For those who are following my journey, here is my final paper in Russian Fairy Tales. I just received my grade this morning. Here’s my professor’s note: Leslie, what a wonderful paper, and I gave you an A+ for it! I was particularly impressed with the amount of research you did, finding the motifs in the Aarne-Thompson index. Moreover, your paper shows how good Propp’s methods are as a diagnostic tool, allowing to separate various sources of influence and actually label them. I wonder if anybody published on this, because the research does sound publishable.
Prof. Nila Freidberg
WLL449 Final Paper
March 18, 2016
‘Peter and Fevronia of Murom’: Analysis according to Propp
The story of “Peter and Fevronia of Murom” is a hagiographic romance from Russian medieval literature. The couple had been venerated in Murom since the mid-15th century and were canonized in 1547, but their story has never been included in the official collection of saint’s lives (Zenkovsky 290-291). Their story mixes history with elements of folklore, legend, chivalric romance, and religious miracles. The tale is divided into four clear sections, or “moves” to use Vladimir Propp’s term (a new villainy or lack begins a new move). Each move is analyzed below for Propp’s functions. Using these functions to isolate the folkloric elements, this essay will show that part of their story is actually a wondertale.
First move, “The Evil Serpent.” Good Prince Paul and his wife (hero’s family members and initial victims) live and rule in Murom. The devil has sent a shape-shifting serpent (first appearance of the villain) to debase the princess (function 6, the villain employs means of deception or coercion). The victim submits to deception (7). She tells Prince Paul, who asks her to obtain the secret of the serpent’s death, which she does. This is function 5, delivery inverted: “An inverted or other form of information-gathering evokes a corresponding answer” (Propp 29). The villain reveals the secret: “My death will come from Peter’s hand and Agric’s sword” (Zenkovsky 291). Prince Paul summons the hero, Peter, who is Paul’s brother. This entire part before Peter arrives in the story can be considered the initial situation.
The serpent debases the princess (villainy, 8a) and the misfortune is made known (9), bringing the hero into the story. Peter decides to seek the sword of Agric (beginning counteraction, 10) and leaves home (departure, 11). At a church, he meets a youth (the donor) who asks him if he wishes to see the sword of Agric (first function of the donor, 12). Naturally Peter’s response is yes (hero’s reaction, 13). The donor shows him the sword and Peter takes it (receipt of a magical agent, 14).
Peter returns to Murom (20) and sees the villain in the shape of Prince Paul. This is an attempt to deceive the hero (unfounded claims, 24). Peter must perform a difficult task (25) and slay the serpent. He strikes it with the sword (solution, 26) and it resumes its true form (exposure, 28) and dies (punishment, 30). But in doing so, Peter is splashed with its blood, which is a new act of villainy that leads to the next move.
Analysis: Function 5 is out of order, but if everything before the villainy is considered the initial situation, then every other action in this move follows the Propp functions in sequence. In addition to Propp functions, this move contains magic. The serpent is a shape-shifter, and can only be killed by a magic sword that once belonged to Agric, who was “an invincible mythological hero of Russian folk epics” with a magic sword he used to kill evil serpents and monsters (Zenkovksy 290). Conclusion: This move is a wondertale.
Second move, “The Healing of Prince Peter,” introduces a new hero, the peasant woman Fevronia. Prince Peter (now the victimized hero) is covered with painful ulcers and sores from the blood of the devil-serpent (8a). He asks his servants to take him to Riazan (Fevronia’s town) to find a physician to cure him.
Peter’s servant enters Fevronia’s house. The new hero, Fevronia, enters the story. She speaks in riddles. The servant informs her of Peter’s plight (9). She orders that the prince be brought to her house (10). Peter comes and asks Fevronia where the man is who will cure him (donor greets/interrogates hero, 12). She tells him she will cure him for the reward of marriage (hero responds, 13). Peter asks her to cure him (donor tests hero, 12) but lies and promises to marry her in exchange. Fevronia gives Peter’s servant some leaven and instructs him to have Peter take a steam bath and then have all but one sore covered with the leaven (hero agrees to an exchange, but immediately employs the magic power of the object exchanged against the barterer, 13). While the steam bath is heating, Peter sends Fevronia a bundle of linen and asks her to make him some clothing while he’s in the bath (donor tests hero, 12). She sends him a block of wood and asks that he make her a spinning wheel and loom with the block so that she can make the clothing (hero withstands the test, 13). He is “astounded at the wisdom of her answers.”
