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Notes from the Underground
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Liza Timeline and Summary
Before we know her name, the Underground Man sees Liza, a young prostitute in the brothel where he expected to find Simonov and Zverkov. He describes her as young and grave, and admires her eyes though she is not a great beauty. She is not smiling, which attracts him (go figure). After the sex (which we don't hear about in the text), the Underground Man wakes to find Liza looking at him. When he asks, Liza gives her name. They make some awkward conversation; Liza reveals that her parents are "tradespeople." When the Underground Man tells her all about the dead prostitute he saw being buried in the rain, Liza doesn't react: who cares if there's water in your grave when you're dead? She basically doesn't see what his depressing tale has to do with her. When Liza gets all, "I don't need your pity," the Underground Man berates her some more for being a prostitute. If she weren't one, he suggests, she could get married and be happy. Liza retorts that not all married people are happy. Then the Underground Man goes off in a discourse about love, concluding that with love you don't need to be happy. Liza interrupts by vehemently agreeing with the Underground Man when he gets to the bit about how what they've just done (sex for money instead of love) is despicable. At least they can agree on something. This excites the Underground Man, who feels he now has license to lecture her to his heart's content. When he finally stops, Liza tells him that he speaks like a book, which the Underground Man finds to be offensive (though in retrospect he decides she was just hiding behind irony). To get back at her, he lectures at length about how awful her life is and how she'll never have happiness. Cut to Liza, who is sobbing into her pillow. The Underground Man comforts her and gives her his address, telling her to come see him. Liza tells him to wait, rushes out of the room, and comes back with a love letter from a young man. She explains that she met him at a party and that he doesn't know she's a prostitute; in other words, there is one guy out there who loves her respectfully. The Underground Man leaves and spends a few days fretting over whether or not Liza will show up. Liza shows up. The Underground Man frets some more. First, he declares that he isn't ashamed of his poverty. Then he bursts into tears. Then he tells her this was all a big joke. Then he cries again and admits that he is in fact ashamed of his poverty. Liza, who is all grace under fire, comforts the Underground Man. He notes (to the reader) that he and Liza have shifted roles, and now she is the heroine. Sex follows. Fifteen minutes later, Liza is sitting against the bed crying while the Underground Man paces up and down the room. When he drops a hint that she ought to leave, she does; but he shoves some money into her hand before she goes. The Underground Man immediately regrets this action and calls after her; it's too late, and we hear the echo of the door slam as she leaves the house. When the Underground Man finds the money he gave her on the table, he realizes she is noble and runs into the street after her. This is also too late. The Underground Man wonders if his insults might reform Liza. Cutting out of the story and returning to 40 year-old Underground Man, he then remarks that he never saw Liza again.