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This story is most often characterized as “sentimentalism.” The author intends to evoke a strong emotional response to his characters and narrative. At some level we as readers are to enjoy this evocation of sentiment. You may answer anyone of these questions, but be sure to read the responses that predate your own.

1) How does the narrator establish an atmosphere conducive to a strong emotional response?

2) What gets “lost in translation” from the story to the cartoon?

3) How are we to judge the value of this (or any) story? Is there a moral lesson? Are we “better” human beings for having read it?

4) Do you think it possible to write such a story and believe in it? Or is this author manipulating us like puppets, simply to prove that he can?

5) Why can we not simply accept the hard reality of life and appreciate Erast’s decision?

20 Responses to “Karamzin’s “Poor Liza””

  1. Vanda Gaidamovic says:

    Why can we not simply accept the hard reality of life and appreciate Erast’s decision?

    Just like Juan, I doubt whether Karamzin sought to provide a commentary on the Russian social hierarchy or mentality. I think the story goes beyond the socio-political surface and explores the conflict of Ideal and Reality.

    Erast is a Sperfluous man, who is detached from his crude roots and thus, lost and tired in life. He feels nostalgic for the times “when all people wandered carefree across meadows, went swimming in pure springs, they kissed like turtledoves, rested under the roses and myrtle […].” Thus he seeks soulful connection with the natural world, sense of togetherness. Liza helps him to achieve the organic unity with nature and find the connection with simple, spiritual people, like herself and her mother. The love of Liza and Erast is an ideal state – pure, natural, impulsive, and it has no boundaries (they always meet in the countryside). Yet the reality is different.
    The real world is the city – a synthetic creation of a human kind, with all its material temptations and corruption. Both, Liza and Erast are responsible for whom they are in their artificial social environments, and both are the victims of them. Lisa is taking care of her old mother, fulfilling her natural familial duty. Erast is the creation of an educated, wealthy class, and eventually is pulled away from the affair with the peasant girl back to the world of education, wealth, and hedonistic pleasures.
    It would all make brutal, yet reasonable sense to me. Their love, the Ideal cannot be pursued because of the human constructed obstacles. Yet I find Erast’s character very disturbing. He seeks the Ideal, is tempted by it, but as soon as he “achieves” it, it is no longer valuable to him. He loses passion. It makes me doubt in the genuineness of his intents and feelings. Therefore, it is not even his final decision to abandon Liza and marry out of calculation that repulses me, but the very “weakness” and “flightiness” of his spirit.
    Hence, the story warns that an Ideal is not something one should want and try to posses, it is something he or she must learn to infinitely, patiently strive for. Perhaps the Ideal in “Poor Lisa” is very Russian, or even a Slavophile one, yet it triggers our sympathy for the perfection of a true sentiment, and prompts our concerns about the destructive quality of the real, material world.

  2. Katherine Burdine says:

    Response to question 4

    It is important to remember that when this story first appeared in 1792, it caused a huge sensation in the russian literary scene. In general, Russian literature of that epoch was bland, heroic, and and oddly impersonal, with a faceless hero in tireless service to an abstract greater good. Poor Liza, in contrast, is colorful and relatable (its main characters are ones we believe could actually exist). The author also writes in plain, simple, well-constructed Russian, a notion that was then something of an innovation. His audiences were definitely moved. There were pilgrimages to the pond where Liza commits suicide; people would get together to read the story aloud and cry over it.

    Given the effect the story had on readers at the time, it seems very unlikely that the author in writing was anything less than sincere, or that his audiences felt manipulated in any way. And indeed, Karamzin gives his story a subtle ambiguity, despite his narrator’s blatant interjections and moralizing tone. The character of Erast is not purely evil. Indeed, this world-weary, kind, but weak hero might be considered a prototype for many future Russian literary figures, from Onegin to Raskolnikov. The psychology of Liza, a young girl falling in love for the first time is also sharply realistic, despite author’s pastoral idealization of her and her circumstances. It is this realism, as well as the author’s sincerity, that gave the story the power to move audiences. Had Karamzin been writing merely a cynical, moralizing tale, I doubt it would have had the same effect.

  3. Laura Howard says:

    So many questions! Juan Machado wrote a very compelling argument about the fact that he does not see the text as a sharp critique of Russian social hierarchy. I agree with this assertion; like Juan, I found that this story gathers its drama from more across-the-board situations such as the “you’re a peasant-i’m a nobleman” storyline, which can hold true in any country, in any culture around the world. The location, however, does make this story unique. The fact that it is set in Russia lends the entire situation a certain romantic, sentimental, and emotional quality that it wouldn’t have if it were set in, for example, the English countryside.

    In this way, the author Karamzin’s descriptions of this “forgotten” European country lend Russia especially well to romanticism, sentimentalism, nostalgia, reminiscience. And a sentimental story is always one that is believable. Not everyone believes this, however. I had a professor who once said that “Gone with the Wind” was “crap literature.” I also just recently read a Manolo Blahnik interview in which he mentioned how his mother used to read him “frivilous” novels to help him learn English — one of which was “Gone with the Wind.” Having only read the first pages of the book, I’m not one to judge the quality of Gone with the Wind’s writing. The storyline, however, and the human emotions involved, seem to me to be pretty sentimental and therefore extremely believable. It seems that “crap literature” and “good literature” can have the same level of believability.

    I’m not exactly sure how “manipulating us like puppets” fits into the author’s intent with the story. I believe he simply proposed a storyline that was tragic (some might say over-the-top) and wanted to see how people react to it. There are those parts, however, which Anna questions, such as “the reader can easily imagine what she [Liza] was feeling at this moment” — when it appears that the author might be manipulating the reader by allowing the reader to do the work and figure out the character’s feelings. I’ve never discussed whether or not an author is manipulative, so I am interested in discussing this further.

  4. Russell Jacobs says:

    (Question 4)
    I’m not sure how comfortable I am saying that Karamzin is “manipulating us like puppets, simply to prove that he can,” but there is a heavy-handedness to “Poor Liza” that comes off, to me, as manipulative. The evocation of Moscow’s troubled past that Ben points out above reminds me of the way politicians evoke national tragedies to gain sympathy when they express ideology. Karamzin sets up the dilapidated monastery as a symbol of Moscow’s faded grandeur and then tells us that he’s drawn to the monastery “most often” by his memories of “the lamentable fate of Liza, poor Liza.” Liza represents the monastery, which in turn represents Moscow. To fail at sympathizing with her, in other words, is to fail at sympathizing with the city (and, ultimately, Russia). When our narrator tells us that “lightning does not flash and disappear in a cloud as fast as her blue eyes turned to the earth when they met his glance,” we can’t help (or I can’t, anyway) but roll our own eyes a little bit. The metaphor seems exaggerated to me; it borders on absurd. The comparison foreshadows (both in its content and its absurdity) the moment after Liza’s virginity is lost under the tree, when the sky literally begins to light up and shake. This later scene, along with the story as a whole, seems to evoke the biblical story of the loss of Adam and Eve’s innocence and, subsequently, paradise. Our narrator even tells us that Liza lived “like a lamb,” the personification of Christian innocence in simile. Karamzin uses biblical allegory and language as well as sentimental descriptions of Moscow to manipulate Muscovites and Christians both into sympathizing with his character.

  5. Benjamin Kingstone says:

    1) How does the narrator establish an atmosphere conducive to a strong emotional response?
    As Sarah previously mentioned, Karamzin introduces pathos to the reader through evocative images. The series of descriptions of the town the narrator knows so well develops a sense of gloomy fatality; we pity Liza for her circumstances–“working…day and night…without any mercy her tender youth” (55). Fate seems ordered against her; her “sober” (55) father dies when she is only fifteen. From the illustrative title to the first introduction–“the lamentable fate of Liza” (54) the narrator forces readers to immediately view her as an object of pity.

    Karamzin not only forces readers to take the side of Liza but to engage with the story’s setting. We pity everything, even Russia. As the narrator recalls the region’s history, he remembers how,”defenseless Moscow” was “plundered” by “fierce Tatars”(54). Like Liza, Moscow is the victim of unfortunate circumstances.

