Alexey Ivanovitch (ah-lehk-say ih-VAH-no-vihch), a young, impoverished nobleman, the tutor in a decadent, aristocratic Russian household where he falls in love with the stepdaughter of the family. Boorish and insolent in response to the patronizing impoliteness of his sponsor, he causes his own dismissal but remains in the German gambling resort town to be near his beloved Polina, who makes use of his devotion to send him on errands and to win for her at the roulette tables. Although perceptive and cultured, Alexey is addicted to the tables, so much so that he wins a fortune in order to relieve Polina of financial worries. When she refuses to accept his gift, she leaves him so despondent that he takes up with a French adventuress who impoverishes and then discards him. Even after he hears that Polina, ill at the time, really loves him and wishes him to return, he goes again and again to the salons, for by this time his gambling has become compulsive.
Polina Alexandrovna (poh-LIH-nuh ah-lehk-SAHN-drov-nuh), the stepdaughter of a Russian general. Beautiful in a strange way, Polina is the mistress of a false marquis, an adventurer who practices usury and who is ruining the General by attaching his real estate in order to keep the Russian in gambling money. Her influence on Alexey is so great that he not only gambles for her, literally and figuratively, but also obeys her slightest whim. She in turn is under the spell of the false marquis. Mr. Astley, who is also in love with Polina, finally takes her to Switzerland for her health.
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