A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow: Book 1, An Anglican Ashore Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, before the Count truly wakes up, he thinks about the day to come. Normally, he would buy the newspaper, stop in his favorite bakery for a pastry, and perhaps visit an art gallery or a concert hall before meeting his bankers and joining his friends for lunch at the Jockey Club. He wakes up, remembers his house arrest, and sighs as he acknowledges that he will be doing none of those things.
The Count’s thoughts before he wakes up once again highlight the relative purposelessness of his days prior to his imprisonment, as he doesn’t mention doing anything of true substance. His house arrest thus becomes a drastic, but ultimately worthwhile process of discovering what meaning his life should have.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
A young hotel worker delivers the Count’s breakfast. As the boy leaves, the Count asks him to deliver a letter to a man named Konstantin Konstantinovich. The Count then begins his breakfast, which he notes with satisfaction is just as hot as his breakfast had been when he lived three floors lower. As he eats, he notices the hotel’s one-eyed cat has come to examine his new quarters. As the Count looks around himself, he realizes he probably could have done without half of the furniture he kept.
This first morning eventually serves as a counterpoint to a morning years later in which the Count does things for himself rather than having everything done for him. The realization that he has brought too much furniture is a first step in the process of adapting to his new living situation.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
The Count surveys the other rooms on the attic level, most of which are blocked from the inside by broken furniture and debris. In the last room on the floor, there is some space into which he can clear his furniture. Dragging most of his possessions into the second room, he reduces the furniture in his own room to the essentials: a desk and chair, a bed and table, and a high-back chair for guests.
The Count acts on this realization that he has brought too much furniture in his first attempt to expand his living space. Knowing that he has really only been allowed a single room, the Count is also forced to move his things himself rather than having bellhops do it for him (as they did when he moved from his third-floor suite).
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count keeps a single book in his room: the essays of Michel de Montaigne, which he had been meaning to read for a decade. He begins to read the first essay: “By Diverse Means We Arrive at the Same End.” The Count tilts back his chair as he reads.
The fact that the Count cannot get through Montaigne’s essays becomes a running joke throughout the novel, but the book also serves an important purpose later, reinforcing the Count’s sense of life’s order and purpose.
Themes
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon
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The narrator explains that reading in a tilted chair had long been a habit of the Count’s; in his youth, he and Helena would spend many days together in which he would read aloud as she embroidered. In the present, the Count looks up from Montaigne at his sister’s portrait. He thinks about how kind she had been at that age—fourteen—and how much grace she might have had at age twenty-five.
The narrator here reveals that Helena, like all of the Count’s other relatives, has died. This fact allows the reader to better understand why he ultimately finds the friendships he makes in the hotel so valuable.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
There is another knock at the door. The man to whom the Count had penned the letter earlier, Konstantin Konstantinovich, enters. The Count reintroduces himself to Konstantinovich and gestures to his room as a way of showing the man how his financial circumstances have changed. Konstantinovich asks if the Count needs to borrow money. The Count instead shows Konstantinovich one of his gold coins.
As the Count’s financial circumstances have changed, so too has his understanding of what he finds truly necessary in life. As is revealed later, he does not ask Konstantinovich to acquire anything lavish, but instead requests simple, practical comforts.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count and Konstantinovich strike up an arrangement, and Konstantinovich agrees to deliver three notes for the Count. As the man leaves, he asks whether the Count will be writing any more poetry. The Count says that his days of poetry are behind him.
The Count’s response that his days of poetry are behind him again foreshadows that he did not, in fact, write the poem. Yet it also implicitly acknowledges that he no longer has the same freedom (of speech or mobility) as when the poem was written.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The narrator shifts to the Boyarsky, which is described as “the finest restaurant in Moscow” and is located on the hotel’s second floor. Before 1920, the restaurant would attract crowds every night and the service had been flawless. But after 1920, the Bolsheviks had prohibited the use of rubles in fine restaurants (accepting only foreign currencies), thereby closing them to nearly the entire Russian population.
The narrator again makes an editorial note on the Bolsheviks’ hypocrisy: they say they are pro-Russia and work towards the empowerment of the country’s proletariat, and yet they do not allow most of the Russian citizens to eat in fine restaurants.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The narrator goes on to describe the restaurant’s chef, Emile Zhukovsky, who had been the most celebrated chef in Russia when he took up the post in 1912. But his real test came during times of war, when food was scarce. That, the narrator states, is when a chef’s ingenuity is truly tested, because he must craft delicious meals with replacement ingredients. The Count takes great joy in guessing those replacement ingredients. As he eats dinner, the Count asks Andrey if the secret ingredient in his dish is nettle.
Emile’s ingenuity presents another example of characters who must learn to adapt to changing times, as he is required to come up with replacement ingredients in his dishes due to the scarcity of certain foods.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
As Andrey goes to ask Emile about the nettle, the Count reflects how the Boyarsky could not run without Andrey. Andrey seems to be always a step ahead of his guests: pulling back the chairs of all the women at a table at once, or producing a cigarette lighter at a moment’s notice.
Andrey’s ease with the patrons of the Boyarsky represents the epitome of good service to the Count. He later contrasts Andrey’s anticipation and tact with the Bishop’s blundering, which to him is representative of the Bolsheviks’ thoughtlessness and lack of appreciation for etiquette.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
Andrey and Emile return, and Emile sarcastically congratulates the Count on correctly guessing that there is nettle in the dish. The Count smiles in satisfaction and returns to his room.
The narrator foreshadows how the Count’s skills and sharp knowledge of foods will allow him to succeed when he eventually takes a job in the Boyarsky.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
The Count thinks about how to master his circumstances while living a life of confinement. He finds inspiration in Robinson Crusoe, who was stranded on an island and needed to seek shelter and find water, make fire, study the flora and fauna of the island, and keep an eye out for sails on the horizon. The Count views this as a life committed to being practical, which is why the Count had sent the three notes with Konstantin Konstantinovich that morning. He had then received three practicalities in  return: fine linens and a nice pillow, four bars of his favorite soap, and his favorite pastry from the bakery down the street.
The Count’s concern over practicalities is helpful for him when he first starts his house arrest, but there is a large difference between his situation and Robinson Crusoe’s. While Crusoe is fighting for survival, the Count’s life is never in danger at the hotel. Indeed, the biggest threat to his life is himself, and his sense of boredom. Thus, practicalities are not the only thing necessary to the Count’s survival; what he truly needs is a sense of purpose.
Themes
Imprisonment, Freedom, and Purpose Theme Icon
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon