Fëdor Dostoevskij: the anatomy of a dreamer
I like to think of books as formidable and pocket-sized space-time machines. With paper and ink, books can teleport readers to any place, real or imaginary, and in any time, present or future. White Nights by Fëdor Dostoevskij brought me back in time to St. Petersburg.
We are in St. Petersburg, in the warm bright midsummer nights when the sun sets at the dawn of darkness. We accompany the walk of a man whose name we do not know. He is presented to us as a solitary and introverted soul who observes the society that surrounds him as a spectator. Between him and society hangs a thick cloth, woven by his own dreams. Whether it is dreams that have isolated him or whether it is the isolation that has stimulated the dreams, we do not know.
On the night we meet him, the lights of the Nordic night reveal to the protagonist an empty city where people are all on vacation. All but one.
An equally lonely girl wanders in the deserted St. Petersburg. A shady figure tries to bother her, but a finally awakened dreamer comes out of his bubble and enters the scene to save her. This is how we meet Nasten’ka, a young woman whose only company is that of her elderly grandmother who, during the day, forces her home.
The dreamer sees in Nasten’ka the pretext to extinguish his inexhaustible loneliness and a means to dream even more. We follow their meetings for four nights and one morning until we reach the epilogue of the story.
Why you should read White Nights by Fëdor Dostoevsij
While reading, there is a magical and cathartic moment when the reader’s soul connects with that of the writer. They meet, understand each other, and travel on the same wavelength. Sometimes they are so similar that while reading one gets the impression that the author has spied in the reader’s mind.
Can a Russian boy born in 1821 and an Italian girl from 1991 feel such similar emotions? For a thousand reasons, I would have said no. But White Nights made me think again.
My edition proposes immediately after “White Nights” the 5 feuilletons that Dostoevskji wrote for the Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosi newspaper (The Petersburg Annals).
“The Petersburg Chronicle” and “White Nights” are chronologically reversed realities. Sometimes it seems that The Chronicles are a draft of the White Nights, so much so that some passages are repeated almost identically.
What changes in the atmosphere? In the feuilletons, the empty city is a positive break after an intense winter season, while in the White Nights it becomes synonymous with abandonment.
My White Nights
I belong to that faction of readers who consider books to be sacred and who love to keep them untouched. I do not wrinkle them and do not underline them. Or should I say I didn’t underline them? With “White Nights” all my good intentions failed. I found myself reading with a pencil between my lips ready to highlight the words that I have never been able to write.
I confess that for a long time I felt lonely and wandering like the dreamer. I rarely remember night dreams, yet in the course of my life, I have lived daydreams worthy of the best Hollywood sets. My dreams were inspired by books, movies, songs, or the glance of a passerby returning from school. They allowed me to be who I was not in real life. I could have the friends I wanted, the loves I wanted. I could be bold, cheeky, foolish while in the day-to-day I was a diligent and shy girl dancing with the iPod behind the closed door of her bedroom.
Dreams have given shape to my stories.
Are dreams a waste of time?
Sometimes I wonder if dreaming so much was a waste of time. I know though that without those dreams I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t have the job I have and I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
Dostoevskji reminded me of what I was like. The sensations I felt. It reconnected me with the part of me that I had to put aside to grow up and mature. It made me understand that maybe I have to start from where I left my dreams off. Writing the word end to “The Dreamer”.
Travelling standing still
I will always find it difficult to understand what causes people not to read. Too many are the sensations that arise, too many teachings, too many connections. A book is not just an object, it is also a soul fragment, a positive horcrux.
Books are the only way we have to travel standing still and to receive messages of warning, teaching, or encouragement directly from the past and from those who lived before us.