At the beginning of the Count’s house arrest, he experiences a deep sense of isolation and loneliness. His lack of mobility makes him unable to visit most of his friends and family, many of whom fled Russia after the political revolution. Yet the friendships and love that he is able to cultivate in the Metropol become even more important to him than his previous familial relationships. Unlike the Count’s relationships with his relatives, these new relationships are built at a time of crisis in his life, to the point where these new friends become a kind of substitute family.
The Count’s friend Mishka, with whom the Count had been close before his imprisonment, becomes even more like a brother after the Count is placed under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel. The two had become unlikely friends at school despite the difference in their backgrounds: the Count is a member of the aristocracy, while Mishka is a poet and a member of the working class. Even though the two often differ politically, Mishka still comes to visit the Count every year to update the Count on the political developments in Russia, to reminisce about their youth, and to ask for advice when he is confronted with censorship. When the Count discovers Mishka’s death at the end of the novel, he weeps because Mishka was the last person alive who had known him as a younger man, which resembles a relationship that one might have with a sibling. Upon Mishka’s death, the Count reveals a major twist in the novel. The reason the Count is imprisoned in the first place is because a poem with revolutionary undertones had been attributed to him, but in fact, it had been Mishka who had written the poem. The pair had decided to publish the poem under the Count’s name because the government would have killed Mishka for it, whereas they only imprisoned the Count. This self-sacrifice demonstrates the incredible love that the Count has for Mishka, and the importance of his friend’s life even when it comes at the expense of his own freedom.
The Count’s imprisonment makes the prospect of romantic love or marriage difficult. Yet he and the actress Anna Urbanova, who occasionally stays in the hotel, are able to cultivate a relationship filled with deep friendship and love. The Count meets Anna one year into his sentence. Although she makes a negative first impression on him, she invites the Count to a quiet candlelit dinner in her suite. He is impressed by her directness and the stories she tells about her life, and later the two make love. Over the years, Anna falls in and out of favor with filmgoers, but she continues to return to the hotel to have dinner with various directors. On these occasions, Anna and the Count often resume their flings, but they also deepen their admiration and friendship, share intimate moments, and provide support for each other when facing hardships throughout their lives. On the final page of the novel, after the Count escapes from the hotel, he goes to see Anna. This action implies that their relationship will last far beyond their time in the Metropol Hotel. While the two may not share a marriage in any traditional sense, their longstanding romance still provides him with the love and companionship belonging to any happy partnership.
The Count’s friendships with Nina and her daughter Sofia also allow the Count to take on the role of a father, which comes to provide him with greater purpose and meaning than anything else he is able to find in the hotel. The Count meets Nina Kulikova in 1922 when she is nine years old and her single father has temporarily been posted to work in Moscow. The two strike up an unlikely friendship. The Count accompanies Nina on various adventures as she shows him the back passages of the hotel and the purpose of each room. He enjoys these adventures and takes on a fatherly sense of care for her until she moves away from the hotel a few years later. Nina returns to the hotel in 1938, at age twenty-five, because her husband has been sent to Siberia by the government. She asks the Count to watch over her five-year-old daughter Sofia for a few months while she finds her husband. The Count does not hear from Nina again, and so he must take on the responsibility of caring for Sofia. He makes room for Sofia in his attic suite, raises her, educates her, and watches as she grows into a poised young woman. During their last dinner before Sofia is to leave to travel with the Moscow Conservatory’s Orchestra, the Count tells her that he was certain that “Life needed [him] to be in a particular place at a particular time” when Nina brought Sofia to the lobby and asked him to take care of her. Therefore, in looking after Sofia and becoming a father figure to her, the Count felt he fulfilled a fated purpose.
Although the Count has lost almost all of his family before the start of the novel, he is not without the comfort of people who love him. Though he does not have a brother, a wife, or daughters in the traditional sense, the friendships he forges and retains while living in the Metropol are as deep as the bonds of family, and this love is what provides him with the sense of a meaningful life.
Friendship, Family, and Love ThemeTracker
Friendship, Family, and Love Quotes in A Gentleman in Moscow
From the earliest age, we must learn to say good-bye to friends and family. […] But experience is less likely to teach us how to bid our dearest possessions adieu. And if it were to? We wouldn't welcome the education. For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends.
And when the Count's parents succumbed to cholera within hours of each other in 1900, it was the Grand Duke who took the young Count aside and explained that he must be strong for his sister’s sake; that adversity presents itself in many forms; and that if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.
For if a room that exists under the governance, authority, and intent of others seems smaller than it is, then a room that exists in secret can, regardless of its dimensions, seem as vast as one cares to imagine.
“Who would have imagined,” he said, “when you were sentenced to life in the Metropol all those years ago, that you had just become the luckiest man in all of Russia.”
In the end, a parent's responsibility could not be more simple: To bring a child safely into adulthood so that she could have a chance to experience a life of purpose and, God willing, contentment.
Looking back, it seems to me that there are people who play an essential role at every turn […] as if Life itself has summoned them once again to help fulfill its purpose. Well, since the day I was born, Sofia, there was only one time when Life needed me to be in a particular place at a particular time, and that was when your mother brought you to the lobby of the Metropol.