The impetus which led to the formation of the Neo-Formalist Circle may be traced back over thirty years, to the end of the 1960s. In the late 1960s, British Slavists, inspired, inter alia, by Victor Erlich’s seminal work, Russian Formalism, began to look back to, and to rediscover, the work of the Russian Formalists. Much of their work lay buried and long forgotten. For political and other reasons many of their writings were unavailable, as most of them had not been republished, let alone translated. At the beginning of the 1970s, on July 1-2, 1970, a group of British Slavists gathered at a country house in Northamptonshire, U.K., to begin this work of rediscovery. The Neo-Formalist Circle, organized then and for the next seven years by Michael O'Toole, attracted at first only about ten participants. All the papers (or more informal talks) focused on Russian literature, but the future trends of the Circle were already apparent. The papers were primarily exercises in practical criticism, reapplying Formalist methods not only to offer new readings of canonical texts (A Hero of Our Time, Chekhov’s The Student, The Bronze Horseman), but also to identify the ‘literariness’ of these works, the nature of the literary fact itself. Presented in counterpoint and as a complement to such analyses was a theoretical discussion of the paths from Formalism to Structuralism (by O'Toole), which also initiated the process of jntroducing the then recent ‘Soviet’ Structuralism (the Moscow-Tartu school) to a British audience. (This latter strand was to be further developed in a paper given to the Circle’s second meeting, later the same year, by another of the prime movers in our early years, Ann Shukman, who offered an account of Lotman’s Lectures on Structural Poetics).Another central component in the first and subsequent meetings was the ‘collective analysis’ - a group discussion of a short piece (usually poetry).
The mid-1970s saw two major changes in the orientation of the Circle. Joe Andrew and Chris Pike began running the Circle from Keele University, and, in 1976, its journal,Essays in Poetics, appeared for the first time. These basic patterns were to carry on for most of the next fifteen years, with the Circle meeting twice every year, and the journal appearing with equal regularity. In 1990, Robert Reid replaced Chris Pike as co-chair, and they remain the joint co-ordinators of the Circle’s work. They also remain joint editors of Essays in Poetics, which since 1995 has appeared as an annual yearbook.
Against the background of the many changes in the world of higher education in the UK, to say nothing of the major changes in the world of Slavistics, the work of the Circle has had to be modified. From the late 1990s the meetings were cut back to occasional gatherings, primarily of an anniversarial nature, with major international conferences held in 1999, to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Aleksandr Pushkin, in 2000 to mark the centenary of the birth of Andrei Platonov, and in 2002 to commemorate 150 years since the death of Nikolai Gogol. Each of these conferences has led to significant publications, either with Rodopi, who have already published two of three volumes devoted to Pushkin, or in Essays in Poetics itself, with two volumes on Platonov, in 2001 and 2002, and two volumes on Gogol, in 2003 and 2004. The regime by which the Circle and its journal operate may have shifted, but we remain true to the foundational principles of thirty-ish years ago. Our chief concerns remain the primacy of the text, our main focus is Russian literature, but we continue to evolve and adapt, and to incorporate new approaches.
In September 2004 the Neo-Formalist Circle met in Oxford to mark 100 years since the death of Anton Chekhov. Around 30 scholars from around the world participated. One volume of the conference papers has already been published (Essays in Poetics 30, 2005: Aspects of Chekhov) and the second is about to go to press. We are also very pleased to include on this site ‘Anton Chekhov in English, 1998-2004’, a bibliography by Peter Henry (new version 2008) . This comprehensive work, containing some three hundred entries, is an invaluable research resource on the writer for students and specialists alike.
In September 2006 a conference was held on "Turgenev and His Contemporaries". In September 2008 a conference was held on "Aspects of Dostoevsky". The conference held in September 2010 marked the centenary of the death of Lev Tolstoy.
Conference 2012: The Russian Hero and the Russian Heroine
10-12 September 2012
As you will be aware, the Neo-Formalist Circle has latterly held a number of commemorative conferences, Pushkin in 1999, Platonov in 2000, Gogol in 2002, Chekhov in 2004, Turgenev in 2006, Dostoevsky in 2008, and, most recently, in 2010, to mark 100 years since the death of Lev Tolstoy, 'Tolstoy 100 Years On'.
The most recent conference was held from 10-12 September 2012, at Mansfield College, Oxford. For the first time, the conference was not author-centred, but focused on a topic, The Russian Hero and the Russian Heroine.
The Neo-Formalist Circle's activities are co-ordinated by Joe Andrew.