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Summary of Alexander Pushkin's "A Novel in Letters"

Summary of A Novel in Letters

Letter 1: Liza to Sasha

Sashenka, I left for the country, because I could not go on being a dependent. Advotia Andreevna raised me as an equal to her niece, but I have always been a ward, and you know how much that pains me. Being equal to the Princess was annoying; I could never have my own identity. If we both went to a ball, she would deliberately not wear her pearls; we would end up looking like twins. It was obvious by the way the men treated me that they had not respect for me. In truth, I was very unhappy, and I could feel my heart hardening with each passing day.
I received a letter from my grandmother three weeks ago asking me to come and live with her, and help fill her lonely life. I had to convince Avdotia Andreevna to let me go, which I did by promising to come back to Petersburg for the winter season; however, I don not intend on following through with this promise. Grandmama was extremely happy that I came; she had not expected me to come. I am now the mistress of the house, and that brings great joy to my heart.
Even though country life is devoid of luxuries, I don't mind; I have become quite at home here. The property is very beautiful; it consists of "an ancient house on a hill, a garden, a lake, and pine forests all around" (54). There aren't many people around here; in fact, I have not even seen any of the neighbors yet. I love the fact that I'm out here, away from civilization; I like to be alone.
Please write to me and tell me about all of the latest gossip; see I haven't lost all of my vanity.
"The Villiage of Pavlovskoe"

Letter 2: Sasha's Reply

When I saw Princess Olga all alone, I though you were sick. I was very surprised to hear from her that you had moved to the country. Congratulations on your new found freedom and happiness. What you said about being the dependent of Avdotia Andreevna made me very sad, and I did find it a bit unwarranted and harsh. It is no secret that Olga's father owes his whole lifestyle to your father. You always seemed to be okay with how things were; I had no idea that you were so oversensitive. Admit it; there was another reason why you left. You have always been very discreet about it, and I hope I don't make you angry by mentioning it.
We are one of the only families left at our dacha [Russian country home]. The weather is great, and the balls will be beginning soon. We had some guests over the other day, and one of the men asked about you. He told me "that your absence is as noticeable at the balls as a broken string in a piano" (55). I hope you get over your current mood soon, and come back to Petersburg so that I will have someone to hang out with during the winter.
"Krestovskii Island"

Letter 3: Liza to Sasha

Your letter reminded me of Petersburg; I could even hear your voice as I was reading. You perceive some great scandal revolving around my departure, but you are completely wrong. You said that you were worried that you would have no one to exchange satirical thoughts with this winter if I didn't come back, but our correspondence should suffice you. Tell me everything that appeals to you; I am very interested in hearing about everything that goes on in society.
To prove that I am still interested I ask you, who was the person that asked about me? Was it Aleksei R.? I'm sure it was.
I have finally met the X. family. The patriarch of the family is a good host, but he "is a buffoon" (56). His wife is over-weight. Their seventeen year old daughter is thin, and always has a book in her hands. She is very much a country girl. She has a lot old novels in her room; I plan to read them all, and I have started with Richardson. The country allows you so much free time that you are able to read the very long Clarissa. The translator's preface convinced me to read it; it said that the first six parts are rather boring, but the last six parts more than make up for it. I didn't notice this transition; however, it did make me think about things.
It is incredible how ideals change from generation to generation. The role of women does not seem to change. Clarissa is like modern day heroines, only she curtsies a bit more. "Is this because man's attractiveness depends on fashion, on attitudes of the moment, while that of women is based on an emotional makeup and nature that are enduring?" (56).
See, nothing has changed between us; I still talk to you like usual. I hope you will adopt the same kind of voice with me when you write me back. Please write to me as much as you can, there is not much else to do out here in the country. Nothing can compare to getting the post everyday when you are in the country, not even a ball.

Letter 4: Sasha's Reply

I'm sorry Liza, but R. doesn't seem to notice you are gone. He has been following around Lady Pelham as of late. The person who has been asking about you is Vladimir Y., does that make you happy? I'm sure it does. He is very interested in you, and if I were you, I'd marry him.
There was a ball held the other day, hosted by K. She was dressed in a simple white dress with about five hundred thousand dollars worth of diamonds on her head and around her neck. Z. looked ridiculous as usual; she had dried mushrooms sewn to her dress. Vladimir Y. refrained from dancing. The ball was wonderful, and people danced until early morning. The men complained about the food, but they have to complain about something, no matter what. I had a great time at the ball, despite having to dance with St., the diplomat from Madrid.
Thank you for telling me about Richardson. I doubt I will ever read him, because I have little patience for the superfluous.
Oh by the way, it looks like Elena N. and Count L. will soon be getting married. Did my letter satisfy you?

