The next day, the Count tries again with Montaigne’s essays. He begins at ten o’clock, but quickly finds his attention wandering. The book’s density is daunting, and he starts to think that the essays are tedious and contradictory. He reads to the third essay before having to double back, discovering that he did not recall the last three pages because his mind had been drifting. Upon finishing the sixteenth essay, the Count’s twice-tolling clock strikes twelve. The Count jumps up and quickly goes to visit the hotel barber.
As the Count attempts Montaigne once again, boredom starts to creep into the story more and more. Even with limitless time, the Count cannot dedicate himself to reading Montaigne without his mind wandering, which is why he becomes so excited for his barber appointment, because it gives him something he must attend for a set amount of time.
As the Count descends the stairs, the narrator remarks that if the progress of Russian culture can be attributed to the St. Petersburg salons, this progress is ensured only by the help of the butlers, cooks, and footmen.
The Count arrives at his “religiously kept appointment” at the barber’s. The Count greets the barber and asks for a trim of his moustache. Another customer interrupts, saying that he was next in line. The Count tries to clarify that he has a standing weekly appointment with the barber, but the customer grows furious. He grabs a pair of scissors, takes the Count by the collar, and snips off one side of his moustache before leaving.
This incident serves as the first in a series of chance events leading to the Count’s friendship with Nina and his taking care of her daughter Sofia. Late in the novel he even confirms that he owes a lot to this angry customer, because the loss of his moustache, in a very circuitous path, allowed him to find purpose in his life as a father.
The barber tries to apologize, but the Count says that he should have let the customer go ahead of him. He surveys himself in the mirror, which he had long thought of as a tool of self-deceit because it could show a person only what they wanted to see in themselves. But he realizes that mirrors also show a person what they have become, and, relinquishing a symbol of the aristocracy, the Count asks the barber to shave off his moustache.
This moment of self-reflection plots another point on the Count’s transformation, and his acknowledgement that both society and his life have changed. Here a physical transformation also becomes a symbolic one, as he throws off a fashion that had belonged to men of nobility in order to achieve a look that better suits his current situation.