..." ["Bezumnykh let ugasshee vesel´e..."]): "But, o friends, I do not want to die; / I want to live, in order to think and suffer" [Ia zhit´ khochu, chtob myslit´ i stradat´].[2]

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