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Propp, Vladimir Iakovlevich

PROPP, VLADIMIR IAKOVLEVICH

(18951970), folklorist, best known for Morphology of the Folktale, a structuralist analysis and fundamental work on the theory of narrative.

Vladimir Iakovlevich Propp was born and educated in St. Petersburg, where he received a degree in philology. After teaching Russian and German for a short time, he concentrated exclusively on folklore, chairing the Folklore Department of Leningrad State University from 1863 to 1964.

Morphology of the Folktale (1928) was an attempt to reduce all folktales to one structure. Dissatisfied with the classification system in the Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index, Propp proposed a different tale unit, a plot element he called the function. He found that all the tales in Alexander N. Afanasev's Russkie narodnye skazki (Russian fairy tales) had the same thirty-one functions appearing in the same order, and that the actors in the tales could be reduced to a dramatis personae of seven. Morphology of the Folktale became known in the West through Claude Lévi-Strauss, who criticized Propp's construct and favored a different approach, and Alan Dundes, who showed that it applied beyond European tales.

Propp's next book, The Historical Roots of the Magic Tale (1946), sought to show that folktales originated in ritual, especially initiation and funeral rites. In 1948, along with other Soviet scholars, Propp came under official attack. His Morphology was criticized for being too formalist, and his Historical Roots was said to be too dependent on Western scholarship and too willing to place Russian narrative in a global context. While he was never arrested and retained his university position, Propp shifted his focus, and his Russian Heroic Epic (1958) is a more Marxist interpretation, linking epic to stages of socioeconomic development. In his final major work, Russian Agrarian Holidays (1963), Propp returned to his earlier methodology and elucidated common elements in calendrical ritual.

See also: folklore

bibliography

Propp, Vladimir. (1975). Morphology of the Folktale, 2nd ed., tr. Laurence Scott, ed. Louis A. Wagner. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Propp, Vladimir. (1984). Theory and History of Folklore, tr. Ariadna Y. Martin and Richard P. Martin, ed. Anatoly Liberman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Natalie O. Kononenko

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