A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow: Book 1, 1922, An Ambassador Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The novel’s style shifts to prose. The Count is escorted back to the Metropol Hotel by two Soviet soldiers. As the Count waves to the hotel staff, they only stare in response. The Count and the two soldiers climb to the Count’s suite on the third floor, which has an interconnected bedroom, bathroom, dining room, and grand salon. One of the officers informs him that he will no longer be staying in the suite.
The Count’s imprisonment is not his only punishment; he is also at the mercy of the Bolsheviks regarding his living quarters and possessions. His life is restricted to a single building, but perhaps more shockingly, his living quarters are restricted to a single room.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count is escorted to his new room on the sixth floor in the attic, which was originally built to house the butlers and ladies’ maids of the hotel’s guests. More recently, the room has been used to store assorted broken furniture and debris. Two of the hotel bellhops help the Count move all of the belongings he can fit into his new room. The rest, he is told, will become “the property of the People.”
The history of the Count’s new living space is notable. He has fallen from his status as a nobleman to the status of the former servant class (and his room to the status of a trash heap). As a final affront to his social standing, most of his possessions are given to the government.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count points at what he wants to keep: two chairs, his grandmother’s coffee table, a set of her plates, two table lamps made from ebony elephants, a portrait of his sister, Helena, a leather case that had been made especially for him, all of his books, and his desk, given to him by his godfather, the Grand Duke.
In the end, the Count whittles down his possessions mostly to those that had previously belonged to family members, highlighting his sentimentality and the importance of those history and family to him.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count looks out the window of his old suite, thinking about the experiences he will miss: the view from his window, drinking at the English Club, arriving late to the Bolshoi Ballet across the square.
Even the experiences the Count will miss highlight the privileged life he has led up to this point: possessing a luxurious suite; drinking at a prestigious club; casually attending one of the most famous ballets in the world.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
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The Count then takes an inventory of everything he will be leaving behind. His possessions at the hotel are already a small fraction of his former possessions, since moving from his family’s estate to the hotel meant that he couldn’t take very much in the first place.
This fact serves as a reminder that while the Count has lived a privileged life, he has still been able to change with the times. When the nobility were abolished, he left behind most of his possessions to come to the hotel.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count remembers the journey that brought him to the Metropol. In 1918, when the former Tsar had been executed by Bolshevik troops, the Count had feared for his grandmother’s life and returned to the family estate from Paris. He arranged passage for her out of the country, but told her he would not be going with her.
Throughout the novel, Towles lays out pieces of information about the Russian Revolution and the various stages of conflict between the old and new governments. The execution of the Tsar represents a turning point at which many of the nobility began to fear for their lives in their own country.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count and his grandmother (who had raised him since he was ten) parted without shedding a tear. They tried not to become emotional because his grandmother had taught him in childhood not to give his opponent the satisfaction of seeing him upset if he lost in a game.
Even though the Count does not join his grandmother when leaving the country, the closeness of their relationship is clear, as parting with her meant saying goodbye to his last living family member. This causes him later to create deep, lasting friendships that become like his family in order to make up for their absence.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
After his grandmother left, the Count had loaded up a single wagon with their furniture, bolted the doors of the estate, and set out for Moscow. In the present, the Count reflects how people learn to say goodbye to friends and family at an early age, but that it is much harder to say goodbye to possessions. The Count takes one additional object—a pair of his sister Helena’s scissors—and says goodbye to the rest of the family heirlooms.
Even though the Count thinks that it is more difficult to say goodbye to possessions than family and friends, his argument makes clear that the possessions he has chosen only have sentimental value based on their relationship to the people close to him.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The Count returns to the attic and marvels at how in his youth he had loved the small space of a train berth, as he had stayed in one overnight when he traveled from Moscow to France. He thinks that at least he will not have to listen to the typists on the second floor, writing out the country’s new constitution.
The Count once again demonstrates some of his political bias. He views the typing of the new constitution as a nuisance rather than as a momentous occasion in the country’s history.
Themes
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Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
A footnote states that the new constitution includes freedom of conscience, expression, and assembly, but also that these rights could be revoked if they are “utilized to the detriment of the socialist revolution.”
This footnote, like many of the other footnotes in the novel, becomes an editorial statement by the narrator criticizing the Bolsheviks. Here, the narrator takes a jab at the hypocrisy of ensuring freedom of speech—except when it is used against the Bolsheviks.
Themes
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Related Quotes
The Count unpacks a few more things, including his father’s twice-tolling clock and his grandmother’s opera glasses. At that moment, a pigeon taps and scratches at the single small window in the room. The Count sympathizes with the pigeon’s restlessness.
Again, the Count evidences his attachment to sentimental objects. His sympathy with the pigeon also demonstrates that even a few hours into his imprisonment, he already feels a creeping sense of anxiety.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count hears someone clear his throat in the hallway. He opens his door and finds Andrey (the maître d’ of the hotel restaurant, the Boyarsky), Vasily (the hotel’s concierge), and Marina (the hotel seamstress) standing outside. The Count explains his sentence of house arrest. He opens his leather case, which contains twenty-six pairs of different kinds of drinking glasses, and pours a glass of brandy for each of them. They toast to the Metropol.
The three people who visit the Count on the first night of his sentence are three people with whom his relationship grows over the course of his imprisonment. When the Count eventually takes a job in the hotel, his relationships with other staff members are also able to grow because he becomes more of their equal.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The Count, Andrey, Vasily, and Marina then have a night of good cheer and conversation. He is grateful that they seem so pleased that he narrowly escaped a death sentence, but he believes that their night of celebration is also a celebration of their survival in the face of seventeen years of mass upheaval. Since 1905, Russia had suffered a world war, a civil war, two famines, and the Red Terror. Thus, it was just as necessary, he believed, to drink to Russia itself.
This list of events that have caused upheaval in Russian society over the prior seventeen years demonstrates the sheer necessity of being open to change and being able to adapt to different political landscapes.
Themes
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Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
Related Quotes
At ten o’clock, the Count says goodnight to Andrey, Vasily, and Marina. He sits at his desk, which had been left to him by his godfather, Grand Duke Demidov. The Grand Duke had become a substitute father for the Count and his sister Helena when their parents had died of cholera in 1900. The Grand Duke told him at that time to be strong for his sister, and that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.”
The Count uses the Grand Duke’s advice as a kind of personal mantra as he tries to navigate his new life in the Metropol. At first, he feels unable to be the master of his circumstances, but gradually he realizes that mastering his circumstances can also involve adapting to those circumstances (like taking a job in the Boyarsky).
Themes
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Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The Count runs his hands over the desk, and finds a secret catch behind one of the desk’s front legs. A seamless door opens to reveal stacks of gold coins within the leg. Each of the other legs has its own stack of gold as well.
The Count has still retained a good deal of his wealth despite losing most of his possessions, which he maintains in secret to avoid having to give the money over to the Bolsheviks.
Themes
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