In "The Bet," an idealistic young lawyer and a jaded banker make a bet.

  • An idealistic lawyer and a prominent banker bet that the lawyer can't survive fifteen years in prison. His prize if he wins will be two million rubles.

  • The lawyer is imprisoned in the banker's garden house. Fifteen years later, the banker realizes that he will be ruined if the lawyer collects on the bet. He decides to kill the lawyer.

  • However, the mentally broken lawyer has lost his faith in humanity and gives up on the bet, walking out of his cell five minutes before his sentence ends.

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Bet” is the story of a bet that stakes a banker’s two million rubles against fifteen years of a young lawyer’s life. As the story opens, the banker is recalling the occasion of the bet fifteen years before. Guests at a party that he was hosting that day fell into a discussion of capital punishment; the banker argued that capital punishment is more humane than life imprisonment, while the young lawyer disagreed, insisting that he would choose life in prison rather than death. As the argument became more heated, the banker angrily wagered two million rubles that the lawyer could not endure imprisonment, a challenge that the lawyer accepted, setting the term of his voluntary captivity at fifteen years, at the end of which he would receive the two million rubles.

The lawyer was imprisoned in the banker’s garden house in complete solitude, permitted no visitors, no letters, no newspapers. He could write letters, however, and he was permitted books, music, wine, and tobacco. The banker observed the progress of the young lawyer’s adaptation to his imprisonment. During the first year, he read fight books and played the piano. In the second year, he ceased being interested in music but turned to great literature. In the fifth year, he loafed, drank wine, and played the piano. Then for four years he studied languages, history, and philosophy before moving to the New Testament and to theology. Finally, his reading became eclectic.

At the beginning of the story, the day on which the banker is recalling the events of...

(The entire section is 418 words.)