A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow

by

Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow: Book 3, Antics, Antitheses, an Accident Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At 1:30, the Count is sitting in the manager’s office, which is now the Bishop’s office. He is unsure why he has been summoned. The Bishop begins to ask him about his daily habits, noting that he usually wakes early, eats breakfast, and reads the paper in the lobby around eight o’clock. The Bishop then asks if the Count is aware of the incident that occurred that morning at about a quarter to eight.
The Bishop continues his antagonization of the Count, asking him questions almost as if he is once again on trial.
Themes
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The narration flashes back to that morning. The Count had eaten breakfast, bathed, shaved, and dressed before departing for the lobby. As he descended to the fourth floor, he had heard a commotion. Nearly every door was open and nearly every guest was in the hall—along with three adult geese who were scurrying about the floor as they were being chased by three young boys.
The fact that the Count is following such a regimented routine is a good marker of how purposeful he feels now that he has a job and a daughter. Whereas before, he felt like his time could be spent in leisure, now he feels like he needs to take advantage of all of the time he has.
Themes
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Friendship, Family, and Love Theme Icon
The noise became so great that some of the fifth-floor guests came down to investigate, including an American general in his robe. The general promptly threw one goose out the window and grabbed a second, but his robe became undone and his underwear was revealed. A woman fainted at the sight. The general’s aide-de-camp (later introduced as Richard Vanderwhile), who was standing next to the Count, commented on how much he loves the hotel.
The antics of the geese lead to the Count’s interactions with Richard Vanderwhile, whom the Count later meets again in the hotel bar, sparking a friendship between them that lasts many years. Richard even aids him in escaping the hotel.
Themes
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So, indeed, the Count is aware of the events of the morning. But he is still unsure why the Bishop has summoned him. The Bishop explains that the geese had been locked in a cage in the Boyarsky’s pantry, and says that the antics suggest “childishness.” The Count tells the Bishop that he is certain the Bishop will get to the bottom of things.
The Count’s turn of phrase (that the Bishop will get to “the bottom” of things) is a joke about the fiasco with the American general, and also demonstrates how the Count still views himself as being in opposition to the kind of blind hatred that the Bishop exhibits towards him.
Themes
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As the Count leaves, he is rankled by the Bishop’s implication that Sofia was involved. Even though she is now thirteen, she is studious, shy, and demure, and would never have done such a thing. In eight years, her most outlandish act was a harmless game: the Count and Sofia would be sitting somewhere in the hotel, reading, when he would leave to attend to another appointment. Upon arriving at his destination, Sofia would already be there. She would never be breathless, and she would never giggle or smirk. She would simply continue her reading.
Like any father would be, the Count is outraged at the Bishop’s implicit accusation that Sofia was involved in letting the geese out. Yet though he describes her as demure, Sofia also has a playful streak that recurs throughout the rest of the novel, as she and the Count create their own kind of adventures similar to those Nina and the Count invented decades earlier.
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As the Count climbs the stairs back to his room, he thinks that it is true that Sofia overheard a Swiss diplomat say that the poultry in the Boyarsky was not fresh. But how could she get three geese to the fourth floor of the hotel without detection?
This wry question shows that even if the Count was not in on the joke, he certainly approves of the trick Sofia has played in a demonstration of loyalty to the Boyarsky’s staff.
Themes
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The Count arrives in his room and Sofia, who had been in the lobby just moments before, is sitting at his desk. She is reading Montaigne’s essays, which he had been using to prop up his desk. He is slightly outraged that she has placed Anna Karenina under the desk because it is the closest in thickness to Montaigne’s essays.
Montaigne’s essays reappear once again, as details from the early part of the novel have more small  payoffs, demonstrating the intricate weaving of the different facets of the narrative Towles has created.
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The Count then goes to his daily meeting in the Boyarsky with Andrey and Emile, who agree that it is outrageous that the Bishop accused Sofia of such an act. On a separate note, Andrey asks the Count to have someone sweep out the dumbwaiter, because it is littered with feathers.
Andrey and Emile also show themselves to be in on the joke, as they continue to find a common enemy in the Bishop and together enjoy the prank that Sofia has played on the guest who criticized them.
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The meeting is interrupted by Emile’s young sous-chef Ilya. When Emile asks what the matter is, Ilya simply points through the office window toward the kitchen, where a ragged-looking man stands in the door. Ilya assures them that he is not a beggar because he did not ask for food; he instead asked for the Count. The Count realizes that the man is Mishka, and immediately goes to greet him.
