Watch this beautifully haunting animation (with brief images of real actors inserted- see if you can catch it!) based on the Russian story of “Bednaya Liza,” or “Poor Liza,” by Nikolai Karamzin (1792).
In the story, Liza lives humbly with her mother, selling flowers and enjoying a carefree life. Then she meets Erast, a wealthy young man who is bored of his privileges and charmed by her simplicity. He tells her he wants to buy all of her flowers so that she will be provided for. A marriage between the two could never be socially accepted because of their class differences, and Erast tricks even himself into believing his intentions are innocent by calling Liza his dear “sister.” They become close and intend to live ‘a pure life’ together in the future. However, one night, sitting beneath the trees on the bank of Liza’s favorite pond, they give into their sexual desires. They both regret this action almost immediately as it depletes Erast’s interest in Liza (revealing his true intentions all along) and destroys Liza’s innocent view of the world; she now wants something she can never have- something she never would have dared to hope for prior to being courted by Erast. Erast escapes this turmoil when he leaves with the military, leaving Liza alone and miserable while he gambles himself into debt. When he returns to the area where Liza lives, Liza discovers is engaged to a wealthy noble woman whom he does not love. Liza confronts him and is brushed off. Devastated, she rushes to the pond and throws herself in to drown.
This is a sad story but it lends great insight into social expectations of the time. It also clearly demonstrates the popular idea of “ennui,” a symptom of boredom and disinterest which was thought to be prevalent among the young, privileged, educated males. This tale, depending on the context of the reading, might also have served as a warning to girls of lower class standing, pressuring them to be satisfied with their lot. Whether the story is arguing in favor of keeping strict social borders in tact or attempting to raise awareness about the harm that can be caused by those social borders and by superfluous living, this animation does a great job capturing the conflict in an eerie, fairy-tale-like manner.