Frame Story

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Frame Story


a medieval literary genre that made use of a connecting narrative “frame” to unite diverse short stories, folktales, or fables. The entertaining, narrative approach of the various stories was usually combined with a didactic orientation in the overall narrative framework, lending the collection compositional and artistic wholeness.

The sources for the frame story can be discovered in the narrative literature and folklore of the ancient East and of European antiquity. The frame story evidently took definitive shape as a genre in India during the first half of the first millennium A.D. Models of the genre are considered to be Gunadhya’s The Great Tale, which has come down in late revisions, and the Panchatantra, in which some of the individual stories are related directly to the frame and the rest are connected to one another, forming a multistep system of subordination.

The didactic tendency of the overall frame structure of the Panchatantra is considerably weaker in other medieval Sanskrit collections, such as The Twenty-five Stories of a Demon, Seventy Tales of the Parrot, and Thirty-two Stories of the Throne of Vikrama, where the frame merely serves as a formal device for connecting the various episodes.

The composition of the frame story allowed the addition of new stories and replacement of old ones. This resulted in numerous versions of one and the same original work and contributed to the spread of the frame story genre to the folklore and literatures of the East and West. Using translations from the languages of India and compilations of local and foreign folklore, frame-story works arose in Persian, Arabic, Mongolian, Hebrew, Greek, and the Turkic, Slavic, and Romance languages (including Kalila and Dimna, The Book of Sindbad, The Thousand and One Nights, and The Book of the Parrot).

In Europe, early and relatively independent examples of the genre were the medieval didactic collections called exempla, including the Disciplina clericalis (Art of the Clerks) of Pedro Alfonso (1062–1140) and The Book of Count Lucanor by Juan Manuel (1282–1348). Subsequently, the compositional structure of the frame narrative can be seen in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Heptaméron of Marguerite d’Angoulême, and the Italian novellas of the Renaissance, especially Boccaccio’s Decameron.


Shklovskii, V. O teorii prozy. Moscow, 1929.
Grintser, P. A. Drevneindiiskaia proza: Obramlennaia povest’. Moscow, 1963.
Benfey, T. Panchatantra: Fünf Bücher indischer Fabeln, Märchen, und Erzählungen, vols. 1–2. Leipzig, 1859. Jolles, A. Einfache Formen. Halle, 1956.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Particularly original and valuable, to my mind, is her comparison of the frame narratives of Boccaccio and Chaucer (33-36).
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is intelligent and hilarious, both in its use of Albee's play as a frame narrative and in its many allusions to literary and pop culture.
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This article builds on the studies of Charles Isenberg and Kare Johan Mjor in its examination of how Kreutzer Sonata's status as frame narrative binds together Tolstoy's project with that of his protagonist, linking the act of murder with the narration of that act, embedding in the act of narration the reanimation of the desire that originally led to the murder, and implicating Tolstoy and the reader in the narrative fulfillment of that desire (Isenberg 79-108; Mjor 67-105).
The novel is about life in Khaufpur following an industrial disaster, but the text has many layers: there is a frame narrative within which Animal speaks into a series of tapes about himself and his people, and these are preceded by an editor's note, appended by a glossary, and expanded upon at the website
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One of the subsequent pages shows the last page of an open book autographed by the real-life Tom Taylor for a fan: this signals the frame narrative. The reader can deduce that the story has stepped outside the embedded story of the books.
The dialog is set up in the frame narrative, where the narrator encounters, in the Mayagi Ashandiwin Restaurant of the Good Cheer Casino, a visiting French woman who is, it turns out, a lawyer vacationing on the reservation because she has heard that there the work of drafting the new Chippewa Constitution is currently under way.
Because Frankenstein is a textbook example of the framed narrative (a double-ended frame narrative, or a twice-embedded narrative), I avoid questions of terminology.