Mishka’s return from Siberia has left him much the worse for wear. Yet despite his arrest, his exile, and being down on his luck, the Count still greets him as his closest and oldest friend, much like he would a brother.
Themes
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Andrey suggests that Mishka and the Count catch up in Emile’s office. Emile places bread and salt on the table (an old Russian symbol of hospitality) and gives the pair privacy. The Count sees that his friend is thirty pounds lighter and dragging one leg behind him. Mishka says that he has been given a Minus Six. To visit Moscow, he borrowed a passport.
The recurrence of bread here is particularly symbolic, as it is not only the reason that Mishka was asked to censor Chekhov’s letters in the first place, but it also represents a kind of humbler Russian tradition that Mishka does not want to give up.
Themes
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Mishka explains that he now lives in the town of Yavas with many other prisoners, though he seems plagued by his time in labor camps. He tells the Count that one night, after returning to the barracks, he thought about the German who claimed that vodka was Russia’s only contribution to the West and challenged the Count to give three more. Mishka states that there is a fifth contribution: the burning of Moscow in 1812.
In a way, Mishka endures a more condensed, harsher version of the Count’s life: faced with imprisonment, he feels abject and longs for a sense of meaning. Thus, he sneaks into Moscow in order to complete a project that is giving him a renewed sense of purpose.
Themes
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Mishka goes on to tell the Count that Russians are unusually adept at destroying what they have created, citing the churches being razed, the statues of heroes being toppled, and the poets being silent. He says that when the government announced the mandatory collectivization of farming, half of the peasants slaughtered their livestock rather than giving them up. He says that the reason that Russians do these things is because they understand the power of these gestures. He concludes his speech by saying that the people have not burned Moscow to the ground for the final time.
Mishka’s experiences illustrate just how far he has fallen out of step with the Bolsheviks. Whereas before he had been so excited by the new forms of poetry that he would have a hand in shaping, now he sees that the Bolsheviks have created the atmosphere for a poetry of silence rather than a poetry of action. And just as the Count had to deal with his own reckoning earlier, Mishka has to reconcile with the ongoing erasure of history that is now affecting his values and heroes.
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Related Quotes
Mishka sees that he has unsettled the Count, and tells the Count why he has returned to the city. He wants to visit the library for a project he is working on but is not ready to share just yet. The Count sees Mishka out of the kitchen, and Emile gives Mishka a bit of food for the road. Mishka leaves, wondering aloud who could have imagined that when the Count was sentenced to life in the Metropol, he became the luckiest man in Russia.
Mishka’s final statement to the Count bears a hint of jealousy, which is slightly ironic because at the beginning of the novel the Count had been jealous of Mishka’s freedom. Yet, when the Count reveals later in the novel that Mishka had written “Where Is It Now,” the statement becomes a little more unfair—because the Count had saved Mishka’s life in claiming authorship of the poem.
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At 7:30 that evening, the Count meets with Osip, who notices quickly that something is off with the Count. The Count tells him not to worry, and they begin to watch a film. Two months after “The de Tocqueville Affair,” Osip had put books behind him and they advanced their studies of America through film. Osip is fascinated with the way that Americans used films as a way of placating the working class during the Great Depression, and he is determined to study the phenomenon.
The Count and Osip’s transition from French and British literature to American films not only demonstrates the changing cultural interests in Russia, but also the rising popularity of different genres of media that have sprung up around the globe. Still, Osip views American film through a very Communist lens.
Themes
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Osip became engrossed in each film, and dissected each one afterward. The musicals were mere entertainment to “placate the impoverished.” The horror movies were “slights of hand.” The comedies were “narcotics.” The westerns were false fables that prized individualism. Hollywood in his mind became a dangerous force in the history of class struggle—that is, until he watched film noir. He was particularly taken with Humphrey Bogart, and they watched all of his movies at least twice, with the exception of Casablanca (a woman’s movie, in his mind).
Osip explains his perspective on American films to the Count, as he views them as a way of disempowering the working class by making them pay to be distracted from their own problems. He also sees it as a way of idolizing individual successes and experiences—part of a key tenet of American capitalism.
