Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Master and Man" (1895)

Read story by Leo Tolstoy online.

We've encountered a few severe snowstorms in the stories for this project so far, but Leo Tolstoy's could well be the best, or worst. Again, perhaps the biggest surprise in this project has been discovering how much I enjoy these harsh nature stories. In this one, the master Vasili Andreevich is eager to close a business deal and insists on traveling through a snowstorm that day to do so. He takes along one of his servants, Nikita, who sets up the horse and sledge, and away they go. Goodbye. The horse, of course, soon becomes equal partner among the three, in terms of personality and affect. For better or worse, my heart always goes out to these animals. It's obvious Tolstoy has lived with harsh winter conditions because his descriptions are detailed and telling. For example, the squeaking of the sledge's runners against the snow is a sure indication of extreme cold. The storm is fierce with extremely poor visibility. Even so, Master wants to take a shortcut. Before long they lose the road, and not long after that they are completely lost. The more that the horse and the servant are left to make decisions, the better off they are. They travel in circles and finally arrive at a village, where they are amazed by how far off the track they have traveled. They stop for directions, and to warm up. At that house they are invited to stay for the night, and Nikita is in favor of it, but Master is impatient to conclude his business. Again they lose their way, and then they lose the light. Caught by darkness, they must shelter in place for the night, knowing they are lost. When morning comes it turns out they are not far from shelter, but this story is more about the night, in which two of them die. Only Nikita survives, because of the noble actions of Master, although when it comes to that they are all three deranged by the conditions and hypothermia and it's hard to say with complete confidence that his actions were truly selfless. But the results are, and what counts most in this story are the characters, who are rich and complex. Well, the horse is a horse, but that's all he has to be. Andreevich and Nikita and their relationship turns out to be intricate, beautiful, and not at all predictable, though entirely believable. Great story.

Master and Man and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy

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