War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy, 1865
‘Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don’t tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that AntichristI really believe he is AntichristI will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my ‘faithful slave,’ as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened yousit down and tell me all the news.’
It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her reception. Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in St. Petersburg, used only by the elite.
All her invitations without exception, written in French, and delivered by a scarlet-liveried footman that morning, ran as follows:
‘If you have nothing better to do, Count [or Prince], and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too terrible, I shall be very charmed to see you tonight between 7 and 10Annette Scherer.’
‘Heavens! what a virulent attack!’ replied the prince, not in the least disconcerted by this reception. He had just entered, wearing an embroidered court uniform, knee breeches, and shoes, and had stars on his breast and a serene expression on his flat face. He spoke in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only …