Whoa, French alert! OK, guys, step one of not freaking out about reading this giant book is taking the whole everybody-is-constantly-speaking-French thing in stride. Just take a deep breath and read the translations – that’s what they’re there for.
Actually, Tolstoy himself wrote out translations to all the French when he first published the book – the whole point is that all these upper-class people speak a language that us commoners don’t. They’re above us, and all that, so get comfy with inferiority.
Anna Pavlovna is a VIP with the empress. Which is obviously a big deal since the empress is married to the emperor of Russia. Also, Anna Pavlovna is a middle-aged lady who likes to host parties for other important people, and she’s having one tonight. Oh, and she lives in (Saint) Petersburg.
Her first guest is Prince Vassily, a well-connected old diplomatic guy.
OK, Shmoop brain snack: Russian aristocratic titles aren’t the same as English ones. Vassily is not a prince because he’s the son of the king. He and all these other dudes are going to be called princes, but you can just mentally swap in the title duke to get a better sense of their status. (Wait, Shmoop, what’s a duke? In English aristocracy, that’s the highest title of nobility – pretty much the top of the line before you get to royalty.)
Anna busts out a long speech about how terrible Napoleon is. We kind of get the sense that Anna likes to sound really on top of everything and gets carried away by the sound of her own voice.
Meanwhile, Prince Vassily has his own ulterior motives for coming over early. Well, just one actually: he wants the inside scoop on a job he wants his son to land. Too bad, buddy. According to Anna, the job is going to some other guy.
Prince Vassily is bummed and starts to complain about his deadbeat kids who are costing him an arm and a leg.
Anna throws out a suggestion: how about getting the younger one married to the youngest Bolkonsky daughter. She’s got dough, but her dad sounds like a pill. Anna promises to talk it over with Liza Meinen, who is married to the girl’s older brother.