Master and Man – a short story by Leo Tolstoy

For my fifth week of “Project: Deal Me In!” I drew the three of diamonds, which led me to the famous Leo Tolstoy short story, “Master and Man.” And how appropriate that I happened to read it this week, as winter has just dealt much of the country a staggering blow. Here in Central Indiana, our portion of this storm was mostly ice and sleet, making travel hazardous and even convincing me to work from home yesterday. What does this have to do with Master and Man? Well, this story by Tolstoy takes place during a blizzard in Russia (where I’m sure they would laugh at our reactions to this latest storm here in America).

*****Warning: some spoilers follow*****
The “master” and the “man” are – quite naturally – the main characters in the story. The master (Vasili Andreevich Brekhunov) and his servant (Nikita, a local peasant) strike out into the teeth of a strengthening blizzard (with the aid of perhaps the third main character, the I’ll-fated horse Mukhorty) so that Vasili can be the early bird and purchase a tract of land before his competitors know it’s on the market and react themselves. We learn a little of how poorly Vasili treats Nikita (perhaps an alcoholic, but currently “on the wagon”), and we also see, in contrast, how well Nikita tends to and cares for the horse.

Vasili’s single-mindedness in pursuit of monetary gains leaves him not very well-stocked with common sense. His eagerness to arrive at their destination leads him to try an imprudent short cut, and they get lost more than once (whenever anything goes wrong, in his mind it always somehow happens to be anybody’s fault BUT Vasili’s, where the true blame lies). After stopping at a small village not far from their destination, they decline offers to stay the night (well, Vasili declines on their behalf) and they strike out again, this time to get completely lost and stuck in a kind of ditch. Nikita advises there is nothing for them to do but spend the night where they are. Their sledge (carriage) is not big enough for them both to stay “inside” so of course Vasili takes shelter inside while poor Nikita and the Horse do the best they can vs. the elements.

The last few chapters detail what must be a very long night for everyone, and how they each deal with the situation tells a lot about them. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but in the end a familiar Tolstoy theme reigns, and we have kind of a not happy, but not completely sad either, ending on our hands. This story can be read for free online in many places, one of which is the link below.

What do you think of Tolstoy? Have you stuck to his shorter works (as I have us far), or have you read the imposing volumes, War and Peace and Anna Karenina? I did make a small step this year and actually purchased War and Peace, but I haven’t started it yet, even with the temptation of a couple bloggers hosting War and Peace read-alongside at present.