Eichenbaum, Boris Mikhailovich

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EICHENBAUM, BORIS MIKHAILOVICH (1886–1959), Russian literary scholar. Eichenbaum was born in Krasnoye (Smolensk district) to a Jewish father and a Russian mother, both physicians. His father, who became a Pravoslav Christian, was the son of Jacob *Eichenbaum (Gelber), a well-known Hebrew poet and scholar. After finishing the First Voronezh Gymnasium, Boris Eichenbaum entered the Military-Medical Academy of St. Petersburg in 1905. In 1907, he published his first essay on Russian literature ("Pushkin and the Rebellion of 1825," Vestnik znaniya, 1 and 2), and during the following year he was admitted to the Philological Faculty of St. Petersburg University, where he studied Slavic and Romano-Germanic philology, graduating in 1912 and joining the faculty of the university in 1918. From 1912, Eichenbaum regularly published scholarly and critical essays in Russkaya Mysl, Apollon, and other literary journals, as well as some poetry (in Gumilev's Giperborey). In 1919, Eichenbaum joined the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (opoyaz) and soon became one of the foremost exponents of the so-called "Formal Method" in literary scholarship, an early structural trend that laid the foundation of modern scientific poetics. Between 1922 and 1931, Eichenbaum published nine books, which are generally considered classics and have almost all been reprinted in the West: Melodika stikha ("Melodics of Verse," 1922); Molodoy Tolstoy ("Young Tolstoy," 1922; reprinted 1968); Anna Akhmatova (1923); Lermontov (1924; reprinted 1967); Skvoz literaturu ("Through Literature," Collected Essays, 1924; reprinted 1962); Literatura, Teoriya. Kritika. Polemika (1927; reprinted 1969); Lev Tolstoy (vol. 1, 1928; vol. 2, 1931; 1–2 reprinted 1968); Moy vremennik ("My Chronicle," 1929) (the latter collection includes an essay on Jacob Eichenbaum and his long poem "Ha-Krav").

In the late 1920s Eichenbaum attempted a synthesis of the purely intrinsic and the sociological approach to literature. However, this attempt, as well as Eichenbaum's earlier books, evoked official criticism, which found some support in retrograde academic and literary circles. Forced to abandon theoretical research, Eichenbaum devoted himself to textual work, preparing exemplary critical editions of such classic Russian authors as L. Tolstoy, Lermontov, Gogol, and Leskov. In 1933, he published a novel, Marshrut v bessmertiye ("A Route to Immortality"), about the lexicographer N. Makarov. In his diary he mentioned that his spiritual-genetic ties to his Jewish grandfather had an affect on him. When in 1924 his grandfather's Hebrew poem "The Battle" appeared in Russian anonymously, he wrote an essay speaking among other things about the forgotten author.

In 1947, in the course of the official campaign against the great Russian comparative philologist Aleksandr Veselovsky, Eichenbaum and his colleagues *Zhirmunsky and Tomashevsky "were taken to task for perpetuating Veselovsky's 'bourgeois cosmopolitanism,' i.e., drawing parallels between Russian and Western literature" (V. Erlich). In September 1949, an officially inspired article about Eichenbaum's "reactionary militant idealism," abundantly interspersed with antisemitic allusions, appeared in the magazine Zvezda, virtually silencing Eichenbaum for five years. He did not resume his scholarly activity until 1954.

The third volume of his great monograph on Tolstoy appeared posthumously in 1960. Following the revival of the study of poetic language in the U.S.S.R., two volumes of Eichenbaum's selected writings appeared in 1969 in Leningrad, O poezii ("On Poetry") and O proze ("On Prose"). The following works of Eichenbaum have been translated into English: "Theory of the Formal Method," in: Russian Formalist Criticism, transl. and ed. by L.T. Lemon and M.J. Reis (1965); "On Tolstoy's Crises," in: Tolstoy (20th Century Views series; 1967); "O. Henry and the Theory of the Short Story," transl. with notes and postscript, by I.R. Titunik, in: Michigan Slavic Contributions (1968); Young Tolstoy (1972).


V. Erlich, Russian Formalism (1965); R. Jakobson, in: International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics, 6 (1963), 159–67; ibid., 7 (1963), 151–87 (a complete bibliography of Eichenbaum's writings).

[Omri Ronen (2nd ed.)]