(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Actual State Councillor Pralinski, a forty-three-year-old man recently promoted to the rank of general in the civil service, is a bachelor from a good family. As the pampered son of a general, he was educated in an aristocratic establishment and is generally considered to be a gifted person. The third-person narrator calls him “a kind man and even a poet at heart,” one who is frequently overcome by painful moments of disillusionment. As the story opens on a winter evening in St. Petersburg, General Pralinski, while at a dinner party with two other generals, expresses his idealistic view that the privileged must have a love of humankind and must have consideration particularly toward their inferiors. This idea is in keeping with Pralinski’s satisfaction at being known as “a desperate liberal, which flattered him greatly.”

Leaving the dinner, Pralinski, who realizes that he is slightly drunk, begins to walk because his coach driver has disappeared. After going a short distance, Pralinski notes a wedding party taking place in a long, one-storied wooden house. When he inquires, he learns that this is the party for Porfiry Petrovitch Pseldonymov, a young clerk in his department. After briefly discussing with himself whether he should attend the party, he decides to do so. The narrator states that “he was being led astray by his evil star.”

Entering into this party of about thirty guests, Pralinski instantly becomes the center of attention, as he had foreseen. After an awkward, stunned silence, Pralinski is welcomed by the young groom, Pseldonymov, who does not know what to make of his presence. The situation is briefly saved by Akim Petrovitch Zubikov, the chief clerk in General Pralinski’s department. After Pralinski unsuccessfully tries to tell a humorous story, he is introduced to the bride. This seventeen-year-old girl, whose first name is never given, has a malicious look to her thin, pale face, a scraggy neck, and the body of a pullet. Her father describes her as having “seven devils.”

Pseldonymov’s mother, a very kind woman, makes the general at home by offering him a bottle of champagne, obviously intended only for the bride and groom. In his nervousness, the general consumes two bottles of the expensive champagne. By this time, the other guests return to normal, realizing that Pralinski is here only because he is drunk. As several young men begin to express themselves, Pralinski grows more uncomfortable. He manages to...

(The entire section is 1015 words.)