Anthology of Old Russian Literature

By Adolf Stender-Petersen | Go to book overview

FICTION
During the seventeenth century, literature began to emancipate itself from historiographic and hagiographic problems and motives and definitely inclined toward pure secular fiction, toward narration itself. This tendency, already noticeable within historiography and hagiography, came to its most eloquent expression in New Muscovite prose fiction, in the secular novel. It is, however, characteristic of seventeenth-century fiction that the trend is not uniform, homogeneous in means and devices. In its endeavor to create a new and basically secular genre, literature borrowed many of its forms and methods of expression both from epic folk songs and from religious legends and historiographical writing, mixing them and creating a peculiar, contradictory style. The language was neither pure Church Slavonic, nor pure Russian, but an admixture of both elements.The literature of this period is here illustrated by the following texts, all anonymous:
The Tale of Sorrow and Misfortune
The Tale of Savva, the Son of the Esteemed Thomas Grudcyn
The Tale of the Rich and Celebrated Merchant Karp Sutulov and His Prudent Wife
The Story of Frol Skobejev, a Russian Nobleman.

THE TALE OF SORROW AND MISFORTUNE

According to the complete title of this narrative, written about the middle of the seventeenth century, the unknown author intended to show how a nameless young man who failed to accept parental counsel was forced through sorrow and misfortune to enter a monastery. The characteristic cadence of the Tale reveals that the author wrote this variant of the parable of the prodigal son under the direct influence of the rhythm characteristic of epic folk songs. It may, therefore, be justifiable to divide the prose text into rhythmical units. Although the language of the Tale is the Russian language of folk songs, the author confesses at the end that it was his intention to compose a hagiographical work. The genre of the novel had then not yet acquired its own independent raison d'être.

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