Friday, September 12, 2008

Dostoevsky is ecstatically happy - I know I'm telling my story very beautifully

Or at least the narrator of the story White Nights (1848) is, at least for a while. He's a young social misfit, a St. Petersburg flaneur who has trouble meeting people. He comes across a sad young woman, instantly falls in love with her, and becomes blissfully happy.

He tells his new lady friend all about his happiness in gushing multi-page paragraphs that are either the best thing in the story or competely unbearable. He compares himself to a tortoise, he tells her how he loses all his friends (through anxiety), he tells her how he wanders about the city. The oddest part is his description of his dreams about various Walter Scott heroines. Maybe we're not supposed to take this for what he actually says to the young lady.

This story is in the anti-romance genre "We Can Still Be Friends," so the ecstatic state does not last. It ends pretty much where one is afraid it will. Still, this mood, this ecstatic state, seems to me to be an unusual thing to find in Dostoevsky - romantic happiness, especially.

In 1849, soon after White Nights was published, Dostoevsky was accused of revolutionary activities and exiled to Siberia, where he remained, in prison and in the army, for a decade. When he returned, he had become a different writer, the warm and cuddly prankster we all adore. I find it hard not to read these early stories, whatever merits they might have on their own (considerable, especially regarding The Double), as repositories of clues about the later writer.


  1. It was nice to see your reviews of some of Dostoevsky's shorter works: as always, I enjoyed your choices of details. Not to mention your calling D. a prankster!

  2. So many people are always so solemn about Dostoevsky. Thanks for noticing my joke.