Themes
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And so on this evening, Osip and the Count watch The Maltese Falcon again. As they watch, the Count asks if Osip thinks Russians are particularly brutish. At first, Osip tells him not to interrupt, but when the Count protests that he has seen the movie three times, Osip asks what is wrong. The Count relays Mishka’s points from earlier in the day.
During this meeting in particular, Osip proves himself to be a very different kind of Bolshevik from the Bishop. For while the Bishop dislikes the Count for his perceived arrogance, Osip and the Count are able to become friends, and the Count can have a decent political discussion with Osip despite their differing views.
Themes
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Osip argues that heritage must be swept aside in order to allow the people to progress. He says that in 1916, Russia was the most illiterate nation in Europe and most of its population lived in modified serfdom. For the majority, society had not progressed for five hundred years. Osip asks if the reverence for the statues and cathedrals and ancient traditions was in fact the thing holding the society back.
In this moment, Osip makes the most positive case for Communism, refuting points that the Count, Mishka, and even the narrator have made, demonstrating how even though there is still hardship in Russia, the majority of people are much better off than they were under the aristocracy.
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The Count wonders at what cost progress must come. Osip states that it comes at the greatest cost, pointing to America and its history of slavery, even though it had been a progressive nation. But Osip argues that Russia and America will lead the rest of the century because they are the only two countries that have learned to brush the past aside.
This argument about America and its history of slavery is misguided, and does display some of the issues in Bolshevik thinking. The narrator has pointed out elsewhere that progress should not have to come at this kind of cost (for example, when agricultural “progress” caused the death of millions of peasants).
Themes
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When the Count and Osip say goodnight, the Count returns to the Shalyapin, where the American general’s aide-de-camp, Richard, is telling the tale of the goose incident to a raucous group of journalists. When he concludes the story, he suggests that the group head over to the National for some music. The group stumbles into the street, leaving the bar relatively quiet.
Although the geese were a fun prank, they also become one of the small details that leads to an important friendship the Count is about to gain, as Richard will become instrumental in helping Sofia and the Count escape from the Metropol.
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The Count gets a drink, but to his surprise, also sees Richard at the bar. When the Count asks why he didn’t join the group, Richard says that he likes being left behind. Richard introduces himself, telling the Count how much he loves Russia. Richard sobers up a bit and notes that it seems like there is something on the Count’s mind. He tells the Count that bars are often good places to unburden oneself to a stranger. He asks if it is women, money, or writer’s block that is troubling him.
Even though the two have only interacted very briefly, the Count quickly opens up to Richard. They have come from very different backgrounds, but the Count immediately appreciates Richard’s positive outlook and wise counsel, and the two become good friends for years to come.
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The Count explains Mishka’s lament of Russia’s disappearing history, and Osip’s argument that brushing the past aside is necessary for progress. Richard argues that both Mishka and Osip are very smart, but that they both are missing part of the picture. He states that humans can’t control or know what parts of history and culture become immortal.
Richard’s argument boils down to the idea that progress is inevitable, and because the legacy of a given time period is unknowable, one can only try to adapt to the changes that are occurring in society at the present time—which the Count and other characters have tried to do.
Themes
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The Count leaves the bar after two more drinks with Richard and sees Sofia reading in the lobby. He walks through calmly, but sprints up the stairs as soon as he is out of sight in order to catch her in her game. When he gets upstairs, he has beaten her to the room. He sits at his desk and waits for her, reading Montaigne.
The Count, showing his own adventurous streak, tries to beat his daughter at her own game, much as he tried to outsmart her with the thimble game when she first arrived. Her presence again gives him an energy and a vitality that he lacked prior to her arrival.
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After five minutes, the Count concedes that she may not have been trying to play. At that moment, however, the door swings open, and one of the chambermaids tells the Count that Sofia has fallen in the service staircase. He bolts down two flights of stairs and sees Sofia splayed unconscious on the steps with blood on her face.
When Sofia slips and falls on the service staircase, the Count experiences an emotion that he has not yet experienced before.  This crisis is a test of parenthood that shows how much he cares about Sofia, and what he will do to make sure that she will be okay.
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The Count carries Sofia down the steps and runs through the lobby and out the front door for the first time in over twenty years. He calls a taxi and tells the driver to go to St. Anselm’s. But when he arrives, he realizes that what had once been one of the finest hospitals in the city thirty years ago has now become a shabby clinic. Still, he takes her to the desk and is told to go to Surgery Four.
