On the Theory of Prose

On the Theory of Prose

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By Viktor Shklovsky

Translated by Shushan Avagyan

Afterword by Lyn Hejinian

ISBN: 9781564787699

Publication Date: 12/7/2021

On the Theory of Prose remains one of the twentieth century’s most significant works of literary theory.

Not only does the book anticipate the rise of structuralism and poststructuralism, but it also poses questions about the nature of fiction that are as provocative today as they were in the 1920s. Founded on the concept of ostranenie or “making strange,” it lays bare the inner workings of fiction—especially the works of Cervantes, Tolstoy, Sterne, Dickens, Bely and Rozanov—and imparts a new way of seeing, of reading, and of interacting with the world.

Other Books by Viktor Shklovsky

Zoo, Or Letters Not About Love

Third Factory

Literature and Cinematography

The Hamburg Score

Energy of Delusion

Life of a Bishop's Assistant


"VIKTOR SHKLOVSKY’S On the Theory of Prose is a classic. Nearly a century old, it’s still avidly read and discussed in MFA circles, thanks to its author’s meticulous dissection of the devices of fiction, likely more valuable than any of the most recent craft books on the shelves." —Los Angeles Review of Books

"Shklovsky’s audacity gave him the freedom to take apart Cervantes and Sterne, Gogol and Tolstoy, with a brilliance that still dazzles ninety years later."The Nation

"Out of Shklovsky’s conviction came critical works of great beauty and complexity, but also several utterly remarkable literary works." —Martin Riker

"Shklovsky, who refers to own his style as "serpentine," employs digression, repetition, autobiography and occasional salutations to the reader, confounding one's expectations of how a book of literary criticism should unfold. In doing so, he crafts a true rarity: a superbly written, extended critical study that's capable of inducing a feeling of affection in the reader towards its author." —The Guardian

"Clearly there is a happy congruity between Shklovsky's insights and the modern consensus. His observations on various authors and techniques cause one to ponder. A random paragraph causes sudden illumination. This is not a manifesto but the incisive thoughts of a scholar in the quiet of his study. Dalkey Archive Press is to be thanked for making it available again." ZYX 9-92

"[The] essays published in Theory of Prose reveal why Shklovsky might have become the most important literary theorist of our century, had history taken a different course."Poetics Today

"A rambling, digressive stylist, Shklovsky throws off brilliant apercus on every page. . . . Like an architect's blueprint, it lays bare the joists and studs that hold up the house of fiction."Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"This 1929 book by one of the founding fathers of Russian formalism is one of the most important works in the history of literary theory"Choice

Biographical Information

Viktor Shklovsky (1893-1984) was a leading figure in the Russian Formalist movement of the 1920s and had a profound effect on twentieth-century Russian literature. Several of his books have been translated into English and are available from Dalkey Archive Press, including Zoo, or Letters Not about Love, Third Factory, A Sentimental Journey, Energy of Delusion, Literature and Cinematography, and Bowstring.

Shushan Avagyan translates from Armenian and Russian. She is the translator of Viktor Shklovsky's Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar and other works by Shklovsky from Dalkey Archive Press.

Lyn Hejinian (1941-2024)  was an American poet, essayist, translator and publisher. She was a founding member of the Language poets movement and is well known for her landmark work My Life, as well as her book of essays, The Language of Inquiry. She received grants and awards from the California Arts Council, the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Fund, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation and served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2007 to 2012.