Alexey Ivanovitch returns to Roulettenburg, a German resort, after two weeks in Paris. He is a tutor in the family of a Russian general who comes to the resort to repair his dwindling fortune. The General woos an apparently wealthy young Frenchwoman, Mademoiselle Blanche. Polina, the General’s stepdaughter, is attracted to Mademoiselle Blanche’s alleged distant relative, the Marquis de Grieux. Alexey is Polina’s creature; he loves her and accepts any humiliation at her hands.
Alexey goes to the casino with money Polina gives him. After winning a tidy amount, he feels that his stay in Roulettenburg will affect his life seriously. Believing that he cannot lose at the gambling tables, Alexey tells Polina that hereafter he will gamble only for himself. Polina, however, aware of her power over Alexey, easily persuades him to share his winnings with her.
An affluent young English capitalist, Astley, comes to Roulettenburg and, much to the General’s discomfort, diverts the attentions of Mlle Blanche, who is growing tired of waiting for the General’s old aunt to die. The General telegraphs Moscow every day to inquire about the condition of the old lady, who, he is sure, will leave him a fortune.
It is soon evident that Astley is in love with Polina. Alexey, suspecting the French pair to be impostors, wants to get away from the machinations of Roulettenburg existence, but his love for Polina holds him. At the casino he loses a large amount of Polina’s money; his possession of the money arouses renewed interest in the General on the part of Mlle Blanche. The General, it seems, is deeply in debt to de Grieux.
Unable to win with Polina’s money, Alexey offers to win with his own and to lend her whatever she wants. Alexey hopes that he can win Polina by becoming wealthy through gambling. He confesses his ardent love for her, and when he tells her that he can even commit murder for her, she impishly orders him to speak in French to a stuffy German baroness who is passing by with her husband. After Alexey brashly insults the Germans, he is discharged by the General, despite his plea that he was mentally aberrant during the escapade. Alexey manages to maintain his self-respect when he tells the General, who apologizes to the baron for Alexey’s behavior, that he is capable of making his own apologies, that as the son of a nobleman he objects to the General’s patronizing treatment. The General, fearful of the consequences of Alexey’s further impetuosities, unsuccessfully tries to mollify...
(The entire section is 1036 words.)