Alexei Ivanovich—the narrator of the story. He arrives in Roulettenburg, a German resort after a stay in Paris. He is the tutor for the family of a retired Russian General. He is in love with Polina and claims he would do anything for her—including suicide.
The General—Retired. A spendthrift. All his Russian properties are mortaged. He has borrowed money from de Grieux.
Polina Alexandrovna Praskovja—Step daughter of the General
Maria Filippovna—The mistress of the General.
Marquis de Grieux—Alleged relative of Blanche. He has a love interest in Polina.
Mr. Astley—Englishman also has an eye for Polina.
Mademoiselle Blanche de Cominges—Love interest of the General
Baron and Baroness Wurmerhelm—In the town’s social circle. Polina gets Alexi to insult them on a whim.
Antonida Vasilevna Tarasevitcheva—Grandmother (the General’s mother)—is wealthy and the General is just waiting for her to die so that he can get her inheritance.
Madame de Cominges—Mademoiselle Blanche’s mother
The General (retired) is in hock. He is at a German resort living on credit. He is waiting to marry Blanche de Cominges but he needs money. His mother has money and is old and infirmed. The General is constantly telegramming St. Petersburg to find out if his mother is dead. This bothers the “grandmother.” She makes a train trip to Roulettenburg. The grandmother is confined to a wheelchair, but her wits are about her. She is angry at her son for his greediness.
Alexei is head-over-heals for Polina. She asks him to insult the Baron and Baroness Wurmerhelm to prove his love. Alexei does it, but it gets back to the General who sacks the tutor, but agrees to pay his hotel bills (with money that the General does not possess). Then Polina (who is also short on money) gives Alexei some money to gamble for her. Alexei (a novice) agrees and wins some at roulette. Everyone is up-beat. But then Alexei has to go back and lose it again.
Enter the grandmother. She also wants to bet and just like Alexei, she wins the first day, but then loses it back the next. But she is hooked and keeps gambling until she has lost all the ready cash and bank notes she has with her. She offers to take Polina back to Russia with her, but the latter demurs. With no money but a train ticket, the grandmother goes back to Russia.
There is some intrigue among the three who want Polina’s love: Alexei, Astley, and de Grieux. It seems that she doesn’t know her own mind. It is a bit of a gamble of her own. She favors de Grieux, but it is a bad choice. Polina tells Alexei that she has been de Grieux’s lover. Alexei tries to find Astley and get some firm footing, but doesn’t
Once Blanche sees that the General won’t get his inheritance she arranges to leave town (with her mother) for Paris. Alexei, who has the run of a lifetime on the roulette wheel decides to go to Paris with Blanche to live with her for a short time in return for giving her virtually all of his money. Blanche is financially set, but it runs out quickly for Alexei, who then has to leave town to re-make his fortune gambling. But it is not to be. He is always at the low end of things and is even sent to prison for not paying a debt. A mysterious person buys him out.
On the outside, Alexei meets up with Astley in Bad Homburg and they sort out the events of the story. Grandmother died and left her money to Polina, who is living in Switzerland. Astley tells Alexei that Polina really did love him. The General died in Paris. Astley gives Alexei a bit of money, but not too much because Astley knows that if he did, that Alexei would just lose it again to gambling. Alexei goes home and dreams of Switzerland and the magic of the roulette wheel.
It seems that the title is incorrect. There isn’t just a single gambler, everyone in the story is a gambler in some fashion. Some gamble with rather better odds (such as Blanche or de Grieux or Astley), but they are all placing primary goods of life before the wheel of fate. This is a decent metaphor for life. And it plays out well, for the most part.
One way to approach this story is to inquire about how many levels the presentation takes us. It is this reader’s opinion that the options are rather limited to a couple of levels: money and love. Perhaps with a more complex story or more physical detail the author might have create a fuller depiction. This is not the stuff of Notes from Underground or The Double. Novellas are tough to write.
Aspired= ****/ Accomplished= ***/ Bethesda, MD September, 2018