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Theory and History of Folklore

Theory and History of Folklore

Vladimir Propp
Ariadna Y. Martin
Richard P. Martin
Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Anatoly Liberman
Volume: 5
Copyright Date: 1984
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Theory and History of Folklore
    Book Description:

    The Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp published his first book, Morphology of the Folktale, in 1928. Since it was translated to English, in 1958, it has become an international bestseller and is well known as a major theoretical work in oral literature. Now, Anatoly Liberman has selected seven essays and three chapters from his later books which together reveal the full range of Propp’s thought in Theory and History of Folklore. This will help readers see that his work is essentially a theory of narrative. Included are the famous essay by Claude Levi-Strauss about Propp and Propp’s response to Levi-Strauss’s Critique. “This book will give Propp’s admirers in the English-speaking world a whole new perspective on this distinguished scholar’s contribution to folkloristics. Liberman provides the necessary background in terms of Russian/Soviet intellectual (and political) currents to place Propp’s work in a new light. No student of structuralism in folklore can afford to miss Liberman’s anthology.” -Alan Dundes, University of California, Berkeley

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8187-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Editor’s Note
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-lxxxii)

    Vladímir Jákovlevič Propp was born on April 17 (29), 1895, in St. Petersburg to a family of German extraction. He spent the tempestuous years 1913-1918 as a student at the University of St. Petersburg, where he majored in Russian and German philology. He started his career as a teacher of these languages in secondary school but soon became a college instructor of German; in the list of his publications are three textbooks for Russian students of German and one article on German grammar. In 1932 he joined the faculty of Leningrad University and worked there until his death. During the...

  5. I. The Nature of Folklore

    • Chapter One. The Nature of Folklore
      (pp. 3-15)

      Problems of folklore are acquiring more and more importance nowadays. None of the humanities, be it ethnography, history, linguistics, or the history of literature, can do without folklore. Little by little we are becoming aware that the solution to many diverse phenomena of spiritual culture is hidden in folklore. Nevertheless, folklore has not yet defined its objectives, its material, or its own specific character as an area of knowledge. We have some works pertaining to general theory, but life proceeds at such a rapid pace that the propositions put forward in these works no longer conform to the extremely complex...

    • Chapter Two. Folklore and Reality
      (pp. 16-38)

      According to a widespread opinion, there are no fundamental differences between the ways reality is represented in folklore and inbelles lettres. Reality is thought to be portrayed with an equal degree of accuracy in both. For example, M. M. Pliséckij, in his book on the historicity of Russian bylinas, refused to agree with those who believe that the bylinas represent the aspirations of a particular period, rather than its events. Why, he asked, are historical events depicted in the songs about the siege of Kazan¹ and about Stepán Rázin,² why can theLay of the Host of Igor³ faithfully...

    • Chapter Three. The Principles of Classifying Folklore Genres
      (pp. 39-47)

      In any field of knowledge, classification is the basis for and prerequisite of indepth study. However, classification is the result of long and detailed research. To define the object of study means to assign it correctly to a definite class, genus, and variety. In folklore this work has not yet been done. Considerable attention has been paid to only one genre, namely, legends. In the International Society for Folk-Narrative Research aSagen-Kommissionwas formed, which met at a special conference in Budapest October 14-16, 1963, and a number of important and interesting papers were given there [see Ortutay 1964]. Besides...

    • Chapter Four. On the Historicity of Folklore
      (pp. 48-64)

      At present one hardly needs to offer special proof that every art, including folklore, is derived from reality and reflects it. Difficulties arise when we attempt to interpret the historical process and to decide how history has been reflected.

      Two trends are clearly observable in modern folklore. One develops the ideas of pre-Soviet scholarship and conceives history as a chain of foreign and domestic events. Events can always be dated exactly. They are caused by the actions of people who really existed, that is, concrete people with concrete names. The historical basis of folklore is understood as the reflection of...

  6. II. The Wondertale

    • Chapter Five. The Structural and Historical Study of the Wondertale
      (pp. 67-81)

      Morphology of the Folktalewas published in Russian in 1928 and elicited two kinds of reaction. Some folklorists, ethnographers, and literary scholars received it favorably, while others accused its author of formalism, and this accusation has often been repeated even in our day. The book, like so many others, would probably have been forgotten or remembered occasionally only by specialists, but a few years after the war it emerged again. It was frequently mentioned at congresses and in articles, and it was translated into English (Propp 1958a; 1968a). The cause of this renewed interest should be sought in the revolutionary...