The servants follow Fevronia’s instructions and the sores disappear, except for one scab (hero is branded, 17). When the prince reneges on his promise to marry her, the sores return. Peter returns to Fevronia and apologizes, and she says she’ll cure him completely (difficult task, 25) if he marries her. He agrees. The cure works (19, liquidation, and 26, solution). They are married (wedding, 31). Prince Paul dies, and Prince Peter becomes sole ruler of the city, leading to the events of the Third Move.
Analysis: This move doesn’t include as many Propp functions as the first move, and the functions 12 and 13 repeat in groups of three. The riddles the Fevronia poses to the servant did not seem to fit into any of the functions, but as riddles they still stem from folklore. The test where Peter wants Fevronia to make him a suit of clothes and she responds by sending him a block of wood is an element of tale type AT 875, “The Clever Peasant Girl Who Solves the King’s Riddles” (Aarne). Conclusion: This move is a wondertale, and the two moves could easily be separate stories.
Third Move, “The Intrigues of the Boyars,” begins with the initial situation that the nobles in Peter’s court disapprove of Fevronia’s common origins (they pass the buck and say the objections come from their wives). They also don’t believe she is holy or has healing powers.
They ask Peter to remove her as princess, and when he won’t take action, they ask Fevronia directly (villainy, 8a). Their actual request is that she “give back to us Prince Peter, because we want him” (Zenkovksy 297). She agrees (10). They tell her she may take wealth with her when she leaves (12). Fevronia says she’ll take Peter (13), and the boyars have no choice but to agree. He gives up rule of Murom and leaves with Fevronia.
On the journey Fevronia reads the shameful thoughts of a courtier and advises him to be faithful to his wife. When they make camp, Fevronia blesses cut branches, and by next morning they have grown into great trees.
As they’re loading the boats, a messenger arrives from Murom, saying the boyars had fought over who would rule Murom, and had all killed each other (19, liquidation of misfortune). Peter and Fevronia return and resume ruling.
Analysis: This section is much less like a wondertale and more like a historical account. Very few Propp functions are evident. Fevronia’s marvelous deeds here resemble holy miracles rather than magic. It’s worth noting that Fevronia’s request to take Peter with her is a folklore motif used in J1545.4, “Exiled wife’s dearest possession” (Aarne). The presence of a tale type and a motif from wondertales in different moves suggests that perhaps this story is the inspiration for similar wondertales in Eastern Europe and Russia. Conclusion: This move is not a wondertale, although it contains some folkloric elements. Zenkovsky describes this portion as “a political polemic attempting to prove that the autocratic rule of a price is superior to the rule of an aristocracy that leads to its own self-destruction through dissension” (Zenkovsky 290).
Fourth Move: “The Passing Away of Peter and Fevronia,” emphasizes the holiness of the couple. When they grow old, they ask God to let them die in the same hour, and request to be buried in the same coffin. Then they take monastic vows. When Peter is ready to die, he sends word to Fevronia, who finishes her embroidery project first. They die and are buried separately, but in the morning they are together in their tomb. The people, not understanding, put them in separate caskets again, but next morning the couple are back together. And this time the people allow them to remain that way.
Analysis: No Propp elements were found. Zenkovsky likens the couple’s faithfulness after death to the chivalric romance of Tristan and Iseult, without the amorous background (Zenkovsky 290). Conclusion: This move is not a wondertale.
Overall analysis: Despite “some indications that the life of Prince David of Murom, who ruled there from 1203 to 1228, was the historic source for this work” (Zenkovsky 291), it is impossible to know if they actually existed or if any aspect of this story is true. Their reality is thrown into doubt because two of the moves are clearly wondertales. The third has some Propp functions and folklore elements in a political framework, and the fourth move is religious and romantic with no Propp functions or folklore elements. Conclusion: taken as a whole, “Peter and Fevronia of Murom” is not a wondertale, but is a conglomeration of styles.
Aarne, Anti, and Stith Thompson, Aarne-Thompson Folktale Types, and MacDonald, Margaret Read, Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children, 11 March 2016. http://www.frankelassociates.com/calithwain/Aarne-Thompson.htm
Propp, V.. Morphology of the Folktale. Austin: U of Texas, 1968. Print.
Zenkovsky, Serge A. “Peter and Fevronia of Murom.” Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. New York, NY: Penguin, 1974. 290-300. Print.