Gambling has been a practice central to many cultures throughout history. In Dice, Cards, Wheels, Thomas M. Kavanagh scrutinizes the changing face of the gambler in France over a period of eight centuries, using gambling and its representations in literature as a lens through which to observe French culture. Kavanagh argues that the way people gamble tells us something otherwise unrecognized about the values, conflicts, and cultures that define a period or class. To gamble is to enter a world traced out by the rules and protocols of the game the gambler plays. That world may be an alternative to the established order, but the shape and structure of the game reveal indirectly hidden tensions, fears, and prohibitions.
Drawing on literature from the Middle Ages to the present, Kavanagh reconstructs the figure of the gambler and his evolving personae. He examines, among other examples, Bodel's dicing in a twelfth-century tavern for the conversion of the Muslim world; Pascal's post-Reformation redefinition of salvation as the gambler's prize; the aristocratic libertine's celebration of the bluff; and Balzac's, Barbey d'Aurevilly's, and Bourget's nineteenth-century revisions of the gambler.
Dice, Cards, Wheels embraces the tremendous breadth of French history and emerges as a broad-ranging study of the different forms of gambling, from the dice games of the Middle Ages to the digital slot machines of the twenty-first century, and what those games tell us about French culture and history.
Chapter 1: Toward A Cultural History of Gambling
Chapter 2: Dicing with the Saints: Jehan Bodel's Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas
Chapter 3: Getting God's Edge: Pascal's Gambler as Paraclete
Chapter 4: The Libertine's Bluff
Chapter 5: Gambling High and Low: Casanova's Story of My Life
Chapter 6: Staging the Gambler: Sex, Sentiment, and Family Values
Chapter 7: Gambling on the Anvil of History: Honoré de Balzac's The Wild Ass's Skin
Chapter 8: Whist, or the Aristocracy of Mystery: Barbey d'Aurevilly's "Beneath the Cards in a Game of Whist"
Chapter 9: Betting Against Your Self: Paul Bourget's "A Gambler"
Chapter 10: Dreaming the Casino: Demy's Baie des anges and Melville's Bob le flambeur
Conclusion Appendix: "A Gambler" by Paul Bourget Notes Index Acknowledgments
Thomas M. Kavanagh is Professor of French at Yale University. Among his previous books is Esthetics of the Moment: Literature and Art in the French Enlightenment, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
"With his connoisseur's knowledge (and manifest love) of the rules, and ruses, of games and the culture that they shape, Kavanagh makes a convincing case that gambling ought to be considered not a moral failing or individual pathology but a conspicuous, and uncommonly revelatory, practice that sets the social scene that it dramatizes."—Journal of Modern History