Russia has just entered World War I. Sanya, a young university student at home for the summer in his provincial town, boards a train for Moscow to enlist in the army. Sanya has been inspired by Russia’s emperor, Czar Nicholas II, who has become a hero to his country by declaring war on Germany and Austria. Filled with patriotism, Sanya rejects his former pacifism and secretly vows to fight for his country.
On the train to Moscow, Sanya runs into a former girlfriend, Varya, who since the days when Sanya knew her at school has become educated and grown into an intellectual. Armed with radical opinions from speeches she has heard shouted on street corners, Varya questions Sanya’s patriotism and challenges his desire to join the army, saying that he has denied his support of the common people’s revolution in giving that support to the wealthy czar and his family. Sanya, defeated by her arguments, can only say that he is headed for battle because “I feel sorry for Russia.”
In 1914, as the war begins, Nicholas paces the floor in a room in his palace one day in July, while his generals urge him, against his better judgment, to mobilize the Russian army. Nicholas lashes out at the generals and berates them for their incompetence; he wishes that Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin were still alive, for he would have known what was best for Russia.
Stolypin had been murdered at a performance at the Kiev Opera House by police agent and secret assassin Dmitri Bogrov, scion of a prominent and wealthy family and a privileged and idle son intent on...
(The entire section is 645 words.)