White Nights (short story)

White Nights (short story)

"White Nights" is a Russian short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, originally published in 1848, early in the writer's career. Film adaptations have been made by Italian director Luchino Visconti, by French director Robert Bresson (as "Four Nights of a Dreamer"), by Iranian director Farzad Motamen (as "Shabhaye Roshan") and by Indian film directors Manmohan Desai ("Chhalia" (1960)), Sanjay Leela Bhansali ("Saawariya"), and Jananadhan ("iyarkai").


Like many of Dostoevsky's stories, "White Nights" is told in first person by a nameless narrator who lives alone in a city and suffers from loneliness. The short story is divided into six sections:

First Night

The story opens with a quotation by Ivan Turgenev

::"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 describes his experience walking in the streets of St. Petersburg. He loves the city at night time during which he feels comfortable in the city. He retells the story of his relationship with a young girl called Nastenka (a diminutive of the name Anastasia). He first sees her standing against a railing and waiting. There is something special about her and he is very curious but she walks away when she sees him. When he hears her scream, he intervenes and saves her from a man who is harassing her. The girl would tell him her story and be with him provided that it does not lead into romance. When the time comes to an end and she has to go home she tells him she will be waiting tomorrow in the same place. She too is as lonely as the narrator.

econd Night

On their second meeting, Nastenka introduces herself to him and the two become friends by relating 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.

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.

Upon the night that the young lodger is about to leave Petersburg for Moscow, Nastenka escapes her Grandmother and urges him to marry her. He refuses immediate marriage stating that he does not have money to support them but he assures her that he would return for her exactly a year later. 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.


"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".

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, interrupts his thoughts by telling him she's finished cleaning the cobwebs. The narrator notes that though he'd 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?"

Film adaptations

* "Chhalia", a 1960 Hindi film.
* "Saawariya", a 2007 Hindi film.

External links

* [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/21183 Audio recording of Belye Nochi (In Russian)]


*cite book | title=White Nights | last=Dostoevsky | first=Fyodor | authorlink=Fyodor Dostoevsky | publisher= | location= | edition=1st ed. | date=1848 | id=
*"The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky" translated by David Magarshack, The Modern Library Classics Edition.

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