    Moreover, her innocence directly contrasts her suitors brashness. She is “timid Liza” and “Obliging Liza;” Karamzin reinforces her meek timidity to inspire our pity before her death. The author is no fool; the storyteller uses these simple, emotion-provoking gestures to . Then, he uses her sudden suicide to create a cathartic response. Even though (from the title) the reader anticipates some devastating conclusion, it is a powerful ending. This death, of course, comes toward the beginning of the now-established theme of female suicide in Russian literature.

  6. Melody Wang says:

    4) Do you think it possible to write such a story and believe in it? Or is this author manipulating us like puppets, simply to prove that he can?
    I think the narrator does not intent on making the story believable, evident in the narrator’s intrusive and jugdmental voice throughout the story. For instance, when the narrator mentions how Liza’s widowed mother “almost constantly shedding tears over the death of her husband”, the narrator then adds “for even peasant women know how to love!”(55). I personally find this brief parenthetical insertion to be one of the most problematic moments in the story: on one hand, the narrator’s assertion can be read as a defence of peasant women’s capability to love; on the other hand, it also conveys the narrator’s sense of disbelief/shock towards such phenomenon. Essentially speaking, I find the narrator’s tone to be quite condescending, deliberately or not, at the same time, the narrator makes it clear of his own distance from the peasants. Ultimately, that brief narrative insertion compromises the reliability or sincerity of the narrator’s sentimentally charged portrayals of Liza, the tragic heroine and her mother. Contrary to Emily’s agreement with Flora, I find it particularly difficult to identify with the narrator’s emotional responses, despite his consistent effort to invite the readers to engage with his own emotions, e.g. “The reader can easily imagine what she was feeling at this moment” (64), such invitation is somewhat artificial and imposing. And honestly, I really can’t “easily imagine what she was feeling”. I certainly agree with Margaret’s argument of how the characters are “portrayed more as caricatures …than complex and multifaceted personas”.

  7. Kelsey Calhoun says:

    In response to question 4:

    I do think it is possible to write such a story and believe in it, though I find it hard to believe that is the case for this story. Reading it today we find it predictable, though without a more thorough knowledge of the body of work or style it comes from it would be hard to judge whether readers of the day would take Karamzin seriously, that that was what he intended, or if they would know that the story was written in a light sarcastic tone, both making fun of the pat tragic love story formula and considering seriously the respective motivations and lots of the characters. As I read this story the word that came to mind was “melodramatic” over “sentimentality”- the word sentimentality evokes more of a wimpy emotionalism that lacks any true grit than I guessed was Karamzin’s intent. I was trying to take this story seriously, although it was hard. But I think the reason Karamzin chose over-the-top melodrama or sentimentality was to emphasize the feeling of being trapped, that the characters felt they could not produce a happy ending with the circumstantial cards that had been dealt them, and then to question whether they actually were trapped, especially Erast. I think Juan is right, that the setting could have been anywhere after the first few paragraphs, not specifically Russia, but it may have been that Karamzin’s readers would have recognized the circumstances that made Liza and Erast feel trapped and used enough so that he did not need to evoke their world (i.e. 19th Century Russia) any more than he already had.

  8. Bryanna Kleber says:

    On Question 3:

    In our introduction to Erast, the narrator tells us that Erast is a selfish man, “thought only of his own pleasure” and that Erast is originally drawn to Liza by her looks, “Liza’s beauty made an impression on his heart.” (58) From a moral standpoint, one would say that it’s not right to want somebody only for his/her looks (or money) and such things should not touch your heart. And then there is Liza, who is poor, and could have access to wealth if she accepted the money Erast continuously offers her, but she refuses time after time (as does her mother). The morality lesson looming over the reader here is that money corrupts the conscience and hinders a person from making honest and genuine decisions.
    The irony is not lost that Erast chose to go to war, which is often associated with power, and lost all his fortune during the war, which was what made him powerful in society, and that Liza had turned down his money/power numerous times. The story illustrates that there are repercussions and it could also be perceived that this tale is displaying a Russian belief in karma.

