When Darwin wrote about the survival of the fittest, he wasn’t talking about working out in the gym. What he meant was: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” In order to survive, one must be able to adapt to the changes that are constantly occurring around us.
Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow is a story that begins in Russia during the 1920s when the country was dominated by chaos and uncertainty following the Bolshevik Revolution.
The gentleman referred to in the title is Count Rostov, an aristocrat residing at the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. The count, for the sole reason that he’s an aristocrat, is arrested and placed upon house arrest. Thus, for the next 30+ years, the story is continually set within the context of the Metropol.
Count Rostov, despite having to continually adapt to an ever changing, ever repressing political reality, remains a gentleman. Although he has to make many compromises in order to survive, he never lets the external situation take him far away from his core. Because without integrity and honor, it’s easy to crumble.
In Greek there is a word for this love of honor: philotimo. Philotimo, the belief that it is one’s duty to do what is right, is considered the highest of all virtues.
My mother used to have a plaque in her kitchen with the saying “Virtue is its own reward.” As a child it sounded pretty cryptic but now it’s perfectly clear–if you behave like a jerk, you will feel like a jerk. So if you want to feel good, you have to be good.
Related: The entire story, 1922-1954, takes place with the structure of the Metropol Hotel. Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow can be found on archive HERE.