Veselovsky has assigned a task to scholarship which can hardly ever be solved. The Russian formalists, however, have taken up his challenge.
—René Wellek (279)
The task, which many feel is beyond their abilities, lies within the power of scholarship.
—A. N. Veselovsky
ALEXANDER NIKOLAEVICH VESELOVSKY (1838-1906) IS WIDELY REGARDED AS RUSSIA'S MOST DISTINGUISHED AND INFLUENTIAL Literary theorist before the formation of Opoyaz (“Society for the Study of Poetic Language”), whose members—Viktor Shklovsky, Boris Eikhenbaum, Yury Tynianov, Roman Jakobson, and others—developed the approach generally known as Russian formalism. Readers of Shklovsky may note the prominence accorded to Veselovsky in Theory of Prose (1925). Some will also recall the use of the term historical poetics—in reference to the method put forward by Veselovsky—in the 1963 edition of Mikhail Bakhtin's book on Dostoevsky and in his “The Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel: Notes towards a Historical Poetics” (1937-38, pub. in 1975). Another eloquent testimony to Veselovsky's spectral ubiquity in Russian literary theory is the concluding paragraph of Vladimir Propp's pathbreaking Morphology of the Folktale, where Propp humbly asserts that his “propositions, although they appear to be new, were intuitively foreseen by none other than Veselovsky” and ends his study with an extensive quotation from Veselovsky's Poetics of Plot (115-16). It is rarely recognized, however, that Veselovsky's method, in its rudimentary form, constitutes a common denominator of Shklovsky's, Bakhtin's, and Propp's widely divergent approaches.