The Queen Of Spades by Alexander Pushkin, 1834
The magic trick:
Creating a rich fictional world beyond simply the protagonist and main plot
We continue our 2021 World SSMT Tour with a month-long trip to Russia. Can’t do much better than that for short stories, right? And Alexander Pushkin is excellent starting point.
“The Queen Of Spades” feels far more modern than its publication date – now nearly 200 (!!!) years ago – would indicate. The plot, after all, rests on sex, violence, and gambling.
The plot centers on a man named Hermann, whose chance encounter with a friend’s story sets off an obsessive need to take advantage of what seems to be guaranteed riches. But while we’re following his journey deep into depravity, the narration also takes time to give us other glimpses of the world. We get comedic moments between the Countess and Lizaveta. The Countess, in other scenes, emerges as a tragic figure, even as she is often portrayed as ridiculous. Lizaveta, meanwhile, gets plenty of screen time of her own as she navigates the odd moral predicament presented in Hermann’s romantic advances.
All of this is to say that the story gives us a clear main plot line but also brings enough to life around the edges to create a rich fictional world in 23 pages.
And that’s quite a trick on Pushkin’s part.
For all that, the letter caused her to feel exceedingly uneasy. For the first time in her life she was entering into secret and confidential relations with a young man. His boldness alarmed her. She reproached herself for her imprudent behaviour, and knew not what to do. Should she cease to sit at the window and, by assuming an appearance of indifference towards him, put a check upon the young officer’s desire for further acquaintance with her? Should she send his letter back to him, or should she answer him in a cold and decided manner? There was nobody to whom she could turn in her perplexity, for she had neither female friend nor adviser… At length she resolved to reply to him.
She sat down at her little writing-table, took pen and paper, and began to think. Several times she began her letter, and then tore it up: the way she had expressed herself seemed to her either too inviting or too cold and decisive. At last she succeeded in writing a few lines with which she felt satisfied.
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