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Prince Vassily is heading out the door when he’s totally collared by an aristocratic old woman, Princess Drubetskoy. She’s begging for favors – mainly for Prince Vassily to make her son Boris a guardsman.
Prince Vassily is really not into it, but realizes that he kind of owes this lady’s father, so her son is in luck.
Meanwhile, back at the party, the French guy continues to complain about Napoleon, who went from being a populist anti-monarchist to being crowned emperor. Fun fact: Napoleon rose to power through the ranks of the army in the horrible, bloody aftermath of the French Revolution. At first he was all, “Let’s have a democratic republic based on reason! Kings suck!” but a little while later that turned to “Just kidding. Now I’m your emperor and instead of democracy we’re doing absolute rule. Oh, but I’m still totally anti-king though.”
Anyhow, Anna Pavlovna is in full agreement with the French guy, and they commiserate about how Napoleon is making it hard for the aristocrats to lord it over everyone like they used to. Yeah, boo-hoo.
Ippolit (Hippolyte) tries to change the topic, but he’s kind of awkward about it.
Suddenly, Pierre busts in with a long speech about how Napoleon is actually super-awesome and clearly a great man who sees the big picture. It’s a little much and just goes to show everyone how young and ill-mannered he is.
Anna Pavlovna tries to defuse the situation, but it turns out that Frenchy isn’t too bothered by the outburst. Prince Andrei, who clearly kind of hates the French guy, chimes in on Pierre’s side.
Finally, Ippolit changes the topic again by telling kind of a silly joke about a woman who pretends that a maid is a footman. Everyone is psyched for this change of pace.
Check out how Ippolit’s strangeness really works here. Not only does he totally shift the tone from political passion to dumb slapstick humor, but he also insists on telling his joke in Russian and so ends the talking-about-France-in-French portion of the evening.