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Article

Literary legend in the early 19th century Russian literature: genre labeling and genre formation

Russian Literature. 2020. Vol. 111-112. P. 35-59.

In the late 18th century the word “legenda” entered the Russian language, and several decades later it started to be used by Russian writers as a generic label. The present paper analyses short prosaic texts written in the 1820-1830 with this label in their titles or subtitles. The aim of the research is to ascertain whether such texts followed a similar generic pattern. As the literary legend was a fully developed genre in the late 19th century Russian literature, the research will presumably enable us to trace the formation of the genre. I argue that the chosen texts share a network of constituent properties, which indicates their generic cognateness and allows the reader to attribute them as literary legends. Roughly, the Russian literary legend of the 1820-s1840-s may be characterized as a historical narrative relating some extraordinary, often criminal events. Though the audience is likely to disbelieve the story, the narrator finds it necessary to communicate it, as it contains an important truth or idea missing from conventional sources. Despite the similarity of the generic pattern, the genre had fuzzy boundaries in the first half of the 19th century, which is revealed in numerous title alterations, inconsistency in using cognate labels (skazanie, predanie, byl’), absence of legend cycles, and insufficient speculations on the genre. However, it can be concluded that the literary legend of the time was a grain from which the late 19th century genre developed.