Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Love, both fleeting and permanently held dear, is presented in this narrative of four nights and a day. The narrator’s chance meeting with Nastenka brings about an exchange of self-revealing confessions on the part of two isolated souls; as they unburden themselves and discover that they are kindred spirits, their mutual attachment grows. As in many affairs of the heart, much takes place over a relatively short period of time, while events of much longer duration are referred to in passing. Both the narrator and Nastenka experience marked emotional vicissitudes, alternately haunted by melancholy and transported with joy. Each senses the other’s mood, which then is quickly and deeply reflected in the other’s outlook. Moreover, the shared feelings that have drawn them together are not dissipated by the sudden, albeit long-awaited, appearance of Nastenka’s lodger.

The narrator describes his relationship with Nastenka as a single blissful moment that redeems an otherwise unhappy life. This brief and illuminating period, which has infused in him a single, transcendent vision of romantic love, foreshadows the author’s later concerns with religious insight and redemption. In this instance, the narrator is enthralled by the depth of feeling summoned forth during his meetings with the girl; it is this revelation that matters to him, rather than the ultimate resolution of their romantic situation. This aspect also distinguishes this story from romantic works in which it does matter whether relationships are continued and consummated and in which parting yields grief rather than elevation of the spirit.