Poor Liza (Karamzin)

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Poor Lisa
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Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A young rich nobleman fell in love with a poor peasant woman, seduced her, but, losing his fortune, married a rich widow. The peasant woman, unable to endure the loss of her lover, drowns herself in a pond.

The division of the retelling into chapters is conditional.

Narrator recalls poor Lisa

The narrator knew the outskirts of Moscow well, because he liked to wander "without a plan, without a purpose" around the outskirts of the city.

Narrator — sensitive romantic, loves nature.

His favorite place was a hill with the ruins of an ancient monastery. On one side of the hill stretched Moscow, on the other - groves and cultivated fields.

The narrator often went to the ruins, pondered the fate of the monks who lived in the monastery, and looked at the gates of the temple, decorated with religious scenes. But most often he thought of poor Lisa.

Lisa Wikidata.svg — poor peasant girl, 15 years old, very beautiful, kind, honest, hardworking, naive.

Poor peasant girl Lisa

Not far from the monastery wall stood a poor hut. Once upon a time, Lisa and her old mother lived in it. Lisa's father was a well-to-do peasant who led a sober life and worked hard. After his death, Lisa and her mother were unable to maintain the farm, quickly became impoverished, and were forced to rent out land for little money.

The widow, who was in her sixth decade, took her husband's death hard, "for even peasant women know how to love." Shedding tears, she grew weaker by the day and could no longer work. To support herself and her mother, Lisa weaved, knitted, gathered flowers and berries and sold it all in Moscow.

'God gave me hands to work,' Lisa said, 'you nursed me with your breast and followed me when I was a child; now it is my turn to follow you.

The girl also missed her father, but for her mother's sake she tried to appear calm and cheerful. The widow dreamed of finding a good husband for her daughter, so that after her death Lisa would not be alone.

The Meeting of Lise and Erastus

In the spring, two years after her father's death, Liza went to Moscow to sell lilies of the valley. In the street she met a young man who offered her a ruble for a bunch of lilies of the valley: "Beautiful lilies of the valley, picked by the hands of a beautiful girl, cost a ruble. Lisa refused and took the flowers for their real price: five kopecks.

Then the young man wished to buy from Lisa all the flowers she collected and found out where she lived. The next day Lisa picked lilies of the valley and went to Moscow again, but she did not meet the young man she liked. She did not want to sell the flowers to someone else and at the end of the day she threw them into the Moskva River.

In the evening of the next day a young man showed up at Lisa's house. He introduced himself as Erastus, met the girl's mother and came to her liking.

Erastus Wikidata.svg — A young and wealthy nobleman, not stupid and kind, but weak and windy.

Erastus asked that Lisa sell her work only to him, and he promised to stop by often. When he left, the widow said that she would like to find her daughter an equally nice and kind groom. Both understood that a nobleman would never marry a peasant girl.

Erastus, on the other hand, was impressed by Lisa's beauty. Hitherto he had thought only of his own pleasure, had sought entertainment in high society, and was often bored. Erastus felt that he had found in the girl what he had long sought, so he decided to leave the world for a time.

Erastus confesses his love for Lisa

Lise slept badly during the night. Even before dawn, she got up and went out to the fog-covered river. Seeing the young shepherd, Lisa wished it had been Erastes, because then they could have been together.

Just then Erastus sailed up to the shore in a boat, approached Lisa, kissed her, and declared his love for her. Forgetting her shyness, the girl said she loved him, too.

They sat on the grass, and so that not much space was left between them,-looking into each other's eyes, saying to each other, "Love me!" and two hours seemed to them an instant.

Erastus asked Lisa not to tell her mother anything, for "old people can be suspicious." The girl promised to keep quiet.

Secret meetings of lovers

Now Lisa and Erastus met every evening near the girl's house, by an old pond surrounded by hundred-year-old oaks. They embraced, but their embrace was immaculate. Erastus admired "his shepherdess" Lisa. He recalled with disgust "the contemptible voluptuousness," he was going to live with the girl as with his sister and believed that he would be happy.

Liza demanded that Erastus visit her mother often. The widow was always glad to see him and told him much about her youth and her late husband, who had died in her arms. Erast bought Liza's work, but the widow did not take any extra money from him.

Lisa loses her innocence

Several weeks passed. One day on a date, Liza told Erastus that the son of a rich peasant from the neighboring village had asked her to marry him. Her mother begged her to agree, but the girl refused the suitor. Erastus began to kiss Lisa and promised to take her to himself after the widow's death.

The girl threw herself into his arms, "and in this hour purity must perish."

...she knew nothing, suspected nothing, feared nothing - the gloom of the evening fed the desires - no star shone in the sky - no ray could illuminate the delusion.

A thunderstorm with heavy rain began, as if nature had regretted that Liza had lost her innocence. Erastus escorted the girl home, assuring her of his love.

The lovers continued to meet, but now Erastus was not enough of an innocent embrace, he wanted more, and after all "the fulfillment of all desires is the most dangerous temptation of love. Lisa was no longer the pure angel he had so admired. Platonic love had been replaced by feelings that were not new to Erastes. Lisa was inferior to him in everything. She saw that Erastes had changed his attitude toward her, and she was afraid of losing his love.

Erastus goes off to war

One day the lovers didn't see each other for five days. When they finally appeared, Erastus said he had to go to war: it was his honor to do so. Erastus said goodbye to his widow. The old woman was sorry that their kind and handsome baron should risk his life. She expressed the hope that by the time Erastus returned from the war, Lisa would be married, and then the baron could be godfather to her children.

At morning dawn the lovers said goodbye, and the world became dull and sad for Liza. She hid her grief from her mother and wept, secluded in the woods.

Erastus' Treason

About two months passed. Liza went to Moscow to buy medicine for her mother, and suddenly she saw Erastus in a magnificent carriage. The carriage turned into the courtyard, Erast got out, and the girl threw herself on his neck.

A frightened Erastus took Lisa to his study, told her he was engaged to another woman and sent her away slipping a hundred roubles into her pocket. Erastus did not deceive Lisa, he was really in the army, but he did not fight the enemy there, but played cards and lost almost all his fortune. To pay off his debts, Erastus had to "marry an elderly rich widow who had long been in love with him."

Poor Lisa's Death

Leaving Erast's house, Liza fainted in the street. Some kind woman brought her to her senses, and Lise "went without knowing where she was going. She did not notice how she left the city and found herself at an old pond, where she had once met Erastes. Having looked around, Lisa saw a neighbor's girl, asked her to pass a hundred rubles to the widow, threw herself into the pond and drowned.

Thus ended her life beautiful in body and soul. <...> She was buried near the pond, under a gloomy oak tree, and they put a wooden cross on her grave.

On hearing of her daughter's terrible death, the poor widow also died, and their hut was deserted. Erastus, learning of Lysa's death, could never be consoled. He considered himself a murderer and was unhappy all his life.

Narrator's Afterword

The narrator met Erastes a year before his death. He told him his story and took him to poor Lisa's grave. The narrator often sat "leaning on the receptacle of Lisa's ashes." He pondered the girl's unhappy fate and hoped that "now, perhaps, they were already reconciled."

The retelling is based on edition of the story prepared by P. N. Berkov (M.; L.: Art Literature, 1964).