White Nights is a simple story. It is the tale of a loner -- a dreamer and a romantic—who finds love in a chance encounter with Nastenka, a simple little girl who is, in turn, waiting for her lover. They meet for four nights, against the backdrop of the ‘white nights’ of a St. Petersburg summer. The love lies in their connection, in their friendship, in their conversation, in the way they pour out their hearts to each other, though they are strangers to one another. Yet, when Nastenka’s lover returns, she leaves the nameless friend, and goes away with her lover. But there is no bitterness on the part of the nameless friend :
“ But that I should feel any resentment against you, Nastenka! That I should cast a dark shadow over your bright, serene happiness! (...) Oh no – never, never! May your sky be always clear, may your dear smile be always bright and happy, and may you forever be 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 man’s life? “
The dreamer’s hands rise up in benediction over Nastenka’s future, such is the effect of the moment(s) between them. It refreshes him, and gives him the strength to live his life all over again. Dostoevsky here explores fully man’s inherent loneliness, and his need for love, for human company...a fact that is especially relevant in the life of modern man. The need may be fulfilled only for moment, as in the case of the protagonist of White Nights. It is for him to savour the moment, make the most of it, make it last his life as the one moment that changed the way he looks at life forever...
One wonders whether something should be made out of that moment.. would a relationship really have the same quality of beauty and clarity that a moment of connection does? I suppose it cannot. And therefore, to try and convert a moment of love into a long-lasting relationship, or a long-lasting situation, is a futile effort. Over the years, the relationship changes, as do the people involved in it. Perhaps the relationship changes precisely because the persons do. And perhaps this is why White Nights ends as it does. Would the nameless protagonist choose to write about Nastenka if he did marry her? Her charms would have worn out for him after years of marriage and the daily business of living in the real world (which is notoriously not pretty, and lacks charm). Perhaps this is the same reason why Jesse and Celine (from the film Before Sunrise ) remember each other so well, and want to meet each other again- yet end up doing so ten years later (in the sequel, Before Sunset). Such magical connections of love are not meant to be confined within the defined norms of a long-lasting “relationship” – they rise above that, they go beyond, into a different realm where there are ideas but no illusions; where love is enhanced by lust, not diminished by it; where reality supersedes the best that imagination has to offer, yet is by no means unreal .
And perhaps it is the touch of the tragic, the sense that the moment is not to last, the ephemeral nature of the whole thing, that gives the moment its everlasting beauty. Proving yet again that man’s life is a complex pattern of paradoxes and ironies.. while it is defined by the eternal quest of man for that symbol of beauty, of grace and love ; that something that would give meaning to his entire existence...a Nastenka.