    • Chapter Six. Transformations of the Wondertale
      (pp. 82-99)

      The study of the wondertale may be compared to the study of organic formations in nature. Both the naturalist and the folklorist deal with species and genera of essentially the same phenomena. The Darwinian problem of “the origin of species” arises in folklore as well. The similarity of phenomena in nature and folklore resists any direct, objective, and absolutely convincing explanation. It is a problem in its own right. Both fields allow two points of view: either the internal similarity of two externally unrelated phenomena cannot be traced to a common genetic root (theory of spontaneous generation) or else this...

    • Chapter Seven. Historical Roots of the Wondertale: Premises
      (pp. 100-115)

      Before the Revolution folklore was produced in Russia by the oppressed classes—illiterate peasants, soldiers, artisans, semiliterate apprentices, etc. In our time folklore is indeed produced bythe people. Before the Revolution the science of folklore looked to other areas of knowledge for its concepts. It ascribed to folklore some abstract philosophy, was blind to its revolutionary dynamic, subsumed folklore under literature, and viewed folklore only as part of literary criticism. Now the science of folklore is becoming independent. Methods of prerevolutionary folklore were powerless to deal with its complicated subject; theory supplanted theory, yet none of them holds water....

    • Chapter Eight. Historical Roots of the Wondertale: The Wondertale as a Whole
      (pp. 116-123)

      We have examined the sequence of compositional elements in the wondertale. These elements are the same for various plots. They follow one another in a definite way and form a whole. We have also examined the sources of each motif, but we have not yet compared the sources and their interrelationships. To put it differently: although we know the sources of the individual motifs, we do not know the source of their sequence; we do not know the source of the wondertale as a whole.

      A quick retrospective look at our sources will show that many wondertale motifs derive from...

    • Chapter Nine. Ritual Laughter in Folklore (A Propos of the Tale of the Princess Who Would Not Laugh [Nesmejána])
      (pp. 124-146)

      The tale of Nesmejana is not especially famous or popular. It is not “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “The Tale of the Fisherman and His Wife,” or the like. It has not inspired poets; there are no operas or pictures based on it. In the inventory of Russian folktales it is represented by a total of five recordings (Andreev 1929, no. 559). Nevertheless, this modest folktale is of outstanding interest.

      Like other folktales, “Nesmejana” cannot be easily forced into a definite plot scheme. Its features are rather diverse, and it partly overlaps other plots and types. The kernel...

  7. III. Heroic Poetry

    • Chapter Ten. Russian Heroic Epic Poetry: Introduction
      (pp. 149-164)

      Each area of knowledge first defines the subject of its studies. We must do the same. What is epic poetry? At first glance this question seems unnecessary. Everyone understands that the Russianbylína, Karelo-Finnicrunes, Yakutolonxo, Burjat-Mongoluliger, Uzbekdastán, Shorkaj, and other similar lays are epic poetry. However, to cite examples is not the same as to give a scholarly definition.

      Epic poetry is not defined by any one feature that at once determines its nature. It possesses a number of features, and only all of them together provide a correct and complete idea of its essence....

  8. IV. Supplement

    • Structure and Form: Reflections on a Work by Vladimir Propp
      (pp. 167-188)
      Claude Lévi-Strauss

      The supporters of structural analysis in linguistics and anthropology are often accused of formalism. The accusers forget that structuralism exists as an independent doctrine which, indeed, owes a great deal to formalism but differs from formalism in the attitude it has adopted toward the concrete. Contrary to formalism, structuralism refuses to set the concrete against the abstract and to ascribe greater significance to the latter.Formis defined by opposition to content, an entity in its own right, butstructurehas no distinct content: it is content itself, and the logical organization in which it is arrested is conceived as...

  9. Postscript
    (pp. 189-190)

    In the Italian edition of his work (Propp 1966a) Propp responded to my discussion with an offended harangue. Invited by the Italian publisher to answer but, concerned not to perpetuate what seemed to me to be a misunderstanding, I restricted myself to a brief comment. Not having kept the original, I can reconstruct the text approximately from the translation on page 164.

    All those who read the essay that I wrote in 1960 about Propp’s prophetic work included in this volume by the Italian publisher cannot have failed to take it for what it was meant to be: a homage...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 193-210)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-232)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 235-251)
  13. Index of Foreign Terms
    (pp. 252-252)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)