Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky

Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky (VIHK-tohr boh-RIH-soh-vihch SHKLOV-skee), the author, narrator, and subject of this work. Shklovsky sets forth memories and ideas in an autobiographical sketch that was meant also to present his conception of prose fiction and his assessment of other writers who were prominent at the time. Instead of a conventional self-portrait, Shklovsky provides a series of anecdotes that illustrate the development of his own views and feelings, which in their turn are arranged according to his own notions of the Formalist novel. The author’s conception of himself is refracted by the technical devices he has chosen to employ, and underlying creative concerns may be found alongside some outwardly offhand notes and observations. According to the author, his existence has been lived in a succession of factories. The first was his home and school; the second was Opoyaz, a literary society of innovative predilections. His employment in the Soviet film industry—the “third factory”—provides a backdrop for his reflections and reminiscences. During passages dealing with the author’s early manhood, names and images of writers and theorists flash by along with some blunt and unvarnished recollections of war and revolution. Among many noted figures, Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, a professor of philology and one of Shklovsky’s mentors, is mentioned with some respect. Elsewhere, important theorists of the author’s own generation, including Roman Osipovich Jakobson, Yury Nikolayevich Tynayanov, and Boris Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum, are the recipients of some reflections on life and language in the guise of open letters. His writing features Tatars and sailors, as well as travel notes and hints of homebound affection for the author’s native land. Odd, abrupt changes of subject and wildly humorous interjections occur amid musings on the possibilities and shortcomings of modern literary figures. Through it all, it can hardly be said that the author is prone to taking himself too seriously: He calls attention to his prominently bald, shining head, and, at times, he recoils from a surfeit of his own wit.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Only the character of the narrator receives sustained development. The images of those friends whom he addresses are suggested, but as characters they are all significantly absent. Nevertheless, each emerges as a unique individual, with moral views, style, and professional gifts.

Shklovsky emerges as an able, witty, melancholy man deeply devoted to his profession, his country, and his family. He is sensitive to his time, imaginative and fresh in his ability to express his experience, and full of integrity and honesty. He has a range of abilities and interests that make his sympathy wide. He thinks deeply, feels deeply, and does not say everything he thinks and feels. The reader cannot help but identify with him, although he is contradictory and elliptical. The intimate details of living through the period of the great shift from czarist Russia to Socialist U.S.S.R. make the reader see the complexity of making judgments in that ambiguous and painful context.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Choice. Review. XIV (January, 1978), p. 1506.

Erlich, Victor. Twentieth Century Russian Literary Criticism, 1975.

Grits, Fyodor S. “The Work of Viktor Shklovsky: An Analysis of Third Factory,” in Third Factory, 1977.

Sheldon, Richard. “Viktor Shklovsky and the Device of Ostensible Surrender,” introduction to Third Factory, 1977.