Over the last five years I have posted on several short stories and the major novels of Leo Tolstoy (1828 to 1910). This morning I was looking for a "change of pace" short story and I looked over a collection of recently translated Tolstoy short works, Ivan Ilyich and other Stories and decided to read one of the briefer works in the collection, "After the Ball". Like a lot of older short stories it is structured as one man telling a story about his life to another person or group. The story is at the heart about the dual nature of people.
The story begins with a man in his fifties telling a story about a day when his views of people and his life totally changed forever. It was thirty years ago, he was a handsome young army officer. He meets a beautiful young woman at a ball, very well described, falls in love with her and at once wants to marry her. He meets her father, a kindly old man who he likes at once and who takes to him. (Spoiler alert)
The next day he sees a Tarter "running the gauntlet" for having tried to escape military service. He is being dragged through a double sided line of members of his regiment each of whom beats him on his bare back with a whip as he passes. The young man is horrified to see the man who he thought would be his future father-in-law leading the punishment drill, actually hitting a soldier in the face with a whip for not striking the man hard enough. The older man, a colonel in the Russian army, sees in the shock on his possible son-in-law's face less of a man than he wants for his daughter and other man sees brutality and cruelty in a man he was ready to call his father. The marriage never happens.
"After the Ball" is very much worth reading. I guess it should not be surprising that the one world's greatest novelists could write wonderful short stories.
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