    I do not think that we become better human beings by reading this story, or any other story. However, with “sentimental” stories in particular, it may seem like we become “better” human beings, because we enter a reflective state and a position in which we judge a character’s ethical decisions and think about what is “wrong” and “right” and why that is so. I think that we tap into the “good” qualities and thoughts and morals that we have within us already and that they are magnified by reading “sentimental” stories.

  9. Kevin Carpenter says:

    1) How does the narrator establish an atmosphere conducive to a strong emotional response?
    The narrator immediately attempts to gain our trust and respect for his judgment, as Flora said. By asserting that no one knows the “environs” and “fields” as much as him creates the illusion of a pseudo-omniscience in which we are to trust the narrator because he has a watchful eye.
    The narrator, through his story and introductory prose, toys with juxtaposing evocative images and events that contrast joyous and gloomy feelings. His initially description of Moscow highlights the sun, “fluffy” meadows with bountiful land and water. But his exaltation of springtime’s beauties is succeeded with talk of the “gloomy days of autumn.” He describes the “gray elder” on his knees in “earthly chains” whose life is characterized by sickness and wanton ritual. So early on he begins setting us up for both happiness and tragedy and then describes the characters that will enact this preface.
    He describes Liza in meek terms such as these as her fate is “lamentable” and she, “worked all day and night, without any mercy for her tender youth.” The narrator touts her industriousness, docility and innocence in an attempt to have the reader both pity her and sympathize with her fate. Even when Erast is described with kind terms such as having a “decent mind” and “good heart” his sense of entitlement as a rich nobleman and how he was “bored and complained about his faith” forces the reader to see him as less sympathetic than Liza who works hard and accepts her lot. Karamzin effectively draws the reader in as having vested interest in the fate of both characters and is able to evoke pity for Liza and, eventual disdain for Erast after their fallout. But from very early on in the narrative the speaker is able to manipulate our perceptions of both characters and shape how we read into their actions throughout the story.

  10. Romany Redman says:

    Drop [most of] the sentimentality:

    We have a young girl who, already stressed with the death of her father, is sexually and emotionally taken advantage of by an older, richer, man who is already manipulating her work environment in her position of economic insecurity.

    Then she commits suicide.

    We have a man, who in a position of privilege, has the liberty to pursue fleeting romantic ideals, free from the socioeconomic imperatives which force other folks to be a tad more pragmatic about with whom they interact and on what level.* Aside from ‘feeling’ bad, his life continues with no lasting influence of their interactions. Tried in a court today, the dude would go to jail. (Liza was 17, still a minor)

    Cartoons are generally produced with children in mind. Many themes of Byednaya Liza don’t quite present the G-rated content of a typical cartoon. The content/plot was altered for understandable reasons, but why even keep Karamzin’s name on the credits when the cartoon presents a story already not Liza’s?

    The cartoon seemed less about forbidden love or individual morality than the evils of stratified society. The Liza doll does not jump off a bridge. The Erast-doll tells no incomplete-truths. In fact, Erast is presented with no vice. The cartoon places blame on societal norms that prevent the unification of Erast and Liza, a message worthy of Soyuzmultfilm in 1978. “Obsolete societal norms of class were dumb then and are dumb now.” Crediting Karamzin for such a message simply places time’s stamp of approval on the work of Soyuzmultfilm.

    The story, like Juan mentions, presents as a given the realities of class structure. As many of you have discussed, the “cautionary” component of the tale is simply Red Riding Hood without the woodcutter. The sentimentality of the morality of the two characters is what is lost in the cartoon. Should we feel sorry? For whom?

    *So maybe we should sympathize more with Erast. He is a victim of social forces too… I guess.

  11. Margaret Fulford says:

    My response is to question number 4. It strikes me as unlikely that Karamzin wrote this tale with the intent that it be taken literally and believed with the same naivete with which Liza placed her trust in Erast. I agree with Mary and Brandt in this this was meant to be a cautionary story, in many ways.
    There is the obvious warning of immersing one’s self so completely in another person leading to agonizing sadness and tragedy, but there are also the various red flags surrounding Erast as a character. He typifies the young, well-to-do male Moscovite who does not have his priorities straightened out. Karamzin alludes to his exploits with other women when describing how his love for Liza changed after he took her innocence. While he served his country in the army, he gambled away his fortune and then was forced to marry himself away to escape a life of hard work and few rewards (such as that lead by Liza and her mother.)
    There is no doubt that Karamzin “believed” in the characters in that they represented real aspects of Russian society at the time, but they are portrayed more as caricatures, for that very reason, than complex and multifaceted personas. The author does manipulate the reader with strongly emotional events in the plot, but I think that it is more to make his point as to the various morals of the story than to simply prove that he can make us feel any given way.

