Aleksandr Veselovskii

Veselovskii, Aleksandr Nikolaevich

 

Born Feb. 4 (16), 1838, in Moscow; died Oct. 10 (23), 1906, in St. Petersburg. Russian historian of literature, member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1880). Graduated from Moscow University (1858).

From 1859 to 1869 Veselovskii conducted scientific research in Spain, Germany, the Czech lands, and Italy. In 1872 he became a professor of St. Petersburg University. He headed the department of Russian language and literature of the Academy of Sciences. A distinguished representative of comparative-historical literary scholarship, he was an expert in Slavics, in Byzantine and Western European literature of various periods, and in the folklore of various peoples. He recognized, along with borrowing, the emergence of original motifs and myths among peoples. In the 1860’s and 1870’s he developed a theory of historical myth creation. In the 1870’s and 1880’s he studied the reflection of historical reality in folklore (Tales of Ivan the Terrible, 1876; South Russian By liny [epic folk songs], 1881-84). He was critical of the one-sidedness of the prevailing theories in bourgeois folklore studies (New Books on Popular Literature, 1886). Veselovskii developed a synthetic theory of “the daily life and psychological foundations” of folklore (The Poetics of Plots, 1897-1906; Three Chapters From Historical Poetics, 1899). He was interested in the creativity of peoples who were at various stages of development and made wide use of typological comparison of similar literary and folklore phenomena. However, his concept of stages of cultural development, as well as his concept of “environment,” was restricted by a positivist approach to the sociohistorical process. Although he was critical of the extremist conclusions of the borrowing theory, he himself exaggerated in some of his works the role of literary influences. In some instances, he viewed the history of art as an immanent process.

Veselovskii’s studies on Boccaccio, Dante, and Petrarch, which are highly valued in Italy, and his works about A. S. Pushkin and V. A. Zhukovskii are remarkable for their erudition and for their penetration into the spirit of the era and the psychology of creativity. He dealt with problems of aesthetics in such works as The History or the Theory of the Novel? (1886), From the Introduction to Historical Poetics (1894), Three Chapters From Historical Poetics, and The Poetics of Plots. He developed an original theory on the origin of art and its development in the period of communal-tribal relationships. Veselovskii’s works constitute a substantial contribution to the history of Russian and world science of literature.

WORKS

Sobr. soch., vols. 1-6, 8, 16. St. Petersburg-Moscow-Leningrad, 1908-38. (Unfinished.)
Izbr. stat’i. Leningrad, 1939.
Istoricheskaia poetika. Leningrad, 1940.

REFERENCES

Pamiati akad. A. N. Veselovskogo: Po sluchaiu desiatiletiia so dnia ego smerti (1906-1916). Petrograd, 1921. (Contains bibliography.)
Engel’gardt, B. M. A. N. Veselovskii. Petrograd, 1924.
Izv. AN SSSR: Otdelenie obshchestvennykh nauk, 1938, no. 4. (Articles by V. F. Shishmarev, V. M. Zhirmunskii, V. A. Desnitskii, M. K. Azadovskii, and M. P. Alekseev.)
Shishmarey, V. F. Aleksandr Veselevskii i russkaia literatura. Leningrad, 1946.
Sokolov, A. N. “A. N. Veselevskii—osnovopolozhnik istoricheskoi poetiki.” Uch. zap. MGU, 1946, issue 107.
Gudzii, N. K. “O russkom literaturovedcheskom nasledstve.” Vestnik MGU: Istoriko-filologicheskaia seriia, 1957, no. 1.
Ḡusev, V. E. “Problemy teorii i istorii fol’klora v trudakh A. N. Veselevskogo. … In Russkii fol’klor [vol. 7]. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.

V. E. GUSEV

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