I studied this story in a class on ‘Petersburg’ in Literature at a small liberal arts college in western Massachusetts in the middle of winter. This is the class that changed my life, so whether this is the best short story by a Russian writer, I cannot and will not say. But this class and this story, along with Andrei Bely’s Petersburg, and the western Massachusetts’ winter prompted me to move to London. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact translation I read, so I’ve listed here the translation I came across recently by Constance Garnett, whose translations Janet Malcolm holds in some regard. Often presented as a story of love and then eventual disillusionment, I will always read ‘White Nights’ as a love story to a city. A city, like all cities, which is capable of taking you to great soaring heights but equally capable of breaking your heart. Smashing you to smithereens. Really recommend reading it when you are a depressed 19-year-old in the middle of winter at a small liberal arts college in western Massachusetts to experience its full effects.
Original first published 1848, translation in 1918. Collected in The Gambler and Other Stories, Penguin Classics, 2010, and as a Penguin Little Black Classic, 2016. Available to read online at Project Gutenberg