«The Queen of Spades»: A Seriously Intended Joke
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. 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. 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.” 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. 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.