Alexander Veselovsky

Alexander Nikolayevich Veselovsky (Russian: Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Весело́вский) (February 16 [O.S. February 4] 1838 in Moscow – October 23 [O.S. October 10] 1906 in St. Petersburg) was a leading Russian literary theorist who laid the groundwork for comparative literary studies.

Alexander Veselovsky
Alexander Veselovsky.jpg
Born(1838-02-04)February 4, 1838
DiedOctober 10, 1906(1906-10-10) (aged 68)
EducationDoctor of Science (1872)
Alma materImperial Moscow University (1895)
Scientific career
FieldsPhilology, history
Doctoral advisorFyodor Buslaev

Life and workEdit

A general's son, Veselovsky studied privately with Fyodor Buslaev and attended the Moscow University from 1854 to 1858. After a brief stint in Spain as a tutor to the Russian ambassador's son, Veselovsky continued his education with Heymann Steinthal in Berlin and Prague and spent three years working in the libraries of Italy. Upon his return to Russia, he delivered lectures in Moscow and St. Petersburg and was elected a Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1876.

Veselovsky's early studies of medieval Italian literature led him to believe that many plots and literary devices were imported to Europe from the Orient through Byzantium. Looking at literature primarily from a genetic point of view, Alexander Veselovsky and his brother Aleksey (1843-1918) attempted to construct a comprehensive theory of the origin and development of poetry. In 1899, Veselovsky famously argued that "the font and syncretic root of poetic genres" may be traced to ritualized popular games and folk incantations.[1]


In the Soviet Union, Veselovsky and his followers were criticized for their "ethnographism", which allowed "source study to grow to a hypertrophied degree, thus dissolving the specific character of the literary work into a collection of influences".[2] On 14 August 1946 the Central Committee of the Communist Party adopted a resolution specifically condemning "kowtowing" to the bourgeois West by the so-called Veselovskyists.[3] The Russian Formalists largely shared a critical view of Veselovsky's theory, although it has been suggested that Veselovsky's doctrine was actually a point from which they evolved "in a linear, if polemical, way".[4]

Although his work has been largely forgotten by Western scholarship (probably due to lack of translations), Veselovsky has been called "one of the most erudite and original scholars Russia has produced"[5] and "the most remarkable representative of comparative literary study in Russian and European scholarship of the nineteenth century".[6]


  1. ^ Eleazar Meletinsky. The Poetics of Myth. Routledge, 1998. Page 139.
  2. ^ Rachel Polonsky (English Literature and the Russian Aesthetic Renaissance. Cambridge University Press, 1998. Page 17) quoting: Jauss, Hans Robert. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. University of Minnesota Press, 1982.
  3. ^ Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World. Indiana University Press, 1984. Page XX.
  4. ^ Dragan Kujundzic. The Returns of History: Russian Nietzscheans After Modernity. SUNY Press, 1997. Page 8.
  5. ^ Gogol from the Twentieth Century: Eleven Essays, ed. Robert A. Maguire. Princeton University Press, 1974. Pages 39-40.
  6. ^ Rachel Polonsky (English Literature and the Russian Aesthetic Renaissance. Cambridge University Press, 1998. Page 17) quoting Zhirmunsky's Sravnitelnoe literaturovedenie, p. 84.


  • Imperial Moscow University: 1755-1917: encyclopedic dictionary. Moscow: Russian political encyclopedia (ROSSPEN). A. Andreev, D. Tsygankov. 2010. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-5-8243-1429-8.