A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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

Summary
Analysis
Nina is convincing the Count to join her on one of her favorite excursions: spying from the balcony of the ballroom. Today there will likely be an assembly of the Bolsheviks in the ballroom. It is the second of August and already very hot in the ballroom; when Nina and the Count sneak out onto the very thin balustrade, they are forced onto their hands and knees and the Count’s pants split open.
As Nina brings the Count on more adventures, their friendship becomes stronger and stronger and he becomes like a peer to her, literally crawling out onto the balcony on his hands and knees like a kid.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
As they watch the Bolshevik Assembly begin, the Count thinks to himself how the social cues of the Bolsheviks are not unlike those of the aristocracy. He watches as two young men pay respects to an old man seated by the wall in a chair that had belonged to a Duchess; another charming man tours the room, shaking hands in the manner of a prince.
Just like the silver service earlier, the Count takes pleasure in seeing some of the social structures and cues that the Bolshevik officials share with the old aristocracy, particularly as the meeting occurs in an old ballroom.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Secretary calls the meeting to order. A few administrative duties are dispensed with, and then a more contentious matter is called up: to amend a paragraph in the Union’s charter. The final sentence of the paragraph in question says that the Railway Workers of Russia “facilitate communication and trade.” A few men argue that “facilitate” is too timid, and many alternative words are proposed. “Enable and ensure” are eventually agreed upon, though not without an objection over the lack of concision of two words in place of one.
This episode perhaps draws parallels with the Count’s earlier description of dueling: how it is sometimes grand, but often gets mired in the smallest of details. Likewise, the writing of the Soviet Union’s charter is a momentous occasion in Russian history, but the officials here seem concerned with the semantics of a rather unimportant phrase.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
When the Assembly concludes, Nina and the Count crawl off the balcony. The Count is pleased to discover so many parallels between his own class and the Bolsheviks. Nina tells him that she found their debate fascinating—like discovering how a train is built after a person has ridden one their entire life.
Again, the whole assembly (both the initial greeting and the amending of the charter) reinforces some of the Count’s thinking that there are more similarities than one might think between the new and old regimes.
Themes
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
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The Count then pays a visit to Marina, the hotel seamstress, in order to repair his pants. He tells her about his adventures with Nina, and how surprised he is to find Nina so enthralled by the Assembly when a few weeks earlier she had been asking about princesses. Marina says that all little girls outgrow their interest in princesses.
The Count’s concerns over Nina are twofold. Not only does he have a semi-parental concern with how fast she is growing up, but he is also growing worried that princesses, and his entire way of life, have fallen out of favor and out of existence altogether.
Themes
Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
When the Count leaves Marina’s office with his pants intact, a bellhop stops him and tells him that Mr. Halecki, the hotel manager, wants to have a word with the Count in his office. The Count is astounded to be called down because he rarely sees the man: Mr. Halecki has mastered the art of delegating most of his work, and holes himself up in his office to complete the rest of it.
Once again, the Count shows his appreciation for those who have mastered the art of their jobs. The Count contrasts Mr. Halecki’s aversion to micromanagement with the tyranny of the Bishop when he eventually becomes hotel manager.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
Bolshevism and Class Struggle Theme Icon
The Count arrives at Halecki’s office, unsure what the manager wants with him. The Count praises the old engravings of hunting scenes on Halecki’s wall before asking how he can be of service to him. Halecki proceeds awkwardly, saying that he has been made aware that the staff still addresses the Count as “Your Excellency.” Halecki cautiously tells the Count that this puts him in a difficult position. The Count assures Halecki that it is fine for them to stop addressing him according to his title. Halecki is grateful for his understanding.
The issue that Halecki brings up represents another way in which the new Soviet society is trying to erase the history of the aristocracy. Even though the Count understands the need for the staff to stop addressing him by his title, it adds to the already creeping sense that his way of life is disappearing and is no longer valued.
Themes
Change and Adaptation Theme Icon
When Halecki is called away by a staff member, the Count turns once more to the hunting scenes. He acknowledges that the engraving depicts a scene of beauty and tradition, but that it no longer has much of a place in the modern world. He thinks about the objects that have outlived their usefulness, like his grandmother’s opera glasses. As the Count ponders modernity, he takes one more look at the wall with the etchings. Pressing on a panel, the Count discovers the two rifles that had been hidden there in the event of a duel in the hotel.
The appearance of the pistols that the Count had mentioned earlier becomes one of many details that Towles introduces early in the narrative and later become important, creating a sense of order within the world he’s constructed. This is in step with the Count’s philosophy that even little details can have an important role in one’s life, which becomes true when he uses the pistols years later. This is also a literal example of the trope of “Chekhov’s gun,” which is especially fitting for a novel so steeped in Russian literature. “Chekhov’s gun” is the idea that the introduction of any element in a story must have a use at some point: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there.”
Themes
Chance, Luck, and Fate Theme Icon