(story, tale, short story), a prose work; a short epic genre, limited in the scope of the phenomena it portrays and therefore also in length.
In Russian literature the distinction between the rasskaz and other literary forms was only gradually recognized. By the 1840’s, when the domination of prose over verse forms had become apparent, V. G. Belinskii had distinguished the minor prose genres (the rasskaz and the literary sketch [ocherk]) from the major ones (the novel and the povest’ [novella]). In 1846, Belinskii wrote: “Mr. Butkov has no talent for the novel or the novella, and he does very well to remain within the limits of the rasskazy and literary sketches.”
However, for a long time the distinction between the rasskaz and the literary sketch remained unclear. In the second half of the 19th century the literary sketch was extensively developed in Russian democratic literature. Often used to convey direct observations of life, the genre became noted for its documentary character. This gave rise to an opinion, still held by some critics, that literary sketches are always documentary works, whereas rasskazy are works of artistic imagination. According to another point of view, the rasskaz is characterized by plot conflicts, and the literary sketch is basically a descriptive work. At the end of the 19th century, Russian literary criticism adopted another term for a minor prose genre— novella (short story). As a result, it became even more difficult to draw distinctions between the short prose genres.
Evidently, it is more correct to use rasskaz as a general term for a minor prose genre and to draw distinctions between rasskazy that are similar to literary sketches (descriptive novellas) and rasskazy that are similar to short stories (novellas with plot conflicts). Rasskazy that are related to the literary sketch usually include descriptions of mores and reveal the everyday customs or moral and civic conditions of a particular social milieu or sometimes of an entire society (for example, almost all of the rasskazy in I. S. Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches, many of A. P. Chekhov’s works, and works by I. A. Bunin, M. M. Prish-vin, I. Babel’, and K. G. Paustovskii). This type of rasskaz is often encountered as an episode in lengthy, descriptive novellas, some of which are characterized by a satirical tone (for example, satires by J. Swift and obozreniia [surveys, sketches] by M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin).
Rasskazy that are similar to short stories depict an incident that elucidates the shaping of the character of the principal protagonist (for example, A. S. Pushkin’s Tales of Belkin, Chekhov’s “Enemies” and “The Wife,” and many of Gorky’s “vagabond” rasskazy). During the Renaissance, tales of this type were used to develop the character of a principal protagonist and were often combined into major works, becoming episodes in chivalric or picaresque novels. For example, this is the basis for the structure of M. de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, A. R. Le-sage’s Gil Bias, and C. de Coster’s The Legend and the Heroic, Pleasant, and Glorious Adventures of Ulenspiegel. In rasskazy that are similar to short stories, it is precisely the “novelistic” content that gives rise to sharp conflicts and a rapid denouement. Sometimes, however, a writer may adopt the short-story plot structure as a vehicle for describing mores (Turgenev’s “Mumu,” Chekhov’s “The Death of a Clerk,” and Gorky’s “MakarChudra”).
Some rasskazy, such as M. A. Sholokhov’s “Fate of a Man,” have a national historical or epic content. (SeeSHORT STORY for the main distinctions drawn in Soviet literary theory and criticism between the content and structure of the rasskaz and the short story [novella].)
REFERENCESBerkovskii, H. la. “O ‘Povestiakh Belkina.’” Stat’i o literature. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
Nagibin, Iu. Razmyshlenie o rasskaze. Moscow, 1964.
Ninov, A. Sovremennyi rasskaz Leningrad, 1969.
Antonov, S. Ia chitaiu rasskaz. Moscow, 1973.
G. N. POSPELOV