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Faro And Queen Of Spades

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Three, Seven, Ace

The year is 1890 in Bishee, Arizona. The air is dry and the wooden sign reading "Orient Saloon" is splintered and cracked. Stock promoters, road agents and con-men sit at a tension filled table, liable to erupt into a sudden shoot-out. Tony, the proprietor, keeping a close watchful eye on the singer, Ð''Nifty' Doyle, as Murphy, the dealer, puts down the losing card; a Queen of Spades. Mining stocks and life savings go to the lucky dealer in the black fedora. "Ð''A fine game!" said the players," (Pushkin 182). Again, never losing a beat, the dealer collects bets.

Faro was undoubtedly one of the most popular card games during the eighteenth century. The rules of the game were simple. The dealer held a complete fifty-two card deck, from which he drew cards, one for himself, placed on the right, and the other placed on the left. The dealer won all the money stacked on the card on the right, and had to pay double the sums stacked on those on the left. With the simplicity of the game, it was easy to pinpoint its appeal. Yet detractors regarded it as a dangerous scam that destroyed families and reduced men to poverty and insanity.

During the early 1860's, saloons across America knew about the Faro's Ð''Suicide Table.' This table was famous because three of the table's owners suffered such heavy losses that they committed suicide, giving the table its bad reputation. The first owner said to have lost $70,000 in one evening, and shot himself. In 1890, the third owner lost over $86,000, shot himself, and the table has never been used again, (Faro).

The insanity caused by Faro's simple appeal can be seen in Pushkin's original story, "The Queen of Spades." In this story Hermann, a young soldier, is haunted by the rumor of a mysterious secret from the elderly countess, Hermann seduces her ward, Lizaveta, to gain access to her. His dreams seen thwarted when he frightens her to death before she can reveal it, but he is then visited by her ghost, who orders him to marry the girl and play the cards exactly. The countess has the last laugh, however, when the final card turns out to be not the promised ace, but a winking Queen of Spades, which drives Hermann mad and sends the ward into a dull marriage to "very pleasant young man in the civil service somewhere and has a good income," (Pushkin 181).

Romanticism has been used in varying contexts and has come to mean different things to different people. One of the most intriguing definitions comes from the great English poet John Keats. He wrote that "romanticism is the belief that imagination is superior to reason," (Keats). Hermann could be viewed as a romantic because he listened to the countess during a dream. "The three, the seven and the ace will win for you if you play them in succession, provided that you do not stake more than one card in twenty-four hours and never play again as long as you live," (Pushkin 178). According to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia, "a dream is the experience of imagined images, voices, or other sensations during sleep," (Dreams). If imagination is superior to reason, what was Hermann's reason?

Reason, in the case of Pushkin's novel, is that the countess lied to Hermann. She guaranteed him victory if he followed the presented limitations of the game. "Ð''Your queen has lost,' said Tchekalinsky gently. / Hermann started: indeed, instead of an ace there lay before him the queen of spades. He could not believe his eyes or realize how he could have made such a mistake," (Pushkin 182). Pushkin leads the reader to believe that reason, with regards to "Queen

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