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Mary, p. 69: The Queen of Spades

November 29, 2009

As their love affair fades, Mary and Ganin fatefully meet in St. Petersburg after several months’ separation “under the same arch where Liza dies in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades.”  The reference is to Tchaikovsky’s opera, first performed in 1890 in St. Peterburg; the melodramatic plot of the libretto involves a Countess known as the Queen of Spades who has acquired a secret gambling formula, and two lovers, Herman and Liza, who are conducting a stormy, illicit affair.  Liza commits suicide when she discovers that Herman seems more interested in discovering the Countess’ formula than in pursuing their romance, and Herman takes his own life after losing a “gambling duel” with Liza’s former betrothed.  The themes of lost love, the death of the beloved, and the omnipresence of fate (as “luck”) foregrounded in the opera echo throughout Nabokov’s fiction.

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