A Nasty Story

"A Nasty Story" (Russian: Скверный анекдот, Skverny anekdot), also translated as "A Disgraceful Affair", as well as "A Most Unfortunate Incident" and "An Unpleasant Predicament", is a satirical short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky concerning the escapades of a Russian civil servant.

"A Nasty Story"
AuthorFyodor Dostoevsky
Original title"Скверный анекдот (Skverny anekdot)"
TranslatorJessie Coulson

Plot introduction

Jessie Coulson, in the introduction to a 1966 Penguin publication that includes the story, states of "A Nasty Story":

Its theme is the terrible gulf between a man's idea of himself, his ideals, and his motives, and what they prove to be in the harsh light of reality. Its cruelty lies in the recognition that the tragedy of failure to come up to one's own expectations ... is essentially comic... .[1]

Richard Pevear proposes, in his introduction, that the story's target is "the spirit of reform that spread through Russia in the early years of the reign of the 'tsar-liberator' Alexander II, who came to the throne in 1855."[2]

Plot summary

After drinking a bit too much with two fellow civil servants, the protagonist, Ivan Ilyich Pralinsky, expounds on his desire to embrace a philosophy based on kindness to those in lower status social positions. After leaving the initial gathering, Ivan happens upon the wedding celebration of one of his subordinates. He decides to put his philosophy into action, and so crashes the party. Many more drinks ensue, and Ivan embarrasses himself terribly while failing to gain the admiration of his "lessers", which he so desperately desires.

Ronald Hingley observes that Pralinsky ruins the wedding reception, not only by showing up uninvited, but also by becoming so sick that he "has to be put to bed in the only available place – the nuptial couch."[3]

Richard Pevear notes that Pralinsky, who wished to interact with the party-goers while keeping his distance from them, is unable to control the situation as he planned it:

No distances are respected; all distinctions break down. This is not the sort of union Pralinsky dreamed of. ... Instead of proving himself a statesman, he makes himself the subject of a "nasty anecdote". The structure of the story is particularly effective: by postponing his account of Pseldonymov's life until the end, Dostoevsky leaves us with two monumental portraits, absolutely irreconcilable, standing side by side.[4]


One of Dostoevsky's more obscure works, "A Nasty Story" was written and published in 1862 following his brief tour of Spain. The story was published in Dostoevsky's magazine Vremya.


  1. Coulson, Jessie. "Introduction." From Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1966). Gambler/Bobok/A Nasty Story. Penguin Books. ISBN 0140441794. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  2. Pevear, Richard. "Preface" Archived 2013-12-20 at the Wayback Machine. From Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1997). The Eternal Husband and Other Stories. Bantam. pp. 5. ISBN 0553379127. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  3. Hingley, Ronald. "Introduction." From Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1968). Great Short works of Fyodor Dostoevsky. New York: Harper Perennial. p. x-xi. ISBN 0060830816.
  4. Pevear, p. 6. Retrieved 20 December 2013.


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