Letter 5: Liza to Sasha

I'm sorry my dear matchmaker, I am not going to leave the country and marry Vladimir Y. It's true I did like him, but I never wanted to marry him; "he is an aristocrat, and I am a humble democrat" (58). He is a good man, but he will never give up marrying richly and the subsequent connections, for me. If I do decide to marry I will "choose a forty-year-old landowner right here" (58). I will be happy to be a country wife, looking after the house; instead of going to fancy balls or throwing fancy parties on Saturday night.
Winter is here; life changes so much. One cannot go out for walks anymore; one can hear the sound of bells ringing, and one sees hunters riding along with their trusty dogs. I never imagined that winters, in the country, would be like this.
I have become close with Mashenka X. lately. It turns out that Y. is one of their relatives. They haven't seen him in about seven years, but Mashenka is still mesmerized by him. I have noticed while I was reading her novels that there were lightly written marginalia, most likely written by a male child. I have read so much lately; it is so weird to read a novel written in 1775 when it is 1829. It's like you are transported back in time to your grandmothers and uncle's youth; this is the only positive aspect of these novels. Anyone could reproduce these novels, changing only a few things they could have a very successful original novel. Please tell R. this, and tell him that he shouldn't waste his time talking to English women.
Masha reads a lot of Russian literature. People here occupy themselves by reading belles lettres. They get very angry when critics speak badly about their favorite writers. "Now I understand why Viazemskii and Pushkin are so fond of provincial misses: they are their true reading public" (59). I decided to read one of these; so I chose the critical reviews in the European Herald. I found it boring and offensive in tone; I don't understand how a former seminary student could say that this literature is immoral and indecent.

Letter 6: Liza to Sasha

I cannot hide it anymore; I fled from Petersburg because I am afraid of Vladimir Y. I desperately need your advice on what to do, because he is here. I will tell you the whole story.
Last winter, he was always at my side. He did not visit me at home, but he showed up everywhere I went. I tried to be cold to him, but it did no good. He somehow always found a way to be around me.
At first, I was flattered, but soon it became aggravating. I suppose I made it too obvious that I liked his attention, in the beginning. He seemed to think he had a new found right over me; he started to become jealous, spoke of his feelings, and complained to me. I asked myself what this might lead to, and I concluded that he would possess my heart. I left Petersburg before anything bad could happen. Now he is here.
I saw him yesterday when I went over to X.'s house for a name-day party. When I arrived at the party, I went into the drawing room, and sat next to the hostess. When I looked up, he was sitting right across from me. He spoke to me with such tender and affection that I could neither hide my confusion nor my pleasure.
The partygoers went into the dining room, and Vladimir sat across from me at the table. I didn't look at him, but I could tell everyone else was. He kept quiet all throughout dinner. He came over to talk to me after dinner, and driven by sense of obligation, I asked him if he came here on business.
He said that he had come on business, but it was of the heart. He quickly moved away from me then, and joined some ladies playing Boston. I went up to Mashenka's bedroom, complaining of a headache. Mashenka accompanied me. She was so blinded by him. She told me he was going to be staying with them for at least a month. She was excited, because she would get to spend the entire day with him; she's in love with him. I hope that he falls in love with her.
I don't know what to do. I cannot avoid him here; he has managed to charm grandmamma, and will be visiting us soon. He will obtain my heart, and then he will question whether or not he really wants it. Ultimately, he will leave me on some pretext or other, and never come back. What a dreadful future that is in store for me.

Letter 7: Sasha's Reply

Don't you feel better now that you have told me the truth? Why did you tell me something that I already knew? What is wrong with being in love and being loved by Vladimir Y.? You have a tendency to look for the negative aspect of everything; instead of enjoying what you have. Why don't you marry him? So what if he's rich and you are not; he has enough money to support you both.
I'm sorry my dear, but your letter made me laugh. Y. came to see you, what a tragedy! My advice to you is to marry him quickly, and move back to Petersburg.

Letter 8: Vladimir Y. To a Friend

Please tell everyone that I am on my deathbed; I want to stay here longer, but I want to observe propriety. I've been taking a break from Petersburg for the last two weeks. "Petersburg is the entrance hall, Moscow is the maid-servants' quarters,
We leave our peasants to be looked after by a greedy steward, who oppresses them and takes advantage of us. We are left paying off the debts left to us by our steward. This is why we lose nobility with each generation. Estates disappear completely in the third generation. It is time to change this pattern.
No one cherishes the historical families in this country. But then again what do you expect when their national monument reads: "in memory of Citizen Minin and Prince Pozharskii" (64). Who are these people? We don't have a past.
I have come to this conclusion, as a result of living in another village where the barbarous landowners manage their own estates. They live in the past. However, the relatives that I am staying with are the exception. I have really missed Liza Z. I came here to try and talk her into coming back to Petersburg. When she saw me at my aunt's name-day party, she could barely believe her eyes. How could she not know that I had come there for her? All the women here are enthralled with me. The men don't like my presence here, because I am very proper. How is everyone? Good-bye.

Letter 9: The Friend's Reply

I have done what you requested of me. At the theater, last night, I told everyone that you came down with a nervous fever, and you are on the verge of death.
I am so happy for you; your reflections on the estates should have come long ago. However, you are living in the past. The Russian landowner is an enviable position.
Why do you get involved with women all the time? Your only short coming is your need to imitate M. Faublas.
Everyone sends their blessings. Your former mistress also sends her blessings; she has come back from Rome enthralled with the Pope. You must be happy about that. Are you going to come back and try to compete for her love? I expect you any day.

Letter 10: Vladimir Y. To his Friend

Your reprimands are unfair. You are the one who is behind the times. I hope Z. will set you on the right path; you can have her and her Vatican ways. I have given myself to the patriarchal life. I get to see Liza everyday; I'm falling more and more in love with her everyday. "Her mien has something quiet, dignified, harmonious, about it, showing the grace of the best Petersburg society, and yet there is in her a spontaneity, a capacity for tolerance, and (as her grandmother puts it) a constitutional good humor" (66). She is a good listener and she understands, which is a quality that is not usually found in women. I also have Mashenka X. to fill my time with. She is a sweet girl. What is going on in society? Good-bye my friend.

Summary of A Novel in Letters Sources

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