  12. Juan Machado says:

    Mary Robinson and Alexandra Siega make very convincing arguments about how the text might be read as a cautionary tale. I do, however, disagree with some of the points they make. I don’t see in the text, for example, a sharp criticism of Russia’s social hierarchy. First of all, this story could have taken place anywhere. There is very little in the text that makes it an exclusively Russian story; this tale of pure love between two young people. Furthermore, I don’t think the author really criticizes the social hierarchy. In the text, the fact that a marriage between the two is difficult or impossible because they belong to different classes is treated as something quite natural that will never change.

    I would say that more important to the story than the Russian social hierarchy are the entrapping situations Liza and Erast find themselves in. When Liza wants to run after Erast when he is going war “the thought: ‘I have a mother!’—stopped her” (65). Thus, Liza is caught between what is expected of her from society—her obligations to her family—and the love she feels. The same is true for Erast. While his love for Liza is genuine, he sees himself forced to marry “a middle-aged widow” (that really doesn’t sound very pleasant) because he needs the money (66). As the narrator says, “he was left with only one way of correcting his circumstance” (66). He is also forced to sacrifice his true love for what he must do, but I don’t think this is determined by the Russian social hierarchy. He wouldn’t have to marry the widow, for example, if he hadn’t lost his estate playing cards.

  13. Emily de Koning says:

    In response to #1:

    The first element that I believe contributes to an emotional response is the setting. In the first few paragraphs, Karamzin paints a beautiful, peaceful, natural Russian countryside. The brutality of Liza’s fate is accentuated by these surroundings. (I am sure our response would be different if the plot unfolded in a bustling city.)

    The second contributing element is the description of Liza. The author begins by describing Liza’s father, his death and how thankful the mother is for having such a wonderful daughter who takes good care of her. The description of Liza’s family makes us feel pity for this young girl who finds herself alone in supporting her family. In addition, Liza’s love and affection for her mother presents her as a good-hearted, hard working girl.

    Liza’s childlike innocence, her easy blush when first encountering Erast, is also meant to touch the reader present Liza as a pure child, and the destruction of this purity is clearly meant to result in a strong emotional response.

    I also agree with Flora that the narrator’s emotional involvement also pushes the reader to be more emotionally involved in turn. The narrator’s vivid description such as when Liza was kissed for the first time by Erast and the narrator says “Ah! He kissed he, he kissed her with such fervor that the entire universe seemed to be a flaming cauldron!” Liza’s own emotions clearly flow through the narrator and his involvement leads to our own.

  14. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    I will respond to question number 5.

    As readers, I believe that we do accept that harsh reality of life portrayed by Karamzin, and that we should appreciate Erast’s decision, but that our heightened desire for what is morally right, or more specifically, morally ideal, attempts to keep us from doing so. Erast is captured by “novels and idylls” that depict “days in happy idleness” the same way a modern reader is captivated by Disney-type fairy tales (58). We force ourselves to believe that an acceptable outcome for a story focused on a romance is one in which each individual ultimately abides by selfless ideals. We are further prevented from fully appreciating Erast’s decisions because of the narrator’s biased interjections. The narrator clearly wants to impose his sympathetic point of view, but it muddles ideal with reality and forces the reader to root for the perfect and unbelievable ending, despite every sign of inevitable tragedy. Realistically however, one must sympathize with Erast’s decision to think foremost of his monetary wellbeing, and marry back into wealth.

