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fabula and sjužet


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A distinction drawn by Russian Formalism between the story told (fabula) and the imaginative way in which that story is actually narrated (sjužet). As Victor Erlich observes in his definitive account of the movement, Russian Formalism (1955), the basic story of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (1869) is fairly meagre—reduced to its barebones it is a melodramatic account of a young woman who falls in love with an unworthy man and is driven to suicide—but that gives no indication of the richness of the telling of the story, which in the view of many (not least the author himself) places the novel high up in the pantheon of all time greats. The distinction is especially useful for thinking about crime fiction, which relies for its effect on the disjunction between the events as they must have happened (fabula) and the order in which they are discovered or narrated (sjužet). The Russian Formalists tended to regard such disjunctions as a measure of a particular work's literariness (literaturnost). See also defamiliarization.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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