Winter Classics Reading Challenge #3
In spite of the title, Elizaveta Mikhailovna is not the main character in this book, but rather the hub around which the other characters revolve. The role of protagonist appears to be filled by her would-be suitor Fedor Ivanovich Lavretsky (at least his is the only family history related through four generations of detail). But to get to Liza, he must negotiate his way past his rival Panshine, her mother, her great-aunt, and a ghost from his past who turns out not to be so ghostly after all. Naturally events all end up in a hopeless tangle, and it is Liza’s quiet determination that provides the answer, when she takes the only action that she can.
At first I was puzzled by the fact that Liza remained a peripheral character, until I realised that the character most central to the plot didn’t necessarily have to be the protagonist. Even then I was still frustrated by a lack of insight into her personality and her deep religiosity. But once Turgenev got around to describing her upbringing, she and her beliefs made perfect sense and the ending became inevitable. And while certainly not a happy one, it did relieve me of my apprehension that it would turn into a morality tale, with Lavretsky’s long-lost faith restored, etc, etc. After reading Fathers and Sons I should have known that things wouldn’t turn out so black and white.
I think my favourite thing about Liza is that I found what I had been looking for: a Russian novel mercifully lacking in philosophy and politics. There was a token gesture in the form of a brief debate between Lavretsky and Panshine, but nothing too mentally taxing. The whole was a thoughtful tale about characters that may not have been hugely likeable, but were thoroughly human.