This melancholy mood was not simply a result of the trouble with Napoleon. Tolstoy is poking fun at the Romanticism that was extremely fashionable in Russia and the rest of Europe at this time. Romanticism started in the late eighteenth century as a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and to the changes of the Industrial Revolution. The movement, which encompassed art, music, literature and philosophy, emphasised the importance of strong emotional responses over rational ones.
A lot of young men across Europe began to model themselves on the great Romantic figures such as Beethoven, Byron, Pushkin and Goethe. Some of them adopted melancholic personas as a part of this, for example, Captain Benwick in Jane Austen's Persuasion, who takes the melancholy Romantic persona to heart.
This is a short story by Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin (1766-1826). Karamzin was a Russian writer and historian, most famous for his twelve volume history of Russia. He published Poor Liza in 1792; it concerns a village girl who commits suicide after she is parted from her lover. Although his style is considered too cloyingly sentimental for modern tastes, he was admired by Pushkin and Nabokov.
From the nineteenth century to the present day, Russia's imperial ambitions in the Caucasus have led to conflict in this region, which lies on the border of Europe and Asia, mainly between the Black and the Caspian Seas. It is one of the most diverse regions on Earth both linguistically and culturally, with a wealth of indigenous populations. Independent countries in the region include Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; the rest of the region is divided into autonomous regions of the Russian Federation, such as Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia.
The region has been contested throughout history as Russia sought to control and expand her borders. Clashes between Iran, the Ottoman Empire and Russia were often fought in the Caucasus, and the local population continue to fight against Russian domination to this day. From 1817-1864 Russia slowly conquered the region, although it has never been completely subdued, as recent events show.
Tolstoy and his brother Nikolai both took part in this war. His novella Hadji Murat is about one of the most famous rebel leaders involved in it. Mikhail Lermontov also fought in the same conflict, and wrote about it in his novel A Hero of Our Time, a work Tolstoy strongly disliked and is here subtly undermining. Alexander Pushkin was exiled to this region, which inspired his writing, although he did not fight. As a result of the literature born from this conflict, the region acquired a sort of exotic glamour for Russians living safely out of harm's way in Moscow and St Petersburg. The inhabitants of the Caucasus were seen as being exotic, romantic savages with strange customs and costumes that could be admired even while they were being crushed. This was a part of the wider European fashion for Orientalism, the fascination with the 'exotic' East. Veterans of the war, such Dolokhov in this scene, would return from the front line imbued with second-hand glamour from their contact with the rebels. Dolokhov is maximising this appearance by wearing 'Persian' clothes, just as the English poet Lord Byron does in his famous 'Albanian' portrait by Thomas Phillips.