The Count shows the depth of his love for Sofia and how much he truly believes her to be his daughter when he exits the hotel without a second thought. Even though this could mean his own death, he immediately works to ensure Sofia gets the care she needs.
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An internist wheels Sofia into Surgery Four, where a nurse has brought in a young physician who looks as if he has just woken up. The Count asks if the doctor is able to perform the surgery, and the doctor is furious that his capability is being questioned.
The Count’s long imprisonment proves another obstacle, as he does not realize that St. Anselm’s is no longer the top hospital in the city, and he is forced to deal with a less than competent staff.
Themes
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At that moment, a tall man enters the door to the surgery. He introduces himself as Lazovsky, chief of Surgery at First Municipal, and asks for the Count. As the Count explains what happened to Sofia, another young doctor appears. Lazovsky tries to reassure the Count by telling him that the skull is designed to withstand a bit of rough treatment, and the two surgeons begin to prepare for the surgery. They ask the Count to sit outside.
In what at first appears to be a stroke of luck, two other doctors appear in St. Anselm’s who appear to be much more in control of the situation. It becomes clear later, however, that the two doctors had been summoned by Osip, showing a surprising act of kindness.
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The Count sits on a bench just outside the surgery and prays. He wonders how he could have let Sofia play such a reckless game, thinking to himself that he didn’t fulfill a parent’s primary responsibility: to bring a child safely into adulthood so that she could have a chance to experience a “life of purpose.”
The Count chastises himself for being too much of a friend to Sofia by playing games and pranks with her, and not being enough of a father figure by making sure that she is safe.
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When the surgery is finished, Lazovsky joins the Count outside. He tells the Count that Sofia has suffered a concussion and that she needs rest, but that soon she will be just fine. The Count begins to thank the doctor when Osip appears.
The Count’s comment that Sofia needs to live a life of purpose makes his relief when the doctor says she is all right more palpable. Her recovery will allow her to lead that purposeful life, but the Count also knows that she gives him a life of purpose as well.
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The Count is confused why Osip is there, and Osip reiterates that it is his job to keep track of certain men of interest. He tells the Count that he cannot remain outside the hotel any longer, and must take the back alley to find a car waiting to return him to the hotel.  The Count is hesitant to leave Sofia, but Osip has arranged for Marina to stay with her in his absence.
Even though this is the first time that the Count has left the hotel in over twenty years, his only hesitation in returning to it is that he will not be with Sofia. She has become more important than both his own life and his freedom.
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Osip leads the Count to the back of the hospital, saying as they part that it is best if he doesn’t mention the incident to anyone. The Count says that he does not know how to repay Osip, but Osip says that he is glad to be of service to the Count after fifteen years.
The later revelation that Osip is an official in the secret police makes this moment even more generous, as he breaks the law and helps the Count go back to the hotel undetected in order to repay their years of friendship.
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As the Count leaves the hospital, in the alley he sees a white van with the words “Red Star Baking Collective” on it. The Count climbs into the van, and realizes in surprise how much the government commits to its ruses, because the van is filled with two hundred fresh loaves of bread. As the van drives back to the hotel, the Count tries to recognize the various landmarks, though many of the buildings have become obscured because of newer, taller buildings.
There is an irony in the fact that the van that picks up the Count is filled with bread, as it remains a symbol of Russian hospitality. For many farmers and peasants, however, the government caused a shortage of bread with collectivization followed by the famines, and so its choice to waste bread as a cover for its activities again proves some of the hypocrisy of the Bolsheviks, or how removed they have become from the people’s needs.
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Back in the attic, the Count sobs with relief. He feels like he is the luckiest man in all of Russia. After a few minutes, he goes to return the Montaigne to its shelf, but he realizes that there is a black leather case that has been left on his desk. The Count reads the note that is attached to it and sees that it is a gift from Richard.
When Mishka called the Count the luckiest man in Russia, his comment was based on the Count’s ability to bypass the changes in society, but the Count considers himself the luckiest man in Russia because he has avoided the loss of his daughter.
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The Count opens the case, revealing a portable phonograph and a small stack of records. The first disk is a recording of Vladimir Horowitz Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall. He plugs the phonograph in, puts on the record, and the swell of the music fills the room.
Richard’s gift demonstrates the strength of his and the Count’s instantaneous friendship, sparked by their mutual love of Russia. It also foreshadows Sofia’s talent for piano, which she learns in order to surprise the Count for his birthday.
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