The Inspiration Behind Dostoevsky’s ‘The Gambler’

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A Brief History

On October 30, 1866, Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the greatest writers in Russian literature, completed his novel The Gambler with help from his future wife, the then twenty-year-old Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina.  A writers’ work can come from various sources of inspiration, whether they are sharing their knowledge on certain topics, reflecting on specific occurrences, connecting with deep emotions or letting their imagination run wild. Perhaps the most powerful messages are those influenced by real events paired with a strong need to spread what we have to say out in the world.  Such is true for Dostoevsky, who undoubtedly put plenty of heart in his works.

Digging Deeper

His tumultuous life was rich in all manner of experiences. Top that with passionate philosophical beliefs and extraordinary abilities for storytelling and creating complex characters, and you have a recipe for a compelling read. Dostoevsky’s works are chock-full with insightful reflections and personal touches like a semiautobiographical novel called The House of the Dead, which he released after his exile in Siberia prison ended. There is also an interesting origin associated with the making of another short novel The Gambler, which, as the name suggests, centers around one of the author’s favorite pastimes at the time.

Title page of first edition. Note the archaic spelling ИГРОКЪ.

The Dostoevsky developed an interest in games and money betting in his youth during the travels around Eastern Europe. He used to play pool and dominoes, however, the elegant and historically significant roulette eventually became his ultimate game of choice. The roulette wheel, despite giving joy and providing a nice thrill for Dostoevsky, also caused some money woes. Unsurprisingly so, as this could be quite an expensive hobby. The problem for him was that the initial substantial winnings (even as much as 600 francs in little time) gave him a sense of false security and too much faith in the playing pattern he followed. During his stay at the beautiful establishment at Baden-Baden in Germany, he started to play immediately while his companion and a wife-to-be Anna Grigoryevna kept the cash intended for that purpose. Unfortunately, that did not help much because he would always come back for more.

The financial troubles eventually piled up and forced the Russian pair to resort to stronger measures. The idea to write The Gambler emerged to pay off some of the debt. Surprisingly, Dostoevsky agreed to a risky contract stating that should he fail to deliver the book in a rather short period of time, he would lose the compensation for his published work for nine years. Luckily, with the help of Grigoryevna, who worked as his stenographer, he was able to finish it before the deadline.

Monument to F.M.Dostoevsky in Baden-Baden (BW, Germany).  Photograph by A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace).

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever read any of Dostoevsky’s novels?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Dostoevsky, Fyodor.  The Gambler.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011.

Marullo, Thomas Gaiton.  Fyodor Dostoevsky: In the Beginning (1821–1845): A Life in Letters, Memoirs, and Criticism.  Northern Illinois University Press, 2017.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Юрий Педаченко of the place in Baden-Baden and monument where Dostoevski wrote his work The Gambler, has been release into the public domain worldwide by the copyright holder of this work.


About Author

Abdul Alhazred

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland