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Notes from the Underground

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.