Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Note On The End Of Dostoyevsky's The Gambler


Dostoyevsky's The Gambler:

At the end of Dostoyevsky's The Gambler, Alexei Ivanovich in conversation with the Englishman Astley, who is a stable, virtuous man, and personifies a kind of moral norm, learns among other things that Polina, in Switzerland with Astley's sister, now financially stable, having gotten a legacy from the General's old aunt, indeed loves Alexei. In fact she has in effect  "commissioned" Astley to seek Alexei out and find out his "feelings and thoughts and hopes" and his memories of her too:

" was at HER request I came to Homburg, in order to see you, and to have a long, serious talk with you, and to report to her your feelings and thoughts and hopes — yes, and your recollections of her, too?”

“Indeed? Is that really so?” I cried — the tears beginning to well from my eyes. Never before had this happened."

For Alexei to be able to join Polina and reciprocate her love would, as Astley and Alexei see it, pull him out of his wretched abyss of death in life. But Astley thinks Alexei is incapable of this. He's beyond all reach:

"Yes, poor unfortunate,” continued Astley. “She DID love you; and I may tell you this now for the reason that now you are utterly lost. Even if I were also to tell you that she still loves you, you would none the less have to remain where you are. Yes, you have ruined yourself beyond redemption."

After, Alexei, in a delirium of rushed thoughts, records in his feverish writings that if he can pull himself together and get to Polina in Switzerland and show her that he is a new man, then that will confer life on him, bring him back from the dead. If only he can:

"I need to ACT. Above all things I need to think of Switzerland. Tomorrow, tomorrow — Ah, but if only I could set things right tomorrow, and be born again, and rise again from the dead! But no — I cannot. Yet I must show her what I can do. Even if she should do no more than learn that I can still play the man, it would be worth it. Today it is too late, but TOMORROW . . ."

But, in my reading, Alexei's "Today it is too late, but TOMORROW..." is his rationalizing his failure, as he puts it, "to ACT." It's his putting off today for a tomorrow that, however much it's salve for his abstract longings, will never come. Rather his closing thoughts concern his addicted attraction to the sheer excitement of being suspended in nothing, in utter disorder, instability and unknowing, where a single turn of the roulette wheel can mean fortune or disaster, that excitement the gambler's insatiable narcotic:

"...I have only to remember what happened to me some months ago at Roulettenberg, before my final ruin. What a notable instance that was of my capacity for resolution! On the occasion in question I had lost everything — everything; yet, just as I was leaving the Casino, I heard another gulden give a rattle in my pocket! “Perhaps I shall need it for a meal,” I thought to myself; but a hundred paces further on, I changed my mind, and returned. That gulden I staked upon manque — and there is something in the feeling that, though one is alone, and in a foreign land, and far from one’s own home and friends, and ignorant of whence one’s next meal is to come, one is nevertheless staking one’s very last coin! Well, I won the stake, and in twenty minutes had left the Casino with a hundred and seventy gulden in my pocket! That is a fact, and it shows what a last remaining gulden can do. . . . But what if my heart had failed me, or I had shrunk from making up my mind? . . .

No: tomorrow all shall be ended!" 

In my reading of The Gambler, "tomorrow" will be but and always for Alexei the day before the next "tomorrow." 

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