Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"After the Ball" by Leo Tolstoy (1903, translated by Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky, 2009)

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.

Mel u

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