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Encyclopedia > White Nights (short story)

White Nights is a short story written by Fyodor Dostoevsky, originally published in 1848. It is about love, dreams, happiness, and loss. The main character is a dreamer who is much like Dostoevsky. "White Nights" was written early in his career. It was adapted to film by the acclaimed Italian director Luchino Visconti and later by French director Robert Bresson as Four Nights of a Dreamer. White nights may refer to: White Nights, the time period near the summer solstice in northern Russia, similar to the midnight sun. White Nights (short story) by Fyodor Dostoevsky. ... Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (Russian: Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский, IPA: , sometimes transliterated Dostoyevsky, Dostoievsky, or Dostoevski  ) (November 11 [O.S. October 30] 1821–February 9 [O.S. January 28] 1881) was a Russian novelist and writer of fiction whose works, including Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, have had a profound and lasting effect... Year 1848 (MDCCCXLVIII) was a leap year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian Calendar (or a leap year starting on Monday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ... Luchino Visconti. ... Robert Bresson (September 25, 1901–December 18, 1999) was a French film director well known for his mastery of minimalist film-making. ...


Plot summary

Like many of Dostoevsky's stories, it is told in first person by a nameless narrator who lives alone in the city and suffers from a profound sense of alienation. The short story is divided into six sections...

First Night

The story opens with a quotation by Ivan Turgenev Ivan Turgenev, photo by Félix Nadar (1820-1910) “Turgenev” redirects here. ...

"And was it his destined part
Only one moment in his life
To be close to your heart?"
 "or was he fated from the start, to live for just one fleeting instant, within the purlieus of your heart." 

The narrator begins by talking about his life in the city noting that he lives a largely lonely existence with a maid named Matryona. He states that the only time he feels comfortable in the city is during night time. He then retells the story of his relationship to a young girl called Nastenka.

He first sees her standing against a railing and tries to spark a conversation with her but, she, noting his presence, walks away. Stroking his curiosity he follows her until she comes across an admirer who's more aggressive in his courting, leading the narrator to intervene on the scene. He then walks her home showing her and the reader his painfully shy demeanor. She converses with him as a friend though obviously she too is as lonely as the narrator. She promises to meet him tomorrow and attempt a friendship provided that it does not lead into romance.

Second Night

On their second meeting, Nastenka introduces herself to him and the two become friends by relating themselves to each other. In a precursor to a similar speech in Notes from Underground, the narrator gives a verbose speech about his longing for companionship leading Nastenka to comment, '...you talk as if you were reading from a book'. At the end of his moving speech, Nastenka sympathetically assures him that she would be his friend. This article is about the short novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. ...

Nastenka's Story

The third part is Nastenka relating her life story to the narrator. She lived with her strict grandmother who gave her a largely sheltered upbringing. Her grandmother's pension being too small, they rent out their house to gain income. When their early lodger dies, he's replaced by a younger man closer to Nastenka's age much to her grandmother's distaste. The young man begins a silent courtship with Nastenka giving her a book often so that she may develop a reading habit. She takes a liking to the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Aleksandr Pushkin as a result. One day the young man invites her and her grandmother to the theater running The Barber of Seville. For the first Premier of Saskatchewan see Thomas Walter Scott Sir Walter Scott (August 14, 1771 - September 21, 1832) was a prolific Scottish historical novelist and poet popular throughout Europe. ... Aleksandr Pushkin by Vasily Tropinin Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин, Aleksandr Sergeevič PuÅ¡kin,  ) (June 6, 1799 [O.S. May 26] – February 10, 1837 [O.S. January 29]) was a Russian Romantic author who is considered to be the greatest Russian poet[1] [2][3] and the founder of modern Russian... The Barber of Seville (Il barbiere di Siviglia) is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with a libretto (based on Beaumarchaiss comedy Le Barbier de Séville) by Cesare Sterbini. ...

Eventually she runs towards him urging him to marry her. He refuses stating that he does not have money to support their marriage but he assures her that he would return for her within a year. Nastenka finishes her story at the end of this, noting that a year has gone and he hasn't sent her a single letter.

Third Night

The narrator gradually realizes that despite his assurance that their friendship would remain platonic, he has inevitably fallen in love with her. But he nevertheless helps her by writing and posting a letter to her lover and hides away his feelings for her. They await his reply for the letter or his appearance but gradually Nastenka grows restless at his absence. She takes comfort in the narrator's friendship and unaware of the depth of his feelings for her she states that 'I love you so, because you haven't fallen in love with me.' The narrator, despairing due to the unrequited nature of his love for her, notes that he has now begun to feel alienated from her as well.

Fourth Night

Nastenka despairs at the absence of her lover and his reply even though she knows that he's in St. Petersburg. The narrator continues to comfort her to which she's extremely grateful leading the narrator to break his resolve and confess his love for her. Nastenka is disoriented at first, and the narrator, realizing that they can no longer continue to be friends in the manner that they did before, insists on never seeing her again; however, she urges him to stay. They take a walk where Nastenka states that maybe their relationship might become romantic some day but she obviously wants his friendship in her life. The narrator becomes hopeful at this prospect when during their walk they pass by a young man who stops and calls after them. He turns out to be Nastenka's lover into whose arms she jumps. She returns briefly to kiss the narrator but journeys into the night with her love leaving him alone and broken hearted. Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербу́рг, English transliteration: Sankt-Peterburg), colloquially known as Питер (transliterated Piter), formerly known as Leningrad (Ленингра́д, 1924–1991) and...


"My nights came to an end with a morning. The weather was dreadful. It was pouring, and the rain kept beating dismally against my windowpanes."[citation needed]

The final section is a brief afterword that relates a letter which Nastenka sends him apologizing for hurting him and insisting that she would always be thankful for his companionship. She also mentions that she would be married within a week and hoped that he would come. The narrator breaks into tears upon reading the letter. Matryona, his maid then interrupts his flow of thought telling him that she's finished cleaning the cobwebs. The narrator then notes that though he never considered Matryona to be an old woman, she looked far older to him then than she ever did before and briefly wonders if his own future is to be without companionship and love. He however refuses to despair.

"But that I should feel any resentment against you, Nastenka! That I should cast a dark shadow over your bright, serene happiness!...That I should crush a single one of those delicate blooms which you will wear in your dark hair when you walk up the aisle to the altar with him! Oh no- never, never! May your sky be always clear, may your dear smile be always bright and happy, and may you be for ever blessed for that moment of bliss and happiness which you gave to another lonely and grateful heart...Good Lord, only a moment of bliss? Isn't such a moment sufficient for the whole of a man's life?" [citation needed].



  • The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky translated by David Magarshack, The Modern Library Classics Edition.



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