The Mask (Maupassant)

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The Mask
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: An old man disguised as a young dancer at a ball collapses and is taken home by a doctor, who learns about the man's past as a womanizer and his wife's enduring love for him.

One evening at the Élysée-Montmartre, a fancy-dress ball was held to celebrate Mid-Lent. People from all walks of life attended the event, including shop assistants, pimps, prostitutes, and wealthy men in search of young women. The famous quadrilles were the highlight of the evening, with dancers performing incredible feats and attracting a large crowd.

During the event, an old man dressed as a dandy with a handsome mask participated in the dance. He was clumsy and awkward, but the crowd encouraged him. Eventually, he collapsed and was carried away by some men who called for a doctor. A young, elegant man who was a professor at the Medical School came forward to help.

The Old Dancer — elderly man; former womanizer; wears a mask to appear young; nostalgic for his youth.
The Doctor — young, elegant; professor at the Medical School; curious about the old dancer's life.

The doctor discovered that the old man's mask was attached to his head with a complicated system of metal threads. When the mask was finally removed, the old man's true face was revealed - a pale, worn-out, and wrinkled visage.

He really has a fine face, sir! Wait, I'll show it to you before we put him to bed.

The doctor took the old man home, where they were greeted by the man's wife, an old and clean woman with a strong, working-class face.

The Wife — elderly, devoted wife of the old dancer; has endured his infidelities; compassionate and understanding.

The wife explained that her husband had a history of attending such events and would often return home in a terrible state. She revealed that he used to be a head assistant at Martel's, a famous hairdresser of the Opéra, and had many affairs with actresses. The old man's wife had endured years of heartache as he recounted his conquests to her, but she remained loyal to him.

As the old man aged and lost his youthful charm, he became obsessed with attending public dances and trying to recapture his youth.

He must be young, he must dance with women who smell of scent and pomade. Poor old darling that he is!

The doctor, moved by the couple's story, left them with his contact information in case the old man's condition worsened.