Accepted Paper:

Vernacular beliefs, fiction and philology: construction of legend as a literary genre in Estonian folkloristics  


Ülo Valk (University of Tartu)

Paper short abstract:

The paper studies the transformation of vernacular belief narratives into a literary genre and into national heritage. It argues that the construction of legend as a hybrid genre between orality and literacy was born in a dialogue between creative writers, folklorists and their informants.

Paper long abstract:

Philological construction of folktales and legends as distinct folk narrative genres started in early 19th century, when the Grimm brothers outlined their basic features, contrasting poetic and historical modalities of storytelling. Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803-1882) was among the first authors in Estonia to follow this distinction in his "Ancient Tales of the Estonian Folk" (1860; 1866). The massive project of transforming vernacular belief narratives into tales of fiction was started and continued with the large-scale folklore collecting, organised by Jakob Hurt (1839-1907) and Matthias Johann Eisen (1857-1934). The joint project of constructing legend (muistend) as a literary genre and utopian reflection of the pre-Christian Estonia was carried out with the help of hundreds of local folklore collectors. The philological track that was pursued by later folklorists and the Marxist approaches in Soviet folkloristics contributed towards the transformation of vernacular belief narratives into a literary genre. Legends were conceptualised as survivals of the past, as fragments of a larger mythology that had been lost. Diachronically oriented literary framework shaped the views about the generic authenticity, which were introduced by the 19th century writers and folklorized. Later philologically oriented folkloristics challenged the vernacular ideas about authenticity and replaced them with more rigorous standards, which can be seen as an attempt to escape the literary model of the genre and substitute it with the ideal type of unaffected orality.

Panel Heri012
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