    Mary brings up the idea that Erast was irresponsible. While this is certainly true to an extent, as Erast knowingly makes Liza vulnerable to him and takes pleasure from it, his seduction and subsequent actions are merely the essence of human nature. Erast was afforded the romantic indulgence that led him to Liza when he himself was rich, but it is understandable that he did not realize the value of his money until it was all gone. So when faced with a life of poverty should he decide to return to Liza, he thought it better to renounce his involvement with her. While the ending is certainly devastating and shows the world’s imperfection with clarity, it continues to persuade the reader not to accept this imperfection as natural and adequate.

    I do agree with Mary that this is a cautionary tale. To me, it warns not only of the dangers in making yourself completely vulnerable to another individual’s whims, but of the consequences of marrying for the wrong reasons. However, I think Karamzin is a manipulator, and his narration focuses on placing blame to evoke emotion, rather than reason.

  15. Sarah Bellingham says:

    *Karamzin… Sorry!

  16. Sarah Bellingham says:

    1) How does the narrator establish an atmosphere conducive to a strong emotional response?

    This story begins and ends with death. However, it is the gradual build-up in between these two sets of tragedies that portrays a pure, youthful, and optimistic love that arguably spawns from, then causes, the deaths that creates the atmosphere that is conducive to a strong emotional response.

    Karmazin begins this story with a narrator who introduces us to the Si…nov Monastery. In the third paragraph, the place is associated with the “gloomy days of autumn”, “tombstones”, “dull moans”, “a gray elder on his knees”, “sickness and weakness”, “bitter tears”, and the “dull tolling of the bell” (54). We are brought thirty years into the past and introduced to a family that had been tragically abandoned by the well-loved father, husband, and provider.

    The romance between Liza and Erast is slowly and steadily built up, idealized to reflect the epitome of youthful love. All of the sudden, Liza’s dark world that has been overshadowed by the death of her father transforms and contains images such as “a beautiful morning”, “skylarks” that sing “so well”, “flowers” that smell “so good”, and a “sun” that shines “so brightly”(60).

    The dissent back to the low point is rapid. Erast’s visits slow to a stop, and it turns out that he has betrayed Liza and is engaged to be married. The story ends with the suicide of Liza and the death of her grief-stricken mother.

    Without the carefully constructed emotional high-point, the reader’s emotional response could not be so dramatic. The final tragedy is so much more devastating because Karmazin wove his story in a way that connected us to Liza and put us fully on her side, making her only possible flaw (naïveté) a charming and endearing character trait. The story built us up emotionally to create high hopes. This only made us fall farther in the end, and created the atmosphere conducive to a strong emotional response.

  17. Alexandra Siega says:

    In response to Question 3: How are we to judge the value of this (or any) story? Is there a moral lesson? Are we “better” human beings for having read it?

    I agree with Mary that “Poor Liza” is a cautionary tale, and that the story criticizes the social hierarchy in Russia at the time. Through “Poor Liza,” Karamzin was attempting to communicate the triviality of high society that so contrasted with the wholesome Russian spirit depicted by Liza. Upon discovering Liza in the center, Erast becomes caught between two disparate worlds: the world of “glittering amusements” that he is a part of and the simple, idyllic, pastoral life of his beloved. (61) He attempts to abandon high society and embrace Liza’s innocent nature, yet in doing so taints the purity of her spirit that ultimately leads to her demise. Karamzin highlights that there is a gap between high society and peasant that cannot be traversed, regardless of the righteousness of the intention. The relationship is depicted as an inevitable failure, and Liza herself alludes to it at the beginning of the story, when her mother says that she wishes Liza’s fiancée to be as noble in spirit as Erast: “How could that happen? He’s a gentleman, but among peasants…” (58) The way that the narrator describes Erast’s passion for Liza infers that he is using her—regardless of his preliminary, honest intentions—to fill a void in his life: a void that that is created by the society he is surrounded by.

    The story is valuable in as much that it expresses a duality within the Russian culture, though I feel that the moral of the story—which I understood as to not be distracted by the pettiness of high society and embrace the Russian spirit—is presented in too cliché of a context to provide any “betterment” to the reader. The situation is simple and evocative, but the fact that the story is predictable lessens my interaction with the text. I understood each of the characters to more broadly reflect their position in society, and therefore their fates did not elicit the overly emotional response in me that Karamzin wished for the reader to feel through the use of sentimentality throughout the story.

