What Is Russian Formalism In Literary Criticism?

                      Formalism is a school of literary criticism that originated in the former Soviet Union during the first world war.Russian formalism was an influential school of literary criticism in Russia from the 1910s to the 1930s.
It had its heyday in the 1920's and it acquired its name from its emphasis on form rather than on content. It was a diverse movement producing no unified doctrine . The term ' formalism ' was first    used by the adversaries of the movement.
                      The formalists believed that literary language was different from everyday speech or usages, which was dull and commonplace and intended only for communication of views and ideas. According to them, literary language had a special function to perform; it had its own vigour and vitality. It acquired literariness - a capacity to go against the established patterns of grammar and syntax and to go in for novel collocations. They concluded that using language in novel ways enabled the readers to see the world in a new light.
                        The formalists were also linguists, who were interested in the scientific examination of style. To them, literary language was a special kind of language . Their interest in form and literariness developed into a study of literary devices called 'foregrounding'. The foregrounding of language consists in the use of literary devices such as deviations from the normal use of everyday speech. They made a study of the rhythmic patterns, syntax, structu, imagery  etc. According to Victor Shklovsky, one of the major proponent of russian formalusm, these devices triggered what came to be called ' defamiliarisation' or ' ostranenei' which means " making strange". The theory behind defamiliarisation is that, literary writing deviates from ordinary language and enables the reader to view the world in a " strange " way.
                           Among the notable theorists of Russian Formalism, may be mentioned Boris Eichenbaum, Victor Shklovsky, Yuru Tynyanov and Roman Jakobson. They  emphasised ' form' rather than ' content' in literary texts, though they were aware about the fact that a literary work had much to do with society, self and culture.
                            The Moscow linguistic circle was founded in 1915 and OPOJAZ ( the society for the study of poetic language) in 1916. Roman Jakobsn, Yuri Tynyanov, Peter Bogatyrev , Victor shklovsky and  Boris Eichenbaum were the leading figures of bothe OPOJAZ  and Linguistic circle. Together they worked on the theory of literature based on the technical skill of a writer. Victor Shklivsky in his 1917 essay Art as Device  gave a mechanistic view of literary process and he defined literature as the sum total of all stylistic devices employed in it.
                              The formalists continued to flock towards the literariness of the language used in literary texts. According to them, literary language had features peculiar to itself abd it was this peculiarity which made it stand out from practical language. They also regarded ' plot ' in a narrative as a defamiliarised version of the story. They defined it as the way in which events are presented in a narrativevwhile the story wasthe chronological order in which the events were recounted.

The Bhaktin School

In the second half of  the formalist era, there emerged, the Bhaktin School led by Mikhail Bhaktin and Pavel Medvedev. The school tried to reconcile Marxism and Formalism. The basic tenets of the school were that language could not be seperated from ideology  and that language being a socially constructed sign- system, was itself a material reality  and thus it came to be regarded as a social phenomenon.


Though Formalism had its origin in Russia at the time of 1917  Revolution, it had its impact on Europe as well as America. It planted the seeds that eventually led to structuralism. Formalism , being an activity close to linguistics, it showed an interest in the svientific examination of style. It viewed literary language as a special kind of language and highlighted the concepts of literariness, foregrounding and defamiliarisation in texts. It also led to the establishment of Moscow Linguistic circle, Prague Linguistic Circle, OPOJAZ and the Bhaktin School.


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