The Queen of Spades (story)
"The Queen of Spades" (Russian: Пиковая дама; translit. Pikovaya dama) is a short story with supernatural elements by Alexander Pushkin about human avarice. Pushkin wrote the story in autumn 1833 in Boldino and it was first published in the literary magazine Biblioteka dlya chteniya in March 1834.
The story was the basis of the operas The Queen of Spades (1890) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, La dame de pique (1850) by Fromental Halévy and Pique Dame (1864) by Franz von Suppé (the overture to the Suppé work is all that remains in today's repertoire). It has been filmed various times, the most notable version being a 1949 film by the same name directed by Thorold Dickinson.
Hermann, an ethnic German, is an officer of the engineers in the Imperial Russian Army. He constantly watches the other officers gamble, but never plays himself. One night, Tomsky tells a story about his grandmother, an elderly countess. Many years ago, in France, she lost a fortune at cards, and then won it back with the secret of the three winning cards, which she learned from the notorious Count of St. Germain. Hermann becomes obsessed with obtaining the secret.
The countess (who is now 87 years old) has a young ward, Lizavyeta Ivanovna. Hermann sends love letters to Lizavyeta, and persuades her to let him into the house. There Hermann accosts the countess, demanding the secret. She first tells him that story was a joke, but Hermann refuses to believe her. He repeats his demands, but she does not speak. He draws a pistol and threatens her, and the old lady dies of fright. Hermann then flees to the apartment of Lizavyeta in the same building. There he confesses to have killed the countess by fright with his pistol. He defends himself by saying that the pistol was not loaded. He escapes from the house with the aid of Lizavyeta, who is disgusted to learn that his professions of love were a mask for greed.
Hermann attends the funeral of the countess, and is terrified to see the countess open her eyes in the coffin and look at him. Later that night, the ghost of the countess appears. The ghost names the secret three cards (three, seven, ace), tells him he must play just once each night and then orders him to marry Lizavyeta. Hermann takes his entire savings to Chekalinsky's salon, where wealthy men gamble for high stakes. On the first night, he bets it all on the three, going against the Countess orders; and wins. On the second night, he wins on the seven. On the third night, he bets on the ace — but when cards are shown, he finds he has bet on the Queen of Spades, rather than the ace, and loses everything. When the Queen appears to wink at him, he is astonished by her remarkable resemblance to the old countess, and flees in terror. Hermann goes mad and is committed to an asylum. He is installed in Room 17 at the Obukhov hospital; he answers no questions, but merely mutters with unusual rapidity: "Three, seven, ace! Three, seven, queen!"
The character of the old countess was inspired by Princess Natalya Petrovna Galitzine (Princesse Moustache) while Ficquelmont Palace, where Pushkin was a regular guest, is believed to be the frame for the old countess' grand palace in Pushkin's story.
Pushkin would also have depicted his own feelings for countess Dolly de Ficquelmont through Hermann's love for Lise.
- Binyon, Pushkin: A Biography, p. 424.
- Binyon, Pushkin: A Biography, p. 444.
- The Operatic Pushkin
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- Пиковая дама available at Russian Virtual Library (Russian)
- "The Queen of Spades", transl. by Natalie Duddington
- Queen of Spades (1910) on YouTube (English subtitles)
- Opera Queen of Spades on YouTube