  18. Flora Weeks says:

    In response to Question 1: How does the narrator establish an atmosphere conducive to a strong emotional response?

    As has been previously stated, much of the emotion in this story actually comes to the reader from the narrator, and his telling of the story as well as his interjections of his own emotions. It is in large part through the reader’s trust in the narrator that these emotions carry over. The reader is only given one perspective on this tale, and it is from someone who is very opinionated and emotional about this story.

    In addition, the narrator sets the reader up for misfortune. The title, as well as the first few paragraphs, leads into the tragedy that is about to be told. Without knowing the exact circumstances, it is made clear that she is going to die tragically. Then her character is introduced as this perfect daughter who does everything she can to keep her mother and herself afloat. The narrator quickly convinces us to like Liza, and makes clear that she is not to be faulted for falling in love with Erast, as anyone in her place would have done the same. In the telling of the story, until Erast leaves, both Liza and Erast have been portrayed as flawless people, and so it is inevitable for the reader to be in support of their relationship lasting.

  19. Mary Robinson says:

    My post is in response to question 4.

    It is possible to write a tragedy such as this and believe in the overall message of the work, but that the details of this doomed romance are a bit too melodramatic for me to believe that Karamzin really did “shed tears of tender grief” over Liza’s story.

    As Anna mentioned, the narrator’s opinions allow us to believe that Poor Liza may in fact be a cautionary tale. That is my interpretation of it, whether or not that was the intention. Karamzin was challenging his readers to think if and how this tragedy could have been avoided. If the problem was that Russia’s social hierarchy made it impossible for Erast and Liza to live happily ever after, then the reader may take away a message of criticism of Russia’s social structure. If the problem was that Erast was irresponsible, the reader may more carefully consider the consequences of his actions in the future.

    I think the over the top sentimentality serves to draw the readers in and make them care about the story, so that they are upset enough by Liza’s death to consider how it could have been avoided. We can see this clearly on page 66, when the narrator explains Erast’s circumstances and then asks, “But can all of this justify him?” It seems that Karamzin has a better purpose for writing Poor Liza than just to manipulate readers’ emotions, but that he thinks it is the most effective tool in accomplishing this purpose.

  20. Anna Mackey says:

    Posted in response to question number 2: “What gets ‘lost in translation’ from the story to the cartoon?”

    Aside from obvious plot discrepancies, I believe what the audience loses most from the cartoon is the voice of the narrator. Nikolai Karamzin writes Poor Liza using a strong narrating figure who constantly interjects his own opinions and feelings while also explicitly imploring the reader to insert his or her own emotions in the place of Liza’s. After one particular description of an interaction between Liza and Erast, the narrator addresses the audience with, “the reader can easily imagine what she [Liza] was feeling at this moment”. Not only does this comment seem uncharacteristic of Russian writers who seemingly love to expound every emotion their characters experience, but it forces the reader to call upon their own experiences and feelings to satisfy this assumption, demanding a stronger bond between Liza and the reader than was required when watching the cartoon. However, by not taking the time in the story to explain Liza’s feelings and by just assuming the reader understands those same feelings, the narration could also be taken in a dismissive tone, rejecting the possible uniqueness of Liza’s experience, and therefore in a way trivializing this supposed love. Without this narrative influence, the cartoon provides a more linear interpretive lens.

    The cartoon also lacks the narrator’s breaks in plot to provide outside information and foreshadowing. For example, by breaking from the plot and telling the reader that Erast is “weak and flighty”, he forces the reader to be skeptical of Erast and be aware that by his doing some inevitable heartbreak awaits poor Liza. This contrasts from the cartoon, which pictures Erast as much more of a victim than a coward.

    Finally, their narrator also explicitly inserts personal opinions that could be interpreted as moral lessons, such as: “the fulfillment of all desires is the most dangerous temptation of love”. This requires the reader to interpret the story in an entirely different way. These insertions cause Poor Liza to perhaps be seen as a cautionary tale, whereas with no narration the cartoon could possibly only be viewed